Should the NFL Put on Some Rouge?

When asked by Howard Cosell in 1983 whether there should be any rules changes for the safety of the quarterback, Jack Lambert, the NFL's premier middle linebacker of the era, responded: "Well, it might be a good idea to put dresses on all of them. That might help a little bit."

One can only imagine what Lambert would think now. But it may be time for the league to add another article of female attire, importing it from Canada:

The rouge.

Now officially known as the "single" (its original name comes from the red flag the referee would throw on the field indicating a play that so resulted, which the NFL could not use today since the red flag is used to challenge calls — and starting this year, non-calls — by the officials), it is one point, scored by the kicking team, chiefly in two situations: when a punt goes over the end line or goes out of bounds within the confines of the end zone, in either case without being touched by the would-be receiving team, or when a field goal is missed, unless it was short and returned outside the end zone by a member of the defense, or struck either upright or the crossbar; however, a field goal that is blocked, including by a man standing in front of the crossbar, would not be a single.

At one time the latter was legal in the NFL: R.C. Owens of the Colts blocked a field goal this way in a game against the Redskins on December 8, 1962. Chiefs tight end Morris Stroud, who at 6-foot-10 was seven inches taller than Owens, was also often stationed at the crossbar for this same purpose. But Stroud never successfully blocked a field goal before the league banned the practice in 1975.

Believe it or not, there actually is one way to score a "single" in the NFL. It goes something like this: a team goes for two after scoring a touchdown, throws a pass that gets intercepted and, after crossing the goal line, the player is hit and fumbles, with the ball going back into the end zone, and then being recovered by any member of the intercepting team other than the player who made the interception (if the ball is recovered by any member of the offensive team, it is a successful two-point conversion).

While this has never happened in the NFL to the best of anyone's knowledge, it has happened in college football, such as in the Texas/Texas A&M game in 2004 and in the Fiesta Bowl in 2013.

Apart from the obvious new way to score, the change would reduce the number of touchbacks — the most boring play in football — because the return team would be forced to bring the ball out of the end zone to avoid the single. And teams would be effectively penalized for playing "bend-but-don't-break" defense, since if they do they are more likely to allow singles, leading to more aggressive play on defense: as Buddy Ryan famously said, it's hard to teach a team that plays bend-but-don't-break defense to be aggressive — and how many times have we heard the maxim "the prevent defense only prevents success?" That would be even truer if the single existed.

In addition, the receiving team on punts would need to place one or more defenders in the end zone to prevent singles, especially "coffin-corner" singles, particularly if the punt is being attempted from relatively good field position (see the previous paragraph); and if a member of the receiving team gets tackled before reaching the goal line, the outcome is even worse — a safety. All of these permutations are sure to keep special teams coaches awake at night.

So what if once in a million years a field goal — or a single, for that matter — gets blocked by a skyscraper standing in front of the crossbar? In 1974 — the first year after the goal posts were moved from the goal line to the end line — kickers made 60.6% per cent of their field goal attempts, and the break-even point for successful attempts was about 40 yards. Last year, kickers made 84.7% of their attempts, and the break-even point was more like 50 yards. These days, the offense barely has to cross mid-field to have a realistic shot at making a field goal. This is like awarding half a run to a baseball team that gets a runner to second base. Clearly the "goaltending" rule is obsolete.

Singles will also make overtime a lot more interesting: Many an overtime game will be decided by one point — or two points if the team that wins the toss can manage only a single, in which case the team that loses the toss can then win the game with a field goal.

The NFL owners are already gung ho about getting the chance to adopt one longtime CFL procedure — the 18-game schedule. So why not make it a twofer by adopting the single, as well?

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