In one of the strangest football rituals, NFL kickers always seem to be squeezing, denting, and otherwise mangling footballs before kick off.Someone asked about this phenomenon on Reddit this morning, and it turns out there’s a whole, surprisingly interesting story behind it.
In 1999, the NFL switched to special “K balls” for special teams plays because they were paranoid that players were manipulating regular balls to make them fly higher and straighter. According to a 2007 ESPN article, before the NFL switched to K balls there were rumours of “balls being put in microwave ovens, dryers and saunas” to make them fly farther.
Today, these K balls are under lock and key until shortly before kickoff, away from the other game balls, so they are shiny, new, and untouched when the game begins.
One problem: Kickers hate them. They’re slippery and hard to control in the air.
In response to the rule, kickers have begun squeezing balls, shoving them into the turf and doing everything they can on the field to take the shine off those rock-hard new K balls before they have to kick them. On Reddit, a commenter linked to this SI article that gives you a good idea what the squeezing is all about:
“New footballs are hard, unforgiving, smallish (with a correspondingly small sweet spot) and coated with a film that makes them slippery. They don’t travel as far as game-worn balls, and they can’t be “guided” as accurately as roundish, softer balls. When you see a kicker squeeze a ball, it’s because he wants to soften it and make it rounder.”
These balls are too new, and kickers feverishly try to make wear them out throughout the game.
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