Football and Resistance to Change

Every now and then you have to forget the meaning of life and have fun. This story is dedicated to my son-in-law who finds all this so amusing.

Resistance to change is everywhere—even in sports. Think of the slow embrace of using stats or changing the rules in professional sports. Consider an example. I grew up in St. Louis and our NFL team then was the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals. From 1963 to 1978 our kicker was Jim Bakken.

Bakken was a 4 time pro-bowler and 2 time first team all-pro, one of the best kickers of his era. You can see all his stats here. As you can see Bakken made 63% of his field goals for his career from all distances; about 43% from 40-49 yards; and was 0 for 15 from 50 yards or more. Bakken also missed 19 extra points in his career in 553 attempts. Compare this to stats for kickers in the NFL last year.

As you can see about 1/2 the kickers made over 90% of their field goals almost all the rest made over 80%. Even in the 40-49 yard range most kickers missed very few if any attempts. Last year in the NFL there were 1183 extra points attempts and 5 misses. They made 99.6%!

Today kickers are better for many reasons, but mostly because they kick the ball with their instep. Bakken, like most kickers of his era, kicked with his toe! When the first soccer style kickers came along, they were viewed with suspicion. Who would kick a ball with their instep instead of their toe? Wow that’s radical! That’s what I mean, resistance to change. Humans prefer stasis to dynamism; there are always stuck in the past.

Now to finish my finish my story. In 1974 the St. Louis (football) Cardinals gave a tryout to a soccer player from St. Louis University named Pat Leahy. Naturally the Cardinals kept Bakken and cut Leahy—heck Leahy didn’t kick with his toe! Leahy went on to become the kicker for the Jets from 1974 to 1991.

Leahy finished his career 3rd on the all time scoring list in the NFL. Actually Leahy wasn’t a great kicker by today’s standards, but he was a LOT better than Bakken. So why did the Cardinals chose a toe over a whole foot?

Well kicking a football like a soccer ball is just weird, whereas kicking inaccurately with your toe is normal. That’s just what we do, we use a little pointed toe, the one adjacent to your big toe, the one that sticks out the farthest on some people. Why would you use your much wider whole foot? That just isn’t traditional.

That’s what I mean, resistance to change. It’s everywhere. And, on a serious note, we’ll only survive if we adapt.

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4 thoughts on “Football and Resistance to Change

  1. good question. I forgot about those guys. Seems like an easily resolvable scientific question as to whether or not the shoe helps or hurts.

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