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K ball provides equal footing

Posted Aug 12, 2011

See how the NFL has created equality for teams on kicking plays by implementing heavily-guarded and regulated K balls.

Kickers and punters once resorted to strange measures to kick the football further and gain more yards. They’d put the ball in the microwave, hot tub or use a blow dryer.

Of course, that was before 1999, when the NFL began to enforce strict rules against doctoring footballs. The new policies led to the creation of the K ball.

“It gives everybody an equal footing, no pun intended,” referee Carl Cheffers said.

In a meeting about this season’s rule changes and points of emphasis, NFL officials explained that new footballs are reserved for kicking plays. Each team receives eight for outdoor games and six for indoor according to Cheffers.

Marked with the letter “K” and the week number, the K balls are delivered to designated NFL officials at their hotel the night before, straight from the Wilson Factory.  They arrive wrapped in tape marked with a “W,” preventing any pre-game tampering. This official guards it and does not allow the boxes to be opened any sooner than the arrival at the game.

The purpose of the regulations is to give all teams the same advantage when it comes to kicking plays during a game.

“I think it’s probably the only way to really make it fair because we kickers have a lot of time on our hands,” kicker Nate Kaeding said. “If we could be able to bring our own ball to the game, then it’s going to be one that’s going to fly pretty far, trust me.”

Once unwrapped, the footballs are hard and slippery, making them difficult to handle compared to the balls offenses use.

The official hands the K balls off to a designated member of each organization, who is the only person with the opportunity to rub down the football. For the San Diego Chargers, a member of the equipment staff handles the responsibilities and can be spotted on the field wearing a K-vest.

Under the official’s observation, the K ball handler has only 45 minutes to “touch up” the balls by waxing it with a wet towel or a horse-hair brush to make it less slippery.

“They don’t want many different hands touching the footballs,” equipment manager Bob Wick said. “If you only have one person, it’s more consistent.”

Kickoff begins with using ball number one and continues to be in play until it is no longer an option. Once unavailable, ball number two is brought into play and the cycle continues throughout the game.

“Once you get the first ball, you just get used to it,” Wick said. “If that ball gets kicked into the stands or if the opposing team gets a turnover and keeps the ball on the sidelines, the kickers are going to want to get that ball back.”

While it may not seem like it, the way a football is doctored can change the way the ball is kicked. Each player has their own preference of how they are textured.

“We’re all kind of picky,” punter Mike Scifres said. “We all want it the way we have it in practice, and we don’t always get it that way.”

Said Kaeding: “With all the new ones, the seams pop out on the football. You kind of want a football that’s pretty smooth; the rounder and softer it is, the better.”

While the new K balls are more difficult to kick than the ones broken in at practice, most players have accepted the rules and learned to adapt.

“It’s fine with me. It’s part of the game,” Scifres said. “We don’t make the rules; we just have to abide by them.”
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