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Today's Tidbit... The Kick Six Of Old
Every football fan today is familiar with the pick six, a term that came into use in the early 2000s after an NFL analyst found that teams returning interceptions for touchdowns won 77% of those games. Many also recall Auburn's Kick-Six, when Chris Davis returned a missed Alabama field goal attempt 109 yards to win the 2013 Iron Bowl.
Before that, however, there was another form of kick six, though no one used that name. The old-style kick six came on kickoffs when the prolate spheroid became a free ball after traveling 10 yards or touching a receiving team member. The ball still becomes free in those conditions today, but one difference is that a free kick untouched by the receiving team once remained live after entering the end zone. Most return men knew and remembered that rule, downing the ball in the end zone to earn a touchback, but more than a few failed that step over the years. We’ll cover those who forgot to down the ball in the end zone in a minute.
One of the crazier aspects of the old rule was that a kickoff entering the end zone remained live after going out the side or back of the end zone. Recall that until 1926, a ball fumbled on the playing field remained live when it went out of bounds. Possession went to the first team to down the ball out of bounds. Kickoffs that went out of bounds before entering the end zone were dead, but those exiting the end zone were live. Although I did not find examples of the kicking team scoring a kick six after the ball left the end zone, there might be an example out there somewhere.
There were, however, numerous kick sixes of the simpler kind. One of the best came in 1932 when Ohio State left guard and kicker Martin Varner booted the ball downfield, recovering his own kick in the end zone for a touchdown versus Penn.
Another came late in a 1936 Texas blowout of Minnesota. Texas scored on a fourth-quarter pass, and on the ensuing kickoff, the Minnesota return man ignored the ball as it rolled into the end zone, allowing Texas to score another touchdown.
Canisius did the same versus St. Mary's of Minnesota in 1948, Dayton did so against Toledo in 1949, Peru State repeated the act against Chadron in 1956, and Western Washington pulled one off versus Pacific Lutheran in 1957.
But the kings of the kick six were the 1960 Duke freshmen. They scored a kick six versus North Carolina and, the following week, did the same versus South Carolina on the opening kickoff. Since the Blue Devils went for and converted the untimed two-point conversion against South Carolina, that gave Duke an 8-0 lead without a second coming off the clock.
The Middlebury Panthers managed a kick six in '61, and the only kick six I found in which a photograph captured the action came in the 1965 Houston-Miami game, with the Houston return man making the fateful error.
A 1972 rule made untouched balls dead upon entering the end zone, so the old kick six is impossible under football's current rules. Kickoffs that hit or are fumbled by a return team player that become free in the end zone can be recovered by the kicking team for a touchdown, but the prevalence of fair catches on kickoffs makes those sequences increasingly less likely.
I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to bring back the old rule for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a team lose a game by failing to touch the ball down in the end zone. Who’s with me?
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