Diminishing Returns in the Super Bowl
By any measure, at least for the neutral anyway, Super Bowl LVII was a great game. It had it all. Great plays, great players, coaches adjusting on the fly, great offensive and defensive moments. Plus the longest punt return in Super Bowl history (65 yards by Kadarius Toney for KC). And yet, there was somehting (at least for me) missing.
Which is where the diminishing returns come in. For me one of the most exciting plays in all of football had always been the kick return that goes the distance. It can energise a whole stadium. Be a statement moment.
But we had none of that here. This game set the record for fewest kickoff returns by both teams (1) and fewest return yardage by both teams (11). Kickoffs were largley processional as each team’s kicker hit into or through the End Zone and a return was not considered as each team looked to start from the 25 yard line.
Andre Coleman (Super Bowl XXIX) and Marcus Knight (Super Bowl XXXVII) of the Chargers & Raiders respectively must look back on their Super Bowl record 8 kick return peformances and wonder if they should have had a bonus!
Player safety matters
I get it. A lot of rule changes have been made around kickoffs to improve player safety. You can’t argue with that. We may be enteratined by these players but we also want to see them limit their injury risks in an already physical sport.
But that doesn’t stop me missing the thrill of the big return. After all Toney’s punt return was one of the most exciting plays of the game. So as we didn’t see any kick return action this time out let’s take a look back at the kick return TD’s of Super Bowls past.
Super Bowl XVII Fulton Walker (Miami Dolphins) 98 yards
The Dolphins ultimatley lost this one 27-17. But that doesn’t take away from Walker scoring the first kick return touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Walker, who earlier in the quarter had returned a kick to Miami’s 47 yard line got loose after Washington had gone 80 yards in 11 plays to tie the game 10-10.
Walker returned the kickoff a then Super Bowl record 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Dolphins a 17–10 lead. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. As well as being then the longest kickoff return in postseason history, breaking the prior record of 97 yards.
Super Bowl XXIII Stanford Jennings (Cincinnati Bengals) 93 yards
The Bengals lost this one 20-16 with 34 seconds on the clock as Joe Montana dove the 49ers 92 yards in 11 plays to win it and live up to his ‘Joe Cool’ nickname.
Before that happened though Jennings had ended the third quarter with his 93 yard run to give the Bengals a 7 point lead (13-6). Super Bowl and Grey Cup champ Terry Greer almost tripped him at the 1 yard line, but Jennings had enough momentum to fall forward into the End Zone.
This was the first kick return touchdown in a Miami based Super Bowl – others would follow.
Super Bowl XXIX Andre Coleman (San Diego Chargers) 98 yards
The San Diego Chargers lost 49-26 to the San Francisco 49ers as Steve Young had a 6 touchdown day. This one was again in Miami and again a kick return touchdown came.
Coleman finsihed the game with 8 kick returns for 244 yards setting a record. The highlight being his 98 yard scamper in the third quarter. By that point the Niners led 42-10 so Coleman was giving the Bolts fans something to cheer about.
They followed it up with the first 2 point covnersion in Super Bowl history, and got the second for good measure after the last TD of the game.
Super Bowl XXXI Desmond Howard (Green Bay Packers) 99 yards
For the first time we see a returner who got his kick return TD on the biggest stage and won the Super Bowl. The packers won this one 35-21 over New England.
Oh, and Howard was the game’s MVP! A return specialist MVP – in the Super Bowl. He finished the day with 224 return yards combined (punt and kick returns). The highlight being his touchdown. Which would prove to be the last socre of the game.
New England had pulled within 6 with 3:25 to go. His 99 yard return was, at the time, the longest play in Super Bowl history. And it certainly broke this game open fo the Packers.
Super Bowl XXXIII Tim Dwight (Atlanta Falcons) 94 yards
This one had more of a feel of Coleman’s return to it than Howards’. Simply because it came with the Falcons trailing 31-6 in the fourth quarter. This gave Atlanta fans a thrilling moment amidst their 34-19 loss to the Broncos.
The special teams euphoria didn’t last too long on this one. On the very next play the Broncos recovered Atlanta’s onside kick and converted that into a drive with 3 points at the end of it to finish their scoring for the game.
This was one of those Miami Super Bowl kick return TDs too.
Super Bowl XXXV Ron Dixon (New York Giants) 97 yards
This was a game where one of the great defences dominated. The Ravens were all over the Giants. It looked like the first Super Bowl shutuot was possible here.
Baltimore took a 17-0 lead in the third as Duane Starks ran in a pick six. (The fourth and final time Giants QB Kerry Collins was picked off).
The Giants found a spark immediately. Ron Dixon took the ensuing kickoff back 97 yards to make it 17-7. Could this huge play be the momentum booster New York needed? Well, no, because incredibly Baltimore immediately responded.
Super Bowl XXXV Jermaine Lewis (Baltimore Ravens) 87 yards
This was the first time in history two kickoffs were returned for touchdowns in the same Super Bowl game, and on back-to-back kickoffs.
Lewis’ return from a shorter kickoff made the score 24-7. Three 40 plus yard touchdowns had been scored in the blink of an eye.
At the time you felt it was over. Any spark the Giants had found had been extinguished so rapidly that it had to affect them. Eventually Baltimore won out 34-7.
Super Bowl XLI Devin Hester (Chicago Bears) 92 yards
“As advertised” the commentary team were saying 14 seconds into Super Bowl XLI. As sensational return man Devin Hester had become the first player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
The Colts learned a lesson fast. They kicked away from Hester for the rest of the game. They squib kicked when he was back deep and punted directionally away from him on punts. Clearly it helped as they went on to win 29-17.
Hester only managed one punt return alongside the opening kick return. But what an opening kick return it had been!
This was another one of those Miami Super Bowl kick return TDs too.
Super Bowl XLVII Jacoby Jones (Baltimore Ravens) 108 yards
Earlier in the game Jones had caught a 56 yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to give Baltimore a 21-3 lead over the 49ers.
His kick return made it 28-6 in the third, before San Francisco mounted a comeback and the Ravens hung on to win 34-31.
Just as Hester had taken the opening kickoff in for a touchdown, Jones took the second half opening kickoff back for the score.
He set the record for the longest play in Super Bowl history. While the 108 yards also broke the playoff record 104 yard return that had been scored against the Ravens earlier in the same playoffs.
The 34 minue power outage this game is famous for came not long after this.
Super Bowl XLVIII percy Harvin (Seattle Seahawks) 87 yards
On their way to a dominant 43-8 Super Bowl win over the Broncos Seattle built up a 36-0 lead. Harvin’s contribution here made it 29-0 in the third quarter.
For the first time ever there were kick return touchdowns in back to back Super Bowl games. In a fun twist both came on the opening play of the second half too.
Doubtless Denver coaches had spent halftime telling their team about setting a tone to get back into it. Instead Harvin picked up a short kick at his own 12 yard line and sped back 87 yards for the score.
Diminishing Returns may be the future
Now that NFL kickoffs come from the 35 yard line the likelihood is that we will see less and less touchdown returns. Strong legged kickers can hit the End Zone pretty well from here. Butker of the Chiefs and Elliott of the Eagles had 6 touchbacks each in Super Bowl XLVII. Which is a new record that both now share.
I understand, as noted above, that this is about player safety. But, then haven’t the NFL just gone to a 17 game schedule and would probably love to go to 18?
Could they look at somehting the CFL does with the no yards penalty? No Yards is assessed if a kicking team player is within 5 yards of the player receiving the ball from the receiving team. And one thing is for sure there has been no scale of diminishing returns in the 3 Down game where special teams are a major factor in the excitement of the sport.
Banner image; Devin Hester returns the opening kickoff for a TD in Super Bowl XLI. Image from Chicago Sun Times.