Guys, we almost had a fair catch kick at the end of the Super Bowl. A FAIR CATCH KICK almost ended Super Bowl XLVII, you guys. In my warped sports fan mind, this was pretty much the most exciting thing that could have ever happened. And everyone in my general vicinity knew that it was the most incredible hypothetical in the history of the world because they probably heard me screech, “THE 49ERS COULD DO A FAIR CATCH KICK,” a good five or six times before the play occurred.
What exactly is a fair catch kick? A quick refresher: after a receiving team makes a fair catch, they have the (little-known) opportunity to attempt a pseudo-field goal directly from the spot of the fair catch. I say “pseudo” because the rules make a fair catch kick extra-special. The opposing team must line up at least 10 yards downward from the line of scrimmage, and the kicker can place-kick the ball off a teammate’s hold. It’s basically a kickoff that needs to sail through the uprights, and the kicker has the advantage of taking a running start and kicking at a low trajectory because the defense is set up so far away from the line of scrimmage.
A fair catch kick is worth three points, and it’s only a rule in the NFL and some high school leagues. It’s only been attempted 21 times in NFL history, with almost all tries coming pre-1980. The last attempt was a 69-yard rocket by Green Bay’s Mason Crosby in a regular season game in 2008 that just barely missed. To round out the history lesson, the last successful fair catch kick came in November 1976.
Back to the Super Bowl. After the Baltimore Ravens smartly committed an intentional safety to bring the clock down to 0:04, the only potential risk was that the score was then 34–31 in favor of the Ravens. On the ensuing kickoff, the San Francisco 49ers could have signaled for a fair catch and attempted a fair catch kick that would have potentially sent the game into overtime. There were a few problems with this magical plan: Since the 49ers had just scored on a safety, the Ravens were able to punt from the 20-yard line, allowing punter Sam Koch to put the ball firmly out of fair catch kick range. Second, the San Francisco kicking threat was David Akers, who finished the NFL regular season at a dismal 30th of 31 qualified kickers in kick percentage. He’s been abysmal from any sort of long distance, and so the Niners were probably right to attempt a low-percentage (but not as low-percentage as Akers’ chances) kick return on the final play of the game.
But think of the nirvana we almost reached. Right after an intelligent-but-bizarre intentional safety, the 49ers could have sent the Ravens a dose of their own medicine by attempting the rarest play in NFL history. Jim Nantz briefly alluded to it before Koch’s punt (“Folks, there is one potential option for the 49ers”), but imagine if he actually had to explain the fair catch kick as, of all people, David Akers lined up to try and finish the greatest postseason comeback of all time using the most obscure scoring play possible. Considering CBS was already a mess after fumbling through 35 minutes of blackout coverage, it would have been delightful. Oh, the delicious bedlam of confusion on the sidelines. Oh, the rage of bewilderment on the faces of Ravens fans that now only lives in my imagination.
And let’s not forget about David Akers trying this kick. The most vilified member of the 49ers among fans (with the possible exception of Chris “Sweet Stuff” Culliver) had the potential for the ultimate redemption. IF the kick had taken place and IF Akers had made the longest field-goalish thing in history, the game should have just ended right there. Turn off the lights at the Superdome and call it a day. Blast both the Ravens and 49ers confetti, weld a second Lombardi trophy, and bring Baddie Bey back out on the field, ‘cause everyone would have been a winner.