A Squib kick
is a term used in American football
meaning a short, low, line drive kickoff
that usually bounces around on the ground before it can be picked up by a member of the receiving team. The ball is kicked so short that it forces the receiving team's slower players to recover the ball first instead of their faster kick returner. Secondly, the bouncing ball may be harder for the receiving team to pick up, allowing more time for kicking team members to get downfield to surround the ball carrier.
The first recognized use of this by design in modern play was by the San Francisco 49ers
during the 1981 season
. On opening day, an injured Ray Wersching
misplayed a kickoff at the Pontiac Silverdome
against the Detroit Lions
. The hard Astroturf
surface of the Silverdome saw the sphereoid-shaped football bounce oddly, sporatically, and was noticeably difficult for the receiving team to field. Its characteristics were that of an onside kick
. Head coach Bill Walsh
turned the mistake into design and used it later in Super Bowl XVI
, also held at the Silverdome. Wersching made two squib kicks late in the first half. The first pinned the Bengals
deep in their own territory, and after forcing a punt, the resulting good field position led to a 49ers field goal. Moments later, as time was running out in the half, Wersching made a second squib kick, and this time the Bengals
muffed the ball, and the 49ers recovered. As time expired in the half, 49ers scored a last-second field goal
The Squib kick is a tactic used to prevent a long return, usually at the end of the half. On average the receiving team will gain better field position than it would returning a normal kick. However it is considered worthwhile by the kicking team, as it is more difficult to return for a touchdown. Also it must be returned, which isn't the case on a touchback
, and thus it takes time off the clock and often brings the half to an end.
A squib kick can work against the kicking team, especially if the receiving team is expecting it. Because the kick is so short, the receiving team will usually get good field position, even if there is a minimal gain on the return. And if the receiving player can manage a moderate gain return, the field position can be outstanding. A good example of this occurred in Super Bowl XXXVIII. After scoring a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left in the half, the New England Patriots decided to squib kick their ensuing kickoff to prevent a long return that could get the Carolina Panthers into scoring range. However, Carolina tight end Kris Mangum gave the Panthers great field position by returning the kick 12 yards to their 47-yard line. As a result, the Panthers were able to score a field goal before time in the half expired.
Perhaps the most famous example of a failed squib kick is the controversial last-second kickoff return, nicknamed "The Play
", during the November 20
college football game between the University of California, Berkeley
("California" or "Cal") Golden Bears
and their arch-rival, the Stanford Cardinal
. With Stanford having taken the lead 20-19 with only seconds remaining in the game, Cal coach Joe Kapp
told his players to keep the ball in play after the squib, and to lateral
the ball Rugby style
if they were in danger of being tackled. What happened next became arguably the most debated and most dissected single play in college football history.
In Super Bowl XLI, the Indianapolis Colts decided to squib kick five of six subsequent kickoffs after Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. The Colts ended up winning 29-17. In Super Bowl XXXVII, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the squib kick on all of kickoffs against the Oakland Raiders, ending up in an overwhelming win for Tampa Bay.