Tales From The Vault: Ice, Ice, Baby

Ramblings and Rants, Steve Seidman

The Vault Keeper vents about “Icing the Kicker” and contemplates a counter-factual history of NFL Films in an “iced” universe gone mad.

I.  The Ice Storm

In overtime of the 2011 NFC Championship Game, Giants placekicker Lawrence Tynes was lined up for a potential game-winning field goal. New York’s return to the Super Bowl rested on their placekicker’s ability to hit from 26 yards out. As Tynes was preparing to kick, play was stopped, and of course, you figured, just like I did, that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had called a timeout to “ice” the kicker. But, no, the Giants were penalized for delay of game. The kick was now going to be from 31 yards, but Harbaugh had to be happy, because he didn’t have to waste a timeout to create that “icing” voodoo in order to get into Tynes’ head. We all know what happens when a kicker is “iced.” He walks in circles, acts disoriented, displays signs of nausea and dizziness, and sweats so profusely that his underarms are transformed into tiny swamps. Oh, how an “iced” kicker is delivered into wretchedness. Tynes would surely miss, because his concentration and confidence were now thoroughly mucked up due to the time stoppage.  Plus, Harbaugh would have a valuable timeout in his back pocket when the 49ers offense got the ball back.

Of course, it didn’t happen quite that way. Like a trained seal, Harbaugh called the predictable timeout to “ice” Tynes once play resumed. Then the Giants kicker, whose brain wasn’t even slightly rattled by 2 straight stoppages in play, nailed the 31 yarder to give the Giants a 20-17 victory. New York is now off to the Super Bowl to face the Patriots, who survived a 23-20 nail-biter against Baltimore earlier in the day. The Ravens had a chance to tie the game with 14 seconds left, but placekicker Billy Cundiff was wide left on a 39 yard field goal attempt. Cundiff’s miss was no doubt the result of the seemingly eternal hell he spent while being “iced’ by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Actually, Belichick didn’t even bother “icing” Cundiff.  Maybe it’s because the coach is such a visionary that he’s always three steps ahead of everyone else and knew Cundiff would whiff.  Maybe he was contemplating how to get Julian Edelman some snaps at right tackle.  Or maybe, Belichick knew that it has yet to be proven that “icing the kicker” has any impact whatsoever on whether a kick is made or missed. Maybe, just maybe, the NFL’s smartest head coach knew that there is no demonstrable, tangible correlation between “icing” a kicker and what happens afterwards. Sometimes kickers make ‘em, and sometimes they don’t.  Que sera sera.

II.  The Iceman Cometh

Statistically speaking, the brainiacs from “Football Freakonomics” point out that “Icing the Kicker” isn’t a very effective ploy. The percentage of made field goals by “iced” kickers is approximately the same as it is when kickers aren’t “iced.” Moreover, the longer the distance for an “iced” kicker, the more likely the kick will be successful. In other words, “iced” kickers only rarely wind up “on the rocks.”

Basically, there is one overwhelming reason why the concept of “Icing the Kicker” has, like the Peoples’ Choice Awards and the Iowa Straw Polls, taken on an importance that far exceeds its actual value and meaning. That reason, of course, is a credulous sports media-acracy that believes “icing a kicker” is a legitimate piece of football strategy, when the numbers suggest that a coach would probably have a better chance of messing up a field goal if he sprinkled magic fairy dust on the kicker’s cleats.

The beginning of “icing” mania can be traced to 2007, when Denver and Oakland were deadlocked in overtime. Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan called a timeout just before Sebastian Janikowski lined up for a game-winning field goal.* “Sea Bass”  missed the kick, the Broncos went on to win the game, and Shanahan was hailed as an innovator and genius by sports columnists, beat writers, and the entire horde of ESPN football analysts.  In the wake of Shanahan’s bold strategic ploy, the NFL coaching fraternity, as it’s wont to do, immediately put “Icing the Kicker” into the playbook, and there is every indication that it’s there to stay. Even though statistical analysis shows that the numbers work out better for the “icee” than for the “icer,” “icing the kicker” has become automatic for any coach who has a time-out to use at crunch time.

“Icing the Kicker” is sort of like a “home remedy,” much like eating chicken soup when you have a cold. There’s no evidence that it helps, but it can’t hurt to try it, and it makes it seem like you’re taking effective action against something that’s really out of your control.  Coaches are likely to be second-guessed if they don’t “ice,” and they’re going to really get slammed if they “ice” their own kicker.  Look at what happened to Dallas’ Jason Garrett against the Cardinals at the end of regulation time in Week 13. Garrett had called a timeout just as rookie Dan Bailey nailed a 49 yard game-winning field goal. After the timeout, Bailey missed from 49, and when the Cowboys eventually lost in overtime, Garrett was roasted over an open spit by the media-acracy, though, of course, no one can say with any degree of certainty that Bailey made a bad kick because of the timeout. **

III.  Ice Station Zebra

 “Icing the Kicker” is now ingrained in our cultural lexicon. According to Urban Dictionary.com:

The folks at Urban Dictionary.com don’t offer a possible derivation for the term, although it seems reasonably clear that “icing the kicker” evolves from the expression, “put him on ice,” which means to cool someone off. You often hear this expression uttered by gang bosses in crime movies and TV shows. But let’s consider other possible origins for “Icing the Kicker.”

Roy Clark
  1. Icing the VicarThis is not, as many mistakenly believe, a naughty slang expression. It’s a common mistake, but you’re thinking of Walking the Vicar.  The term actually originated in 17th Century England, when Anglican Church parishioners, bored silly by the sermons of their stuffy clergyman, would fill their house of worship with coughing, sneezing, belching and other disgusting noises. The intent was to disrupt the vicar’s concentration and hopefully, shorten the sermon.
  2. Icing The Picker – Before every appearance on the inexplicably popular 1970’s TV series “Hee Haw,” legendary Country and Western guitar picker Roy Clark would have his playing arm iced down by king-sized co-star Junior Samples. The pre-show icing soothed Clark’s arm, but he was often so relaxed that he played out of tune. Of course, seeing how Clark was such a real pro, it didn’t take him long to recover and get back into the patented “pickin’ and a grinnin’’ guitar solos that were much beloved by “Hee Haw” fans.
  3. Icing The Knickers – Around the turn of the 20thcentury, big city newsboys were known to take a handful of ice chips from the closest ice truck, then drop the cold chips into the drawers (front or back) of obnoxious customers who stalled around when it came to paying for their newspapers. The newsies often pulled this prank on newsies from rival papers and basically anyone they wanted to embarrass.
    Tim Kazurinsky

Obviously, football coaches don’t give a hoot about the etymology of slang expressions. All they care about is getting into the head of the opposing placekicker, but what happens when they finally realize that it’s not effective? I mean, really, the only way to definitely “‘mess with the mind” of a placekicker is to have him strapped down on the ground while an assistant coach lets those mind-controlling eels from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN burrow into the kicker’s brain. Failing that, there are these options (and once again, apologies to Tim Kazurinsky)***:

  1. Ricin the kicker – if deadly nerve gas doesn’t mess up a kicker’s concentration, nothing will.
  2. Micing the kicker – there are grown men who are actually frightened of small rodents.
  3. Enticing the kicker – a come-hither smile from a strategically placed Penthouse “pet” standing on the sidelines, and no kicker will be thinking about splitting the uprights.

IV. Ice Follies of 2012

Did you ever wonder what might have happened to some of the most famous shots in the NFL Films archives if, throughout pro football history, head coaches had been allowed to “ice” any player or coach on the field? No, I didn’t think you did. I mean, who would think of anything so ridiculous? I only did it because I was ordered to by my superiors.

  1. “Icing the pass rusher”….It’s 1964, and the Vikings are in San Francisco. 49ers Head Coach Jack Christiansen needs to do something to neutralize the Vikings pass rush so he “ices” defensive end Jim Marshall. Marshall’s mind is so completely messed up as a result that when he recovers a Billy Kilmer fumble, he runs 66 yards in the wrong direction on the Kezar Stadium turf and ends up in the Niners end zone. The result: 2 points for San Francisco. But Minnesota ultimately wins it, 27-22.
  2. “Icing the Coach”……In Super Bowl IV, Vikings head coach Bud Grant becomes annoyed at Hank Stram’s incessant sideline chatter, especially when he cackles and refers to himself as “The Mentor.” Grant “ices” the Chiefs head coach just to shut him up for a few minutes. Stram loses his concentration and forgets his play call, which was later revealed to be a “39 Pass Left Zing” – Len Dawson throwing a Tight End screen to Freddie Arbanas. Instead, the momentarily dazed Stram calls “65 Toss Power Trap” and Mike Garrett runs for a touchdown. The Chiefs matriculate their way to victory and fortunately for NFL Films, Stram keeps yapping. The result is the greatest coaching wire ever.
  3. “Icing the Tight End”…..In Super Bowl 13, Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll pulls off one of the most brilliant moves of his storied career when he decides that the Cowboys’ pass-catching tight end Jackie Smith  — a future Hall of Famer – could pose a threat to Pittsburgh in a close game. Noll calls a time out and “ices” Smith, who becomes so disoriented during the timeout that when he gets wide open in the end zone, he drops Roger Staubach’s perfectly thrown pass. The Steelers win another Super Bowl, 35-31, and Smith becomes the “sickest man in America.”

V. Ice Castles

There are many “iced” kickers who exist on film in the NFL Films library. And I mean these kickers were genuinely “iced” since they played in some of the coldest games in pro football history.**** Of course, NFL Films was in itself “iced” when we filmed our very first game for the NFL. That was the 1962 NFL Championship between the Packers and the Giants.  Swirling 40 mph winds on a cold December day in Yankee Stadium made the project a challenge for company founder Ed Sabol and his intrepid crew.***** But everyone kept their focus, and the resulting film, sometimes referred to as “Pro Football’s Longest Day,” was a great success. One of the best things about this early production is the way in which it details how the weather impacted the game. Offensive lineman Jerry Kramer handled placekicking chores for the Packers and connected on three of five field goals in a 16-7 Packers victory.

As for “icing the kicker,” the practice, it’s probably here to stay, despite ample evidence that it doesn’t really work. But let’s face it, NFL head coaches are set in their ways, and when it comes to thwarting a crucial kick, these men firmly believe that since they don’t have any real options, well, you just can’t lick “icing.”

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