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Hey Matthew Alice:

Every time I see a football game, the kickoff guy always pushes on both ends of the ball before he sets it on the kicking tee, squeezes the living daylights out of it. So what does he thing he's accomplishing? Does he truly think he's changing the physical characteristics of the ball by "moving" air inside of it prior to kicking it? Or is this just a symbolic act, like a baseball player wagging his bat while he waits for the pitch? Does grandma know her physics?

-- Richard Cone, Cardiff

Well, no, but she's been seen in some local watering holes with a retired football coach. Will that do? We asked her to casually slip your question into the conversation some evening. Meanwhile we dialed up Wilson Sporting Goods for their take on the situation. They make the balls used by the NFL.

Would you believe it? We got the same basic explanation from the lounge lizard and the football makers. Ya never know where you'll find an expert. Anyway, according to Wilson, every game begins with a pristine, never-been-fumbled, sparkly new ball. Right out of the box, footballs are stiff. The kicker would like a little more flexibility in the thing, so it's not like kicking a rock. Smashing the ball beforehand accomplishes this. Coach explained that at the point of impact of toe with ball, the football actually folds back a bit over the kicker's toe, which gives him a little better end-over-end control and much better distance once the ball springs off the tee. Mashing the football imparts at least some improved flexibility. Coach also says you'll see this a lot in games played in cold weather, since the temperature stiffens the leather, requiring repeated squashings. So the practice is not voodoo or fantasy football or some sports urban myth or nervous habit. A squashed football is a lively football.

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