Colt Anderson is an endangered species

Rodger Goodell apparently hates Colt Anderson and his ilk.

The NFL commissioner is trying to get rid of guys like the former Butte High and University of Montana star who got his first NFL start at safety Sunday for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Anderson racked up six tackles Sunday to help the Eagles win their first game in more than two months, winning 23-21 at Tampa Bay.

That start would have never happened if it wasn’t for one of the most exciting plays in all of sports, the kickoff. The commissioner, who sometimes forgets there is more than one ‘O’ in his last name, would like to get rid of that play.

The last week gave us lots of talk about ending or reducing kickoffs in the National Football League. Safety is the reason the league offers in discussing changes that could end the game of football as we know it.

The league has already greatly reduced the number of kickoff returns by moving the kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line, meaning pretty much every kicker in the league can kick the ball into the end zone. That results in fewer returns and fewer injuries.

Players still have to actually run down field and block during kicks that go for touchbacks, though, and the league that used to give players smelling salts so they could get back on the field after getting knocked unconscious now prefers a “keep your hands to yourself” policy.

One idea, which was floated by Goodell, would completely eliminate kickoffs. After a team scores, it would receive the ball at its own 30-yard line facing a fourth-and-15 situation. Teams could punt the ball or — to replace the onside kick — go for the unlikely conversion to keep the ball.

The league might as well go to flag football. Or better yet, the NFL could almost completely eliminate injuries if, instead of playing football, the teams decided the outcome of games with a spirited game of checkers or chess.

Of course, such a game would have to be done remotely, because we all know the injury risk of flying from city to city in an airplane.

If Goodell gets his way — and he usually does — on kickoffs, it  will mean the end of careers for guys like Colt Anderson.

Colt, who is the leading candidate to be featured in the sequel to the move “Invincible,” probably wouldn’t be in the NFL if it wasn’t for the kickoff and kickoff return. (By the way, click here to vote Colt to the Pro Bowl.)

Actually, Colt probably never would have had the chance to play football at the University of Montana if it wasn’t for the kickoff. Anderson, remember, was a walk-on player for the Grizzlies after graduating from Butte High in 2004.

He earned playing time with the Grizzly defense by excelling on special teams.

If it wasn’t for special teams, Anderson probably would have had to play at a smaller school because, like NFL scouts, college coaches don’t have a gauge for heart when they measure players up for playing at the next level.

What is even scarier about the whole situation is that the NFL is the trend setter in football. College and high school football almost always follows along with the league when it changes rules, especially those dealing with “safety.” You saw it with the kickoffs being moved. You saw it with helmet-to-helmet hits and horse collar tackles.

So, eventually, if Goodell gets his way, high school and college will get rid of the kickoff and, with it, overachieving players like Colt.

Could you imagine high school without the kickoff? Two of the best plays during Butte High’s Class AA State championship run came on kickoffs.

Who could forget Dalton Daum’s 99-yard return in the season-opening win over Great Falls Russell? Daum had one of those Devin Hester what-are-you-doing moments by letting the ball bounce around with CMR defenders quickly approaching. Then, the sophomore suddenly grabbed the ball with one hand and raced 99-yards for a touchdown as if he was shot out of a cannon.

Daum also had a big return to help set up Jake Dennehy’s 46-yard game-winning field as time expired in the championship game.

That kick, by the way, wouldn’t have happened in Goodell’s world. Without Bozeman recovering an onside kick during the amazing comeback by the Hawks, Butte High would have more than likely ended that game with quarterback Dallas Cook taking a couple of knees in “victory formation.”

Then Butte High’s magical win that night at Naranche Stadium would have just been another pretty good football game. Nobody would be talking about the ghosts of Naranche Stadium,  and Dennehy wouldn’t have been a local hero.

Neither would Colt Anderson.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley, whose hero status isn’t tied to a kickoff, writes a column that appears on on Tuesdays.