With 13 touchbacks and 0 returns, Super Bowl LVIII marked the end of an era for kickoffs

Super Bowl LVIII marked the last NFL game played before kickoff rules were radically changed, and it was emblematic of why the league decided a major change was needed.

In the Super Bowl to end the 2023 season, the Chiefs and 49ers combined to kick off 13 times. All 13 of them were touchbacks. It was the first Super Bowl ever with zero kickoff returns. All but one of the kickoffs was booted all the way out of the end zone. The game’s 13 kickoffs were basically meaningless.

That’s one of the two things the new kickoff rule is designed to change. The first thing the new kickoff is supposed to change is the injury rate on kickoffs, as 19 or 20 players will be lined up within five yards of each other and won’t be able to get a running start and generate full-speed collisions. That’s why the rule, colloquially called the “XFL kickoff,” may better be described as the “low-impact kickoff.”

But the other thing the new kickoff rule is designed to change is the lack of returns: By rule, if the ball goes out of bounds or doesn’t reach the 20-yard line, the receiving team can take it at the 40. And on a touchback, the receiving team can take it at the 30. That means the kicking team will be incentivized to kick the ball between the 20 and the goal line. Where it can be returned.

The new rule isn’t a guarantee that every kickoff will be returned. But it’s highly unlikely that any game will have 13 kickoffs and none of them returned. The kickoff return is coming back to the NFL. The Super Bowl was the end of an era.

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