Some Praise for the Pigskin Heroes: Kickers and Punters
I've thought about this until I am sick of thinking. Ever get in this shape? This is my first time to think about (this) topic: Professional and college football kickers and punters. Everyone, male or female know about these guys and now-girls who are getting in some playing time with the guys. I say, good for you, girls. You earned the right. You have skills. Now play your heart out.
I like these athletes, kickers and punters. I am causing the limb (that I'm on) to shake with fear, but kickers and punters are two skilled positions that are always seldom seen, always a goat, and seldom appreciated. If you or a family member has ever known one of these dedicated players, then you know that I am right. They stand on the sidelines, pace side-to-side, and dread . . .and I mean dread the pressure when their special teams coach signals them to hit the field and this coach always says, "go out there, 'Jimmy,' and do your best," with "your best" interpreted as WIN this game or it's your skin!
With a topic like kickers and punters, there is not a defining start to this story and be intelligent about it--for in all of my years of watching football, college and pro, I have never seen any sports reporter traveling thousands of miles at a recruit's home, talking to the recruit's mom and dad, and then do all that he can to just sign the kicker who set a state record this past Friday night against a rival team in some championship game. Never seen it. But once. Rick Karle, Sports director, Fox-6, WBRC-Birmingham, Ala., did this when Michael Proctor, (Pelham High), was hitting three point kicks from the 60-yard line causing Alabama Head coach, Gene Stallings or a Special teams coach, visited Proctor to sign him to the team. And what a move that was for Proctor was a member of the 1992 National Championship, Crimson Tide beating Miami 34-13, in the Sugar Bowl.
First of all, kickers and punters are important to the team(s) where they play. Agreed? Not all of these special team players make the front cover of Sports Illustrated much less Rolling Stone. But there will come one day that (the) day appears when a female kicker from some obscure high school or Division II college football team will rise up, kick a state record for the longest field goal that propels her team to take the title home. Then we will see the phototog's from Sports Illustrated, maybe NatGeo, shoot so many photos of this true historical moment that their digital cameras will catch fire. I mean this with a certain "I'm for the underdog" vengeance living in my heart.
The only time in my years of watching NFL football is when a virtual unknown New Orleans Saints placekicker, Tom Dempsey, who wore a modified shoe with a flattened and enlarged toe surface, gained instant notoriety as he was then most widely known for kicking a 63-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 19–17 win over the Detroit Lions on November 8, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Oh, the naysayers tried to bring Tom down by halfway ridiculing his right foot which was only half a foot due him not being born with toes or fingers on his right hand--and these same jaw jackers talked for a few days into getting Dempsey's record dismissed from NFL records, but ya' know whut? (Nicole Sullivan, Mad TV, "Vancom Lady"), they failed miserably and Dempsey went on to play with other teams as his career continued.
The longest field goal kick in NFL history is 64 yards, a record set by Matt Prater on December 8, 2013. The previous record was 63, originally set by Tom Dempsey and then matched by other NFL kickers, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski, and David Akers. And although Dempsey's 63-yard field goal put his name in Canton, Ohio, he will always be the greatest kicker in NFL history in my old mind.
Then to share the glory of more place kickers, there was George Blanda, then way past retirement, who sent a few punts high over the heads of opponents and into the end zone and won a lot of gridiron contests with his sure-footed place kicking, when he was with the Oakland Raiders. So now we can put Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski, David Akers, and George Blanda in their own corner of honor. I couldn't eat until I tell you about Garo Stenerud, along with George Blanda, Lou Groza, Ray Guy, and announced 2017 inductee Morten Andersen, one of only five kicking specialists in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is one of three who did not play another position (Blanda played quarterback, Groza was a tackle). The Chiefs retired Stenerud's jersey number 3 in his honor. In 1994, he was selected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.
But what I really wanted to talk about is more about why (than how) does the punter or kicker make some of the best tackles eclipsing those highly-paid middle linebackers, tackles and defensive ends? How does this happen over and over? And I know that a lot of you NFL fans have seen this happen. Even on Saturdays when ESPN airs a major college power go against another powerful team and during a kick-off a special team player fields the kick and with the grace of a gazelle, swirves, jumps, and stops on a dime to make yardage and then he has only ten yards until he hits pay dirt only to have a scrawny kicker or punter lay this guy on the gridiron. The announcer quickly says, "And . . .'Billy Larry,' walk-on punter made the tackle saving a sure touchdown!" You've heard it. I've grew sick of hearing it.
Scott Van Pelt, Neil Everett, and the late Stuart Scott, three of my all-time ESPN sports commentators, have and (still will) bring not only credence to, but spotlight the male and female kickers and punters who have sacrificed everything including several pints of their own blood in order to be the best on whatever team who might be playing. I admire and respect these three gentlemen. I wish that I could include former ESPN sportscaster, Dan Patrick, who in is own right, was (and still) is a solid sportscaster, but Patrick fell prey to the greener grasses of life and now sits on television on some other television site on DirecTV doing his own show. This is only right, I can speculate, but is Patrick's obvious self-importance really needed? Even with his boosters, The Danettes, four of his male buddies who helped him branch out from ESPN to get The Dan Patrick Show on the air, are these guys really forming plans to tell us about the next Tom Dempsey or some now-nameless kicker who just might be considered as "the best" kicker in the world? Probably not. But if Patrick and crew were to capture a kicker (from yesterday's game) who won the game for his (or her) team under impossible odds, then these guys might want to look at this kicker differently.
Just tell me one thing, the General Managers of these NFL teams as well as the Head Coaches and their staff in college football why can't you just recruit more punters and kickers? And please, some of you talented college and NFL GMs and college coaches, be a maverick coach in securing an entire team of kickers and punters. There are players who can play more than one position. I have already got the proof right in front of you. Yep. Got the goods on ya'. It would appear that these unsung pigskin heroes have saved many an important game for you, so what'll it be? You going to hit the road tomorrow to recruit the kickers and punters who will be the next football history-makers?
I'll be watching.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery