the study of the kicking components within sports

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life of a Kicker

by special guest blogger Michael Husted:

Louie Aguiar and I had just finished our Pro Combine Qualification Camp in Vegas yesterday and decided to get some lunch and watch the rest of the Patriots/Ravens game. We started holding this particular camp so that aspiring pro kickers, punters and long snappers, who are working full time while still pursuing their dream of playing in the NFL, can avoid missing a lot of work. By attending this weekend camp, they have the opportunity to qualify for our annual Pro Combine in front of NFL special teams coordinators and scouts. Our Pro Combine is the first step in the interview process for free agents to hopefully make an NFL roster.

Championship Sunday, as they call the AFC/NFC championship games, is a high pressure game with a lot of risks and rewards. What we were about to witness was something not many people get to experience, not even me or many other NFL kickers that are still in the league. Billy Cundiff, who I consider a good friend, was going to attempt a 32 yard field goal to send the AFC Championship game into overtime. Anyone who is a kicker and has been in a game tying or winning situation knows the feeling, no matter at what level. However, being a retired NFL kicker who had been in many last minute/second situations, but not to this magnitude, my stomach started to knot up a little and I became a little nervous. Here I was at Apple Bee's in Las Vegas, and I was getting nervous...

Any kicker who tells you that they don't get nervous in those situations has been sniffing too much glue. They may be able to hide it, but every kicker gets nervous, not only for a game winning or tying kick, but really, for any field goal attempt. In fact, I remember watching an interview with Jerry Rice, arguably, the best wide receiver to have played the game, saying that he still got nervous on game day after 18 years in the NFL.

As I watched Cundiff miss the kick, I had many thoughts enter my head. In the meantime, my phone and Louie's phone started to "blow up" with texts. Former NFL kicker Mike Hollis texted me. Dallas Cowboys punter Matt McBriar and I exchanged several texts. One of my kicking students, senior Cornell kicker, Brad Greenway texted me and I received a phone call from James Wilhoit who was driving back to Phoenix after kicking extremely well at our camp this weekend. Why did Billy rush onto the field? Maybe he thought that the Ravens were going to use their last time out or had used it and was getting another kick in the net. Regardless, if I'm a head coach and I see my kicker rushing out there, I call a time out right there. Nothing good happens when we are rushed. The end result was a missed kick. Billy, being the PRO that he is, didn't make any excuses, didn't point any fingers. He took the blame. Yes, this miss will sting for a long time. However, Billy is a strong individual and realizes that there is more to life than a football game. He will be a better kicker because of this miss, but more importantly, a better person. It may be hard to see that today, next week or next month, but it will happen. I always tell my kickers that "You learn more from you failures than you do from your successes."

After the game I went onto Facebook to see what people were writing. I noticed several kickers, high school and college posting that they would have made that kick. As Billy commented, he has made that kick 1,000 times. However, none of those kickers have ever been, and probably will never be in that position. So, realistically, they don't know how it feels nor do they know how to manage that pressure situation. In fact, there are several retired and current NFL players that have never ever been remotely close to that situation, myself included. (I'm not going to even talk about all all of those people who have never kicked a football, yet they feel that they are an authority on kicking.)

I don't know how many NFL kickers have ever been in Billy's situation, down by three points and having to kick a game tying field goal to send the AFC/NFC Championship to overtime. I can't recall anyone recently. The only two kicks that I can remember that were somewhat similar, but not exactly the same, were both by Lawrence Tynes. By the way, congrats to Tynes on making his kick last night to send the Giants to the Super Bowl. He also kicked a 47 yarder against the Packers a few years back to win the NFC Championship. However, in both of these situations, the scored was tied. There is a difference when the scored is tied and you are trying to win it versus being behind in the score and you are trying to tie it or win. With the score tied, if you miss, the game continues for a little longer, so, hopefully, you will get another chance. In fact, if you recall, Tynes had missed two field goals in that Packers game, including a 36 yarder at the end of regulation, leading up to his game winner.

There have been some big misses in post-season games by some of NFL elite kickers in the past. Mike Vanderjagt, at the time, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed a 46 yard field goal to tie the game against the Steelers in a AFC Divisional playoff game. Gary Andersen, one of the best kickers in NFL history, after posting a perfect regular season field goal percentage, missed a 39 yarder in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons, that would have put the Vikings up by 10 points, almost assuring them a trip to the Super Bowl. The other Anderson, Morten, the NFL all time leading scorer, who, after drilling a 39 yarder in overtime in the same game to send the Falcons to the Super Bowl, missed a 26 yarder in the Super Bowl against the Broncos. Note: At least one of the "Anderso(e)ns," if not both, will most likely end up in the NFL Hall of Fame.

The life of a kicker seems easy. We're joked upon by our teammates and even by people who have never even played the game outside of the annual Turkey Bowl in the park. However, it is not as easy as it seems. The two biggest things that you need to have are "thick skin and resolve." John Gruden, once told me, we are like snipers. We are called upon only a few times and we can't miss. We have to be perfect. Ahh, if only this game was perfect. It's not, we are human and we make mistakes. We make kicks and we miss kicks. In the end, I am reminded of a quote from one of our country's greatest Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.
"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

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