It’s that time of year again. Time when baseball’s playoff picture takes shape, tennis & golf are winding down and gridiron gladiators are thrown to the lions of summer heat.
Mixed in among the 330 lb. linemen and backfield tanks are the NFL kickers, place & punt.
As crucial to team success as any linebacker or go-to receiver, kickers too are getting back into football form, loosening hamstrings, breaking in equipment and nailing down a sure-handed holder.
As vital as workouts are to securing a roster spot it’s the mental edge which kickers must hone in August. If the nature of his job isn’t taxing enough he must also ready himself for a fickle, unadoring public and an often maligning, mocking media who’re quick to pounce.
Like PKs and punters, coaches and QBs are convenient whipping boys for the Monday morning crowd. The difference is the glamour guys are just as likely to hear high praise when winning becomes habit-forming. Not so for the kicker set.
Scan NFL stadiums on Sunday and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one kicker’s number in the sea of fan jerseys. Even with a Super Bowl hero like Adam Vinatieri, you can search all game long and never spot his # 4 among the supportive throng at either Gillette (NE) or Lucas Oil (Colts) Stadiums.
It’s become the mantra for faux-football fans across North America to berate and belittle the foot specialists. Some go as far as to boast a belief that kickers aren’t footballers at all, as if claiming such hogwash puts more hair on their chest.
Why so much hate on the kicker-class in America?
Why does bad news travel fast? Why do geese fly south for winter? Why does a bear…you know, in the woods? Answer: It’s just nature’s way.
That’s not how it used to be.
Booters were some of the toughest customers on the tundra and struck fear into the hearts of opponents. Guys like Lou Groza, George Blanda, Jerry Kramer, Fred Cox and Slingin’ Sammy Baugh could, if provoked, twist you into a pretzel.
Kickers were there in football’s infancy, long before the first forward pass was heaved.
When Walter Camp (Yale / Stanford) was designing Uncle Sam’s own unique version of rugby-football (1880s), field goals were highly prized, accounting for five points as opposed to just four for a touchdown (Wikipedia).
Ever since soccer-stylers (Gogolak / Stenerud / Yepremian) made the straight-on guy obsolete, punters & place-kickers have become targets for every cheap-shot artist on the block.
But there’s more to the chiding than machismo and being a sore-loser.
Apart from some legendary collegians (Pat “Kangaroo” O’Dea (Wisconsin) / Russell Erxleben (Texas)) and heroic NFL strikes (Groza (‘50) / Dempsey (‘70 ) / O’Brien (‘71) / Vinatieri (‘02 / ‘04)), the art of kicking rarely makes national headlines in the USA.
Back in the day, if a boy kicked another in a scuffle, he best just go hang-out with the girls. Kicking was a big no-no, a playground taboo. It was right up there with tattle-tale.
Mention a kick-machine like Bruce Lee in those days and it wouldn’t have done diddly. For all we knew he was the sidekick husband of Sara Lee, the cake queen.
There are good ‘kicks’ in the lexicon of American-English: kick the habit; alive and kicking; kick up your heels; get your kicks…on Route 66; Soprano kick-fest at Christopher’s intervention (’02).
But by in large, ‘kick’ is a disparaging word: kick the bucket; kick yourself (for doing that); kicked outta’ the game; kick in the teeth; a good, swift kick in the pants; kick ya’ when you’re down, and everyone’s favorite over 70: “You don’t have Nixon to kick-around anymore (Dick post-California Governor’s race / 11-7-62 / Wikipedia).”
There is MMA. A mixture of foot-work, headlocks and punches, it has its avid followers.
The public will watch just about anything you put in front of ‘em: TV shows about poker, whiskers, storage facilities, humorless comedies (The Office) and strange mixtures of sex, orange-glow and cadavers (CSI: Miami). But they’ll draw the line on an activity where near-naked men grapple and then pummel eachother into bloody, sad submission.
And then there’s soccer, another kicker’s delight.
A champion sport loved world wide, it too is destined to remain low on America Norte’s totem pole of diversions. This is true no matter how hard the corporate sell or dazzling foot-play of stars like Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney. Rare scoring & bad-acting keep Yanks from making room on their already crowded sporting plate for a game whose Super Bowl comes but every four years (World Cup).
Kickers have their place. Unfortunately for the gridiron version, it’s not in the hearts of NFL fans. Like their O-line brethren who too, fly under the radar, the great pay and fringe benefits that come with any roster spot will have to suffice.
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.