I have a confession to make. I love special teams. There I said it. For something that constitutes a third of the game we love this element can often be overlooked. When previewing a game it’s often all about the O and D of both teams and how they will play out against each other. Yet the difference can be all about field position or how that third element plays out.
I know what some of you are thinking – we like special teams too. I mean is there anything more exciting than a big return? What if I told you that’s not what I’m talking about? It’s the kicking game that excites, intrigues and fascinates me. Weird huh?
We’ve all watched a game of football where the punt team seems to be eternally stepping onto the field. It could be a battle of attrition against a great defense. Or perhaps the Offense is just so bland it can’t get anything going. So out come the kicking team time after time.
For some this can be dull, but not for me! When the punter comes out I’m watching his kicking style, the height of the kick, the direction, the possibility of the coffin corner, the hang time, (Reggie Roby’s hang time was a thing of beauty for example), and the ability to cope under pressure. It’s a microcosm of everything that is special about special teams. To some it’s just kicking, but to me it’s so much more – there is an art form to the often under appreciated skills involved.
Then there are the kickers. Imagine their lives if you can. Dedicated week after week, month after month, year after year to the arts of the kickoff and the field goal. They can have the chance to be the hero or the goat. Miss a game winning chance and you can become a team pariah, miss two and you can possibly start planning on playing somewhere else – if you’re lucky. You will hear players say ‘It’s their job’ when they miss in a dismissive tone suggesting they’ve let their teams down.
Everything is magnified. If a lineman misses a block on one play he comes back on the next one and tries gain. Miss a field goal and that’s it – you’re done. Imagine the strength of personality this all requires. You have to believe in your own abilities and if you fail build yourself back up again.
How dismissive can the rest of the football world be about kickers/? In 1996 Bill Parcells watched Adam Vinatieri tackle Herschel Walker on a return and told him “You’re not a kicker—you’re a football player.” It was meant as a compliment but it is also hugely telling. Kickers are not usually seen as part of the team, not ‘football plyers’ – they are a world part to be praised for success and blamed in defeat – they live in the eye of the hurricane of pressure.
You can be good and still find yourself leading a nomadic career too. Justin Medlcok can kick. He was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams player in 2016 and about as reliable as it gets, but just look at his career arc. He has played for the Kansas City Chiefs, St Louis Rams, Toronto Argonauts (twice), Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Omaha Nighthawks, Edmonton Eskimos, Hamilton Tiger-Cats (twice), Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers!
So spare a thought next time you are watching a kicker wheel out to take a kick for points or punt for field position and remember you are watching an artist perform with their job on the line. Every single time they kick.