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In Praise Of ... NFL Kickers

Kickers make for convenient scapegoats, but we should appreciate what they can do.

So much of opinion writing is projecting. So take this deconstruction of football Darwinism, and my unbridled support for kickers as some manifestation of past experiences and current societal trends as you will.

There’s been a lot of slanderous writing about the kicker recently. At its most extreme, one of our writers advocated for the banishment of the position altogether, noting rather bluntly that, “kickers have no place in football.” (To be fair, this was during Bad Takes Week.) But to the action-starved buffet consumer in us, kicking represents a cop out. A starter salad. A less explosive play. That boring, one-point chip shot that we can skip freely while we refill our light beer of choice, unconcerned that we will miss anything spectacular.    

Conveniently, we’re allowed to treat kickers as some sort of drain on the game, and also use them as a fulcrum on which to lever our biggest disappointments. If only he had made that field goal. So the now famous Rex Ryan line goes: You only have one job to do. These guys don’t prepare, these guys don’t do meetings(An interesting take, by the way, having covered Ryan’s Jets for three seasons and having written specifically about the uniqueness of his kickers’ preparations and meetings with then-special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff. Maybe Ryan was the one missing meetings). 

To me, this seems like a distillation of current American society. Take all of our biggest problems, all of the things we don’t like about our current situation, all of the blame for the ultimate result, and sit it on the back of the little guy. Don’t blame the $30 million per year pass rusher, who no longer takes on blocks to benefit the back-end of his run defense. Don’t blame the wide receiver who, long ago, decided he wasn’t running over the middle of the field. Don’t blame the corners who miss tackles due to business decisions. 

Blame the kicker, because he has one job, and kicking is easy, right? Anyone should be able to do it.

This week at The MMQB, our bosses asked us to follow Bad Takes Week with something we love about the NFL. Kickers were a natural choice for myriad reasons. They are all at once these clandestine scientists trotting around different areas of the practice field working on their craft, and big-game marksmen who nail massive, momentum-swinging kicks with stunning regularity, all while in near-isolation with every eye on the stadium fixed on them. It is their task during the week to fix tiny, biomechanical quirks in their body that end up having a major impact on their leg swing. The kind of work pitchers and three-point shooters do, and get deified for.

It’s a group that is more in touch with their personal zen, able to find inner calm amid some of the most chaotic environments in North American sports. They do all this while existing in a place where many of their teammates and coaches don’t know their name, and treat them like lesser pieces of the puzzle. 

I would be hard pressed to find a group of sports people, perhaps except for offensive linemen and goalies, who have to motivate themselves to do a difficult job without any of the love and affection that buoys their teammates on the field. At least offensive linemen get to lift the running back or receiver when they score, which serves not only as a display of their superior strength, but as a recognition that they had something to do with the play. Goalies get to do that thing during penalty kicks where they pretend not to care and turn their backside to the shooter. 

The kicker gets a rub on the head. A condescending tussle of the hair befitting of the industrial complex we’ve created for kickers over years of bad sports writing. Just know, sweet marksmen, that there are some out there who never miss an extra point and understand just how difficult it is.

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