Monday, October 22, 2012

The Plight of a Kicker

They come from all over the globe. These people hail from places like Armenia, Hungary, Denmark, Australia, and many other places where you would not think to find these people. They are those who have been educated in the game later, and in some cases they just wanted to fit in. They are the oft under appreciated, yet more often hated, kicker. There is no other position in sports around the world like that of a football kicker. And yet, I doubt anyone actually wants to be a kicker (maybe that's why punters exist). Why am I writing about these people? There was an experience this weekend that jogged my thoughts about these , in some cases, poor people.

In the game between NC State and Maryland, the Terrapins kicker, freshman Brad Craddock (who hails from a land down under, by the way), missed an extra point, and later, the game-winning 34 yard field goal. The poor guy was ripped a new one by almost everyone, from the student that left the game at halftime, to his coach, in a roundabout way. These guys are often the lightning rod for criticism when a team loses a game like Maryland did on Saturday, and nearly all of the time it's not fair to these poor souls. How else are they going to sniff the field turf of the gridiron otherwise if they didn't try their luck being a kicker? Kickers are often some of the most humble, and honest people on a football team, and yet they never get the credit they deserve for being under immense pressure when the game is down to their kick. There are so many things that can go wrong on any kick, and the kicker almost always gets the blame. It's not fair.

To those that want to whine and cry about their kicker not being able to make the clutch kick when called upon: I would like to see you try to do that yourself. Yes, that has been said probably thousands of time in defense of kickers, but it never hits home more than now, for me. Terps running back Wes Brown took the blame himself for their loss because of his fumble on the third to last drive for the Terps, and that takes some stones to do, no matter how culpable you actually are. But to those who believe that kicking is the easiest thing to do on the football field, you'd probably be best at channelling in your inner Adam Sandler and staying as the waterboy. Just because kicking a ball through some uprights doesn't seem difficult doesn't mean it actually isn't (I've tried it before, and it is much harder than it looks).

It is assumed that every kick under 40 yards is easy (unless you're Billy Cundiff, as one astute student pointed out). But go ask any kicker and they'll tell you it really isn't. That's not a groundbreaking observation, but at a stage of pure anger and vitriol, it might as well be the only response worth receiving. There are enough other things that can go wrong in a football game that make missing a field goal look like chump change (I'm a Jaguars fan, so a missed field goal is the least that can go wrong). "When your kicker makes the game winning field goal, he is treated as a hero, but if he misses, he might as well change his name to Alan Smithee", is a thought often dreamt up by many, if not all football fans. It's outdated and should be thrown aside.

Yes, it is very easy to blame the kicker, as opposed to blaming all the other mistakes a team might make on their way to a loss like that. Just ask the Vikings of 1998, the Chiefs of 1995, and the Ravens of 2011 what they think about their kickers. Put, without them, those teams would have been nowhere near where they actually ended up. And give them credit as well for this factoid: No one else on the football field in uniform is older than they are, so they can put off cashing in that 401K. They're also not going to be the ones suing the league due to concussions, so there's that too.

Just either appreciate, or loathe kickers in silence. The same tired, jaded thoughts about them have been regurgitated over and over again, so hearing them for the 100,000th occasion is nothing new, and is in fact, very annoying...

And, don't forget: Icing the kicker often fails, so they at least are better than some of us when under pressure.

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