You know about Adam Vinatieri’s Super Bowl heroics, Mike Vanderjagt’s shortcomings, Scott Norwood’s wide right and Billy Gramatica’s self inflicted injury.
Field goal kickers are often disregarded compared to position players, yet they’re usually an integral part to the biggest moments in a game. Their performance often determines how far their team will go in the playoffs.
We know Sebastian Janikowski because he’s an offensive weapon everytime the Raiders cross mid-field. We remember Gary Anderson because he was perfect in ‘98, hitting all 35 field goal attempts in the regular season, then missed a chip shot in the NFC Championship that would’ve all but clinched the game for the Vikings. We recognize Nate Kaeding because he embodies the flaws of the Chargers, shrinking when the moment gets too big.
But what do we know about punters? They’re also an important part of a coach’s strategy with respect to the field position battle. But when punters get blocked, it’s usually someone else’s fault. We see them as victims of circumstance. Meanwhile, kickers can’t afford to pass the blame. Their job security shrinks incrementally with every ball that doesn’t fly between the uprights.
There’s Darren Bennett, formerly of the Chargers and Vikings, who was named the punter on NFL’s All-Decade Team in the 90s. He was a former Australian rules football player, and is best known for bringing the “drop punt” to the NFL. There’s Shane Lechler, given the largest contract for a punter in NFL history by the Raiders in ‘09. You literally have to kick to Desean Jackson and have him return your punt for a game-ending touchdown with no time left on the clock to be remembered. And even then, I had to research to find out that his name was Matt Dodge.
The point is this: we like to view kickers and punters as one of the same. They’re specialists and many of us don’t view them as athletes, the same way we appreciate a quarterback or a wide receiver. But what we need to do is make a further differentiation, because a kicker and a punter could not be more different in every way imaginable.