Sunday 17 December 2017 / 01:43 AM

LIVING & DYING BY THE KICK

The life of the NFL kicker is one of a lack of appreciation. Your big kicks get lost in the adrenaline-inducing highlight reels, of wide receivers palming a bomb deep downfield and running backs breaking tackles to score a touchdown.

There’s no real way of changing this – people want to see extreme exhibitions of human athletic ability. Your misses stay with you longer than any of your successful kicks do.

Watching a 5’10”, 215-pound running back stampede past a 270-pound lineman, or the 6’5” lanky receiver outjumping the equally vertically-gifted cornerback for a pivotal catch is much more exciting to watch than the 150-pound kicker from an Eastern European background who seems to have all the time in the world to land an easy kick.

Well, it’s not that easy.

Think of legendary coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski has been struggling lately, but started this season off by making all five field goals in the 23-21 win over the Cardinals. To put that into perspective, Gostkowski 11 points are almost two touchdowns (minus the extra point). Belichick understands the difficulties that come with being a kicker and compares it to golf, where kickers have to take everything from wind conditions and temperature into account.

As much as you can prepare to do the physical act of kicking the ball 30 to 50 yards, when it’s time to do the job you have to be a master of your nerves and psychology. Kickers are aware that a big miss could be devastating for not only the team, but also their career. When a kicker misses a crucial field goal in the winding minutes of the 4th quarter, fans don’t look at the offense or defense that put the team in that precarious position. They look at one guy: the kicker.

Being a kicker in the NFL is arguably the most stressful job when it comes to performance. Even quarterbacks have multiple attempts to come back from bad throws, inabilities to convert on 3rd down, and even the occasional pick 6. A kicker misses a 30-yarder, he’s sitting on the bench by himself thinking one of two thoughts:

“Alright, man, you missed one but you know you can land these. Don’t let it get to your head, your team trusts you. You can do it.”

OR

“Dammit. It’s all over now. I’m cut. I know it. I just bought that million-dollar house in Miami Beach. I haven’t even moved in yet. What am I going to do for work? I could be a high school coach, I guess. Or accounting, I used to like numbers. What if I miss the second one? Then I’m done for sure. Oh my god. I’m going to miss the second one.”

The biggest help to any kicker is the support they get from the team. If anyone had the pleasure of watching the Seahawks-Cardinals game last night, you got to see kicker pressure in action. The 6-6 lowest-ever scoring overtime tie was a kicker’s shootout. Seahawks kicker Stephen Hauschka flubbed the opportunity to steal the win with a 28-yard miss, but coach Pete Carroll was circumspect.

“[Hauschka] made his kicks to give us a chance and unfortunately he didn’t make the last one,” Carroll said.

“He’s been making kicks for years around here … but he’s gonna hit a lot of winners as we go down the road here.

“I love him and he’s our guy.”

This sort of brotherly embrace is what will help Hauschka to hopefully get back to being one of the best kickers in the NFL. On the other hand, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians did not mince his words when it came to talking about their kicker, Chandler Catanzaro.

“Make it. This is professional, this ain’t high school, baby. You get paid to make it,” Arians said.

It will be interesting to see how both kickers do in the following weeks, but if I’m Catanzaro, I am both disappointed in myself and also fuming that my coach would put you down like that on national television.

But such is the (largely thankless) life of the NFL kicker.

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About the author

Alex Moskov

Alex has come on board with CBS as our basketball and gridiron expert, providing opinions and analysis from the bright lights of the NBA and NFL.

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