NFL kickers still looking for respect

David Roman

 He went three-for-five. If he was playing baseball, he may have been the star of the game, his picture plastered on the cover of the sports page the next day. 

While being a professional kicker is by no means a terrible job in today’s economy, it is one of the more difficult positions to play in professional sports. They may not have to look like a Dodge Durango like most linemen or have the Incredible Hulk physique of many running backs. However, the mental strain for most kickers can be borderline unbearable. 

Think of how many times you have wanted to kick your kicker because he missed. Similarly, think of how many times you have mocked your kicker for looking like Ross from “Friends” when every other person, even the coach, looked much bigger. Each time a kicker takes the field to hit a field goal, unless it is considered a freakishly long distance, he is expected to make it. If he does, you clap politely and forget two seconds later. If he misses, he hears groans all the way back to the sideline as one overly obsessed fan calls him a shrimp. 

At the same time, the fame that normally goes along with being a professional athlete is non-existent for kickers. For example, ask any sports fan to name 10 current NFL quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, cornerbacks and even defensive and offensive linemen, and it may take him or her a minute. Ask him or her to name 10 field goal kickers, and you could probably grab yourself a cup of coffee, drink it and wait for it to exit your system before the person names seven of them. Even those who kick game-winning field goals can go unknown. 

The New Orleans Saints won a trip to the Super Bowl based on a game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime. However, although the game happened only a week and a half ago, most people outside New Orleans would have no idea that his name was Garrett Hartley. Of course, a few kickers are lucky enough to get some recognition, as Adam Vinatieri and Martin Gramatica have shown. But such fame is rare, as Vinatieri gained it for being one of the most clutch kickers ever. Most of the time, the kicker will have a name the local fan base will know, but that’s about it. 

And it is even worse for kickers in high school and college. While most of the other positions are treated like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp by much of the school, the kicker is seen as Giovanni Ribisi; he is important and may even be really good, but he is always overshadowed and has a name no one can remember.

Similarly, kickers get paid much less than the majority of the other players. Outside of tight ends, another underappreciated position, kickers get paid the least, with an average salary of $868,005 per year, according to Sports Illustrated. Also, according to Advanced NFL Stats, since 2002, kickers have earned only 1.4 percent of the NFL’s total salary while accounting for 5 percent of the variance in the teams’ wins. In other words, the kicker single-handedly plays a relatively large role in determining the outcome of the game but doesn’t get paid for it. 

At the same time, while incredibly important, kickers are often immediately replaced if they are having one bad season. Nick Folk, who broke the Dallas Cowboys’ record for most points by a place kicker in 2007, was cut this year because of one poor season.

In the end, for much of the game, the kicker stands on the sideline and waits for his time to come. After about two minutes, it is over, and if he is successful, it mostly goes unnoticed, and if he is not, he could go down in infamy as a choker. Kickers work hard but get little credit and sometimes much of the blame for a loss. So give the kicker a break, maybe even buy one of his jerseys. Unless, of course, he misses in the Super Bowl. 

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David Roman is a junior psychology and sociology major from Windham, N.H.  He can be reached at [email protected]