Time to give kickers a break
Kickers don’t get any respect. Seriously, name any other position in the four major sports that gets forgotten and ridiculed more than place-kickers.
If they’re effective, people just say they’re doing their jobs. If they win a game, they’re praised for maybe 24 hours, then quickly forgotten.
And if they fail, they’re hammered on social media and are usually the only one blamed for a loss. Their failures can linger for not just a game, but sometimes for the entire season or even their whole careers.
Sometimes they’re seen as lesser members of the team by their teammates. Imagine being ignored or mocked by your coworkers and only acknowledged when they desperately need your assistance. Then after you save the day, they go back to treating you like they did before.
Kickers are basically the Rodney Dangerfields of the sports world. No respect at all.
There are a handful that are praised and remembered by fans. Adam Vinatieri won two Super Bowls for the New England Patriots with last-second field goals and won a playoff game against Oakland by basically knuckleballing a kick through the uprights in a snowstorm.
Jim O’Brien won Super Bowl V for the then-Baltimore Colts. Garrett Hartley kicked a field goal in overtime that sent the New Orleans Saints to their first and only Super Bowl so far and journeyman kicker Tom Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal, once an NFL record, despite missing the front of his right foot.
Those are all rarities, though. People remember kickers for their mistakes, not their successes, and they’re almost as well-known as legends like Vinatieri and Dempsey.
There’s no fan base that understands terrible kicking moments like Vikings fans. Just saying names like Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh will make Minnesota fans cringe and most likely cause pent-up rage to spout.
Anderson made every field goal in the 1998 season until he missed one late that ultimately kept the Vikings from making the Super Bowl. The guy was perfect all year, but Anderson’s name will be attached to that miss.
In the 2016 playoffs against Seattle, Walsh was the only player to score points for Minnesota that game as he kicked three field goals, but he’ll live on forever in the memories of Vikings fans for kicking a game-winning 27-yarder about five yards to the left.
Perhaps even sadder for Walsh, he never really recovered from that miss. He was cut by Minnesota the following season and again one year later by the Seahawks after shanking a game-winning kick that would’ve sent Seattle to the playoffs. I cursed his name when Walsh missed his kick for the Vikes, but now that he’s out of a job, I feel bad for him.
Sometimes kicker errors can linger even after the team wins a title. Living in Indianapolis for two years, I found out Colts fans still hate Mike Vanderjagt for missing a game-winner in the playoffs a few years before. That team was widely considered Indy’s most talented team and its best chance to win a Super Bowl.
Vanderjagt had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds against Pittsburgh, but shanked it right. He was not re-signed by the Colts, who then picked up Vinatieri and won the Super Bowl the following year. Vanderjagt was once the most accurate kicker in NFL history and he’ll forever be remembered for that fateful attempt.
However, Anderson, Walsh and Vanderjagt pale in comparison to poor Scott Norwood. Just mention Norwood’s name to football fans and two words come to mind — wide right.
He had a chance to win the Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills in 1991, but his 47-yard kick sailed just outside the upright and he’ll never live it down. Norwood somewhat got back in Bills fans’ good graces the next year as his field goal in the AFC Championship ended up being the deciding points that brought Buffalo back to the Super Bowl, but he’ll forever be attached to those two painful words.
Last weekend, Chicago Bears fans got to experience the pain that Vikings and Bills fans know so well as Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal managed to hit both upright and crossbar before falling harmlessly to the turf. Parkey was heavily booed as he left the field and the reception was far worse on social media.
Odds are he’ll be let go soon since postseason failures tend to not sit well with management. There are lots of kickers who are desperate for roster spots, so it’s hard not to have sympathy for him and most of the criticism Parkey received was either harsh or moronic.
The moronic tweets involved some fans insisting that they could’ve made that kick. Yes, there were some armchair placekickers who thought they could hit a 43-yard field goal in early January.
It should be obvious, but kicking field goals is difficult. You have to have a strong leg, great aim and the ability to judge the wind and conditions along with having the mental strength to handle the heavy stress of having your team’s postseason hopes sitting on your shoulders.
To prove how hard it is, ESPN’s Katie Nolan devoted an entire segment of her show “Always Late” to having college football fans attempt field goals. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for these fellows.
One guy attempted a 31-yarder and was about 25 yards short. Another’s 32-yarder didn’t even get off the ground.
The last guy thought he could hit a 52-yard kick. How do you think he did? The ball went about a foot downfield. Basically, Nolan and her crew proved that people mostly choke when asked to put their money where their mouths are.
So next time you see a kicker miss a field goal, think for a second. Could you really do what they do? Could you do your job with 75,000 people yelling in your ears? I’m guessing probably not.
Kickers deserve our respect and it’s time we cut them some slack.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.