Getting Kicks

Twice the Jets could have beaten the Steelers, thus advancing to Sunday's AFC Championship Game, if only their kicker hadn't missed. Twice he missed.

Kickers are the guys with no dirt on their uniforms. Infielders who bobble ground balls get to hit. Basketball players who miss last-second shots play defense. Kickers kick.

When kickers get hit, and even when they just get nudged a little, sort of by mistake, alarms go off and flags are thrown and the team they kick for gets a first down fifteen yards up the field. This is because kickers are, by definition as well as inclination, defenseless.

They are also the guys who get to keep their heavy coats on and wear mittens while everybody else freezes.

For all those reasons, and also because kickers are less than six feet eight inches tall, weigh less than 360 lbs., and don't have to be able to run, jump, block, tackle, catch, or throw, it is not hard for people watching games to imagine themselves as kickers.

If you were to meet a lineman for a professional football team on the street, you might say to yourself, "what a cloudy day it has become. Oh, no, actually that fellow is blotting out the sun." If a kicker were to pass you on the street, you would not know he was a professional football player. You might think he was a high school social studies teacher or a neuro-biologist...unless he was trailing a foul-mouthed crowd, in which case you might begin to suspect that he was a kicker who had missed.

When the kicker misses, the only people more disgruntled than that crowd are his teammates. For interminable minutes while the kicker — more comfortable than all but the wealthiest fans — watches, those teammates are pushing and pulling at guys on the other team, having their legs cut out from under them by raging louts, getting their faces shoved into the frozen ground, all to move the ball close enough to the goal line so that the kicker - warm, dry, and unbruised in his clean uniform — can trot on to the field and, safe as any dancer, doink one through the uprights for three.

If he misses, he's the embodiment of useless. In the only moment that matters, while he is the only person everyone's watching, he has failed at the one thing he's there to do.

This program aired on January 20, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.


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