The Misery of Kicking Footballs

About a year ago, I watched Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman botch two very makable field goals in a game that would have sent his team to the National Championship game.

I felt horrible for that kid.

I felt that way again this week, while enjoying a margarita at a Mexican food restaurant and casually conversing with my wife. During our conversation, I passively watched Jordan Williamson of Stanford miss two kicks of his own, essentially costing Stanford the game.

While scanning ESPN Tuesday night, I saw that it happened again, this time at Virginia Tech.

Shortly after the Boise State debacle last year, a friend of mine told me this (inappropriate) joke:

Friend: Did you hear that Kyle Brotzman tried to commit suicide?
Me: Oh my God, no I didn’t. That’s horrible.
Friend: He tried to hang himself, but he couldn’t kick out the chair.

Ugh. That joke is brutal, but it illustrates the gravity of the failure. And in my opinion, it’s an inordinate amount of pressure to put on a college kicker. A quarterback? Fine, because they get to revel in the glory if things go the other way. For a kicker, there’s only downside.

Remember what happened to Ray Finkle in Ace Ventura? Dan Marino didn’t set up the kick with the “laces out,” and Finkle’s whole life spiraled out of control!

But seriously, we quickly forget the kicks that are made (or even missed) throughout the game. We put a magnifying glass on the disaster, because kickers are supposed to make those kicks.

Although the pressure is the same in the pros, it’s somewhat different because the crop of talent is more refined and the kickers are well-paid adults. Only a select group of college players ever make it to the NFL, and only a handful of those hold starting jobs. College teams have plenty of players who will either fail to reach the pro level or they’ll make the choice to get degrees and move on in life. Kickers often fall in the two latter groups.

But we’ve put so much attention on college football, specifically a handful of big bowl games, that these moments become massive. Sure, a kicker can develop the mechanics to perform in practice and in the middle of the game, but those big moments are laced with a huge amount of pressure. You could see how a 30-yard kick might get in the head of a 19-year-old kid at that point.

If kickers do their job, they go unnoticed. That’s the best they could really hope for. But if they miss wide right, we’ll see it a million times on Sportscenter.

And if it’s ugly enough, it will be immortalized in the form of off-color jokes.

Originally ran on the Huffington Post.

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