By Maxwell A. Quinn

The clock is winding down. The game is on the line. The quarterback calls time out. On to the field trots the man of the hour – the field goal kicker.

“very few people in the world can understand my job"

Somehow, a game of brutish force and chess-like strategy swings on the leg of a much slighter athlete. After 59 minutes of grunting, groaning, tackling, slashing moves and acrobatic catches, the result is left to one who has been standing on the sideline, stretching his leg, kicking into a practice net.

It seems somehow unfair – a parody of the game itself. The behemoths stand on the sideline, drenched in sweat and dirt and blood, reduced to mere spectators, holding their breath, the result of all their effort now totally dependent upon a snap and a hold and a kick.

And the kicker, who has been mostly inactive, now must rise to the occasion. The game, the playoffs, the season, the Super Bowl may rest on his ability to connect with the ball and drive it between the uprights – sometimes through rain, sleet, snow – with the hopes and dreams of his teammates flying as streamers behind the flight of the ball.

It is a lonely task, wrapped in extraordinary pressure.

“Kicking a football is very

“I have made kicks where I did nothing right, and I’ve missed kicks where I literally did everything perfectly.”
simple”, says John Kasay of the Super Bowl bound Carolina Panthers, “I did it in my backyard at the age of four. But put 11 guys on the other side, fill the stadium with 70,000 screaming fans, battle it out for three hours and have the outcome of the game determined by that final kick – it’s no longer quite so simple.”

Almost every game, kickers like Kasay, Jason Hanson of the Detroit Lions, Todd Peterson of the San Francisco 49’ers, Matt Stover of the Baltimore Ravens and Jason Elam of the Denver Broncos find themselves standing alone, seven yards behind the long snapper, with the outcome of the game resting not on their shoulders but on their toe.

It takes a special mindset to be a kicker, with success or failure so immediate and so visible. It takes nerves of steel, an abunance of confidence and a touch of stoicism.

Maybe the closest parallel in sports is the closer in baseball. Todd Peterson says, “I love my job. It’s a huge privilege and a great responsibility – but very few people in the world can understand my job. It’s a pressure packed position.”

“Kicking is different than anything else,” says Hanson. “Size doesn’t matter. Effort doesn’t matter. Speed doesn’t matter. It’s pure technique. I’ve never gone out to kick a game-winner and thought ‘this is automatic’. There are times I don’t worry about it, and other times I’m nervous as can be.”

“I’ve learned more from my misses than my successes"
And the results, while positive 80% of the time, aren’t always.

Sometimes, the kick is wide, short, shanked or blocked. And sometimes the kicker is surprised by the outcome. Peterson, who says he can tell the instant the ball leaves his foot whether it’s going through the uprights, also says, “I have made kicks where I did nothing right, and I’ve missed kicks where I literally did everything perfectly.”

Three factors seem to come in play on a field goal attempt: confidence, conditions and technique. And the greater the pressure, the more confidence becomes the key factor.

A missed kick earlier in the game can shake a kicker's confidence. Even a field goal that barely made it through, or caromed off the goalpost, or drifted to the right or left, can plant itself in the kicker’s mind and cause his confidence to waver.
To put the negatives aside, erase any previous miscues from the mind, and step on the field when the game’s on the line with absolute confidence is the challenge.

Hanson, who has kicked his share of game-winners, says, “Part of our professional training is to step on the field and execute no matter what.” No matter the conditions, or the level of confidence, or prior successes or failures, or the mechanics. The job is to get the ball through the uprights.

“No one cares if I had a great week of practice,”

“From a human standpoint, I find myself saying, ‘I can’t do this.’”
Hanson states. “The only issue is getting it done for those 20 seconds I’m on the field. The life of a kicker is to have games of glory, weeks of glory – but there are times you’re the reason for the loss.”

Not only are the results of the game on the line, the kicker’s career can hang in the balance as well. “There’s no job security at all,” says Peterson. Kasay takes it even one foot further – “Every day is like a tryout. There’s always someone else they can call, who would love to come in.”

And what of the failures? What of those times when the game was lost because the kicker didn’t do his job?

Kasay, Peterson, Stover, Hanson and Elam rely on their faith in God.

“I’ve learned more from my misses than my successes,” says Kasay. “I have to let go and simply trust in what God has for me.”

Hanson says “I don’t know how I could kick without my faith. I train as hard as I can, and if it’s not good enough, I know there is a God who cares for me and has a plan for me, and my identity is not dependent on whether I make a field goal or not.”

And Peterson echoes the same sentiment, “Apart from Christ it would be impossible to do my job. My identity isn’t wrapped up in whether I make a field goal or not. God is in control.”

John Kasay explained his approach to Super Bowl XXXVIII this way. “There is so much electricity going into the game. The premium is on not making mistakes. From a human standpoint, I find myself saying, ‘I can’t do this.’ I have to rely on the promises of God.

“It’s an opportunity for God to demonstrate His glory through weak individuals, like me.”

So much riding on a kick and an individual.

Jason Hanson sums it up well, “Being in relationship with Jesus Christ relieves the pressure of performance. Whether I’m a superstar or garbage, I’m still His.

“My whole life is based on Jesus Christ.”

And the kick is good.