|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.
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
Almost every game, kickers like Kasay, Jason Hanson of the Detroit Lions, Todd Peterson of the San Francisco 49ers, 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. Its a huge privilege and a great responsibility but very few people in the world can understand my job. Its a pressure packed position.
Kicking is different than anything else, says Hanson. Size doesnt matter. Effort doesnt matter. Speed doesnt matter. Its pure technique. Ive never gone out to kick a game-winner and thought this is automatic. There are times I dont worry about it, and other times Im nervous as can be.
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 its going through the uprights, also says, I have made kicks where I did nothing right, and Ive 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 kickers 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 games 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,
Not only are the results of the game on the line, the kickers career can hang in the balance as well. Theres no job security at all, says Peterson. Kasay takes it even one foot further Every day is like a tryout. Theres 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 didnt do his job?
Kasay, Peterson, Stover, Hanson and Elam rely on their faith in God.
Ive 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 dont know how I could kick without my faith. I train as hard as I can, and if its 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 isnt 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 cant do this. I have to rely on the promises of God.
Its 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 Im a superstar or garbage, Im still His.
My whole life is based on Jesus Christ.
And the kick is good.