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Monson: BYU, USU kickers must kick away infamy

Published October 1, 2012 11:37 am

College football • Utah State, Utah and BYU kickers combined to go 1 for 6 on field-goal attempts Saturday.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After watching kickers do what they did — or do what they didn't do — Saturday night at the end of the Utah-BYU game and Utah State's two-point loss at Wisconsin, you have to wonder about that part of the third phase of football.

There's offense, defense and … insanity.

Kicking is the crazed phase, a phase only for the crazy.

The Aggies would have beaten the Badgers if Josh Thompson's 37-yard field-goal attempt with 6 seconds left had been good, and the Cougars would have forced overtime with the Utes if Justin Sorensen's long field goal hadn't been blocked, and then, after the crowd penalty, Riley Stephenson's 37-yard mulligan hadn't doinked off the left upright.

On the other foot, Thompson's try, had it flown straight, merely would have tied the game had Wisconsin's kicker Kyle French not had his PAT blocked after Montee Ball's 17-yard touchdown run put the Badgers up 16-14. All told that night, the Aggies were 0 for 2 on field-goal attempts, and Wisconsin was just 1 for 3.

In the Utes-Cougars game, BYU was 0 for 2 and Utah 1 for 2.

As I watched Thompson and Stephenson walk off their fields, their heads down, their teams now defeated, Thompson at Camp Randall, Stephenson at Rice-Eccles, the old Waylon Jennings tune came to mind:

"Mammas don't let your babies grow up to be [kickers]," because they "ain't easy to love and they're harder to hold [for]." And "they're always alone."

If there's a lonelier pursuit than placekicking a football, it's hard to imagine what it would be. Kickers don't really mesh well with other football players. They are seen as oddballs, misfits, weirdos and wimps. On a toughness scale, they are at the bottom of the football food chain.

Linebackers and defensive ends and offensive tackles can't really relate to them. They don't get who they are or what they do or how they do it. They don't even try, or pay attention of any kind to kickers …

Until they miss.

The old legendary NFL defensive lineman Alex Karras was the one who famously described football as a game that is played by groups of extraordinarily large men who go out and beat each other senseless for a few hours, and then at the end, a small, scrawny guy runs out on the field, toes a ball through the uprights and screams: "Me kickee touchdown! Me kickee touchdown!"

I have a longtime friend in the sports media who loves football but flat-out hates kickers. If he had his way, kicking would be eliminated from the game. I told him if that were the case, you couldn't call it football, you'd have to call it just … ball.

How Thompson and Sorensen and Stephenson are holding up after their failures the other night, I don't know. Maybe they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, maybe they've already dismissed the whole mess and are looking ahead.

I doubt that last one.

Infamy is hard to shake. We all remember the name Ryan Kaneshiro for a reason.

Either way, turns out they aren't alone. They are in an exclusive company of kickers and ex-kickers who have tried and failed in the past, but moved on, who know the trouble they have seen and the burdens they now bear.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 and 960 AM The Zone and 97.5 FM. Twitter: @GordonMonson.