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Kragthorpe: NFL kickers have respect of teammates

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When the Super Bowl XLVI contestants assembled for daily interview sessions in advance of Sunday’s game, each team’s kicker, punter and long snapper were assigned to a table.

At a glance

Super Bowl XLVI

At Indianapolis

New Englandvs. New York Giants

Sunday, 4:20 p.m., Ch. 5

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The arrangement was designed for reporting convenience — the whole special-teams angle, you know? — while also unintentionally illustrating a distinction between the specialists and what some consider actual football players.

Yet kickers believe they’re more valued than ever in NFL locker rooms, immersed in the team’s culture as opposed to being isolated from it. They’re team leaders, captains and player representatives.

"Guys respect what we do," said New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes. "Listen, it’s not an easy job, and there are only 32 of us in the world."

The specialists do tend to form their own mini-teams in the NFL.

That’s because punters almost always serve as holders for kicks, so they bond with the snapper and kicker and spend most of their practice time together.

But while their job descriptions and weekly preparation methods are different from everybody else’s, the kickers say they are treated like football players by their teammates in this era. In an impassioned response he shared with The Salt Lake Tribune after reading an Associated Press column about the stereotype of kickers being viewed with disdain among their teammates, Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely wrote, "The kicking profession in the 2000s has undergone a transition from outcast to team leader. … In 12 years in NFL locker rooms on five different teams, I have yet to be disrespected by one of my teammates because of the position I play."

Everything suggests Super Bowl XLVI will be a close game. Each of New England’s four Super Bowl appearances in this century was decided by exactly three points. The AFC and NFC championship games were lost and won by missed and made field goals, with Tynes kicking the Giants into the Super Bowl via an overtime field goal for the second time in five seasons.

Inevitably, after Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff failed to send his team into overtime against New England and kicking failures cost Georgia and Stanford chances to win bowl games, the old angle was dusted off about real football players competing for 60 or more minutes and then having a soccer player determine the outcome.

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That’s just how football works sometimes.

"I know we have a specialized job," said Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, "but at a professional level, when you are in the top 32 in the world at what you do, if they don’t respect what you do ..."

The Giants look up to Tynes and snapper Zak DeOssie. They’re among the eight members of the team’s leadership committee. Other veteran kickers, notably San Francisco’s David Akers, are highly respected around the league.

"The position is now filled with players who are great athletes and played many other positions and sports in high school and college," Feely wrote.

As evidence of athletic ability, Feely pointed out how kickers and quarterbacks are usually the best golfers on NFL rosters. That works for me.

These guys deserve respect for what they do, and when they do it. If this Super Bowl comes down to a last-second field goal, I like Tynes’ and Gostkowski’s chances of succeeding.

"I’m only human," Tynes said. "I get nervous. I’m not a robot. But I certainly know how to deal with it, and that’s kind of what separates guys: Can you deal with the pressure and the nerves?"


Twitter: @tribkurt

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