The day I found compassion for the kicker
Hard to believe it, but the start of NFL training camp is less than a week away.
Football season is like that. With baseball, I tend to sit around for about a month in breathless anticipation of the new season, and the same with basketball. Those sports are like rock stars who begin their concert an hour late. The crowd is clapping and chanting and threatening to ignite various stationary objects when finally the star strolls out on stage and yells “Hello, Cleveland!”
Football, though, sneaks up on you like your little brother with a Wiffle Ball bat. You’ve just gotten comfortable watching golf when all of a sudden, Thwack! Rich Gannon has agreed to a multiyear contract with the Raiders. It’s only freakin’ July!
Here’s another NFL tidbit: The 49ers signed a kicker on Monday. Jeff Chandler,a fourth-round draft selection out of Florida, received a $330,000 signing bonus in addition to the standard league minimum wage (around $300,000 per year over three years).
Of course by NFL standards this is like working at Burger King, but hey, he’s the kicker — not exactly the most essential or well-respected player on the team. Even in high school these guys spent most of their time being suspended from shower nozzles by their jock straps.
Seeing the headline on Monday, however: Chandler reaches deal with 49ers, made me recall a time when another Chandler had similar ambitions.
I attended Sequoia High in Redwood City, Calif., which gave us players such as UCLA Heisman quarterback Gary Beban, and Atlanta Falcons lineman Bob Svihus.
I also plied my trade as a lineman, with a couple of plays at tight end during a remarkably unremarkable prep career.
But showing up early for practice one day, I found a kicking tee which had been left out on the field the night before. I got a ball from the lockerroom and teed it up from about 20 yards. I knocked it through the goalposts, and so moved the tee back to the 30. I knocked it through again.
OK, back to the 35. Adding the 10 yards of the end zone, this was a 45-yard attempt. I kicked it — and I swear this is true — the ball hit the right goal post, caromed sideways, hit the left goalpost and went through.
I had seen enough. That day at practice I demanded the opportunity to become the team’s place-kicker — even though our regular kicker had made the all-league team the year before as a junior, and could kick a raccoon through a rolling tire. But I was undaunted. I was the real deal.
And what a deal this kicking thing was! You show up for practice whenever you darn well feel like it, you kick a few footballs and never even break a sweat. No suicide drills, no coaches yelling at you (it would break your confidence). All the perks, none of the setbacks. That’s the life for me.
There was only one problem: the defense. My coaches humored me and let me attempt an extra point during a live scrimmage. The resulting carnage can only be described as appalling — I was buried under seven players, two from my own team, and my helmet was turned completely sideways. To this day grass will not grow on the spot where I was tackled. It was the only time I ever saw a football actually completely flattened.
So I have a little more respect for place-kickers than does the casual fan; the position is tougher than it looks. It always amazes me that NFL teams will burn through five or six of them in a season, casting them aside like empty aluminum cans whenever the slightest thing goes wrong.
Of course there’s the other extreme, when you lose your mind completely and use your first draft pick to take Sebastian Janikowski.
So here’s to the kickers, and here’s to football. Thanks to the signing of Jeff Chandler, your season did not sneak up on me this year. I’m ready for you.
And if you would like me to come to your junior high school and describe my amazing, sideways practice field goal, I am available on most weekdays in August. I await your call. Thank you.
— Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at