March 2, 2024

Smurf Turf: Kicker’s Paradise

One of the worst feelings for me is to watch a kicker stroll onto a field for a game-winning field goal attempt. I don’t trust them.


This archived article was written by: KC Smurthwaite

One of the worst feelings for me is to watch a kicker stroll onto a field for a game-winning field goal attempt. I don’t trust them.
Granted, the Smurf has a secret desire to be able to kick field goals, but for fun, not for the gut- wrenching outcome of the game. I think every reader should be thankful the Smurf isn’t lining up to nail a game winning field for your favorite team. 
Many kickers are actually good at their chosen craft, players with ice water in their veins who can hit the space between two yellow poles from 50 yards out and 100,000 fans screaming at him. These are the guys who make a living kicking, and a good living it can be. In the NFL the average salary for a kicker is at $ 868,000 year.  (Oakland Raider kicker Sebastian Janikowski recently signed a four-year, $16 million contract. Included in the deal is $9 million in guaranteed money.  For kicking a football.  That’s more money than astronauts, brain surgeons and most college professors earn.) Maybe I chose the wrong profession.
The perks aren’t bad at the college level, either. A free education, housing, food, semi-posh lifestyle, fees and books. All just to kick a pigskin between those tall, yellow poles.  And practices are a breeze.  Just kick the ball, over and over.  No contact drills, no wind sprints, no tackling.  You even have a grad student shagging the football for you.  It’s a sweet life.   Right?
Not really. There’s a downside to kicking, especially if you’re the kicker for Oklahoma State, Utah, Oklahoma, Alabama or Boise State. All of those teams had kicking disasters this year. Oklahoma State’s kicker, Quinn Sharp, missed horribly on a 37-yard field goal that would have sealed a victory for the then-undefeated Oklahoma State when they played Iowa State earlier this.  That missed kick almost assuredly kept the Cowboys out of the BCS championship game early next year. Lowly Iowa State forced overtime, and upset the second-ranked team in the country because of Sharp’s shanked boot. It’s a kick that probably cost the school millions of dollars. The biggest groan when Sharp smoked it wasn’t from the fans.  It was from Oklahoma State’s athletic director, school president and coaching staff.  They were kissing millions good-bye.  
University of Oklahoma? Their undefeated season, and national championship dreams were crushed as they were upset by Texas Tech in late October 41-38. Kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed a 39-yard-field goal in the first half and a 28-yarder off the right upright with 2:52 left, sealing a victory for the Red Raiders.  
When top-ranked Louisiana State University met number-two ranked Alabama on November 5, the world eagerly tuned in this year’s “game of the century.” (A quick side note:  the Smurf, having his priorities mostly right, was at his sister’s wedding reception that night, a gathering in which he noticed many male figures, including himself, frequently checking IPods in the corner. It was a nice reception.  At least the parts I can remember.)
Back to the story. Alabama lost 9-6, and the Crimson Tide kicking duo of Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley went 2-6 on field goals. At the time, it knocked Alabama out of a shot at the national championship, but thanks to many upsets (a few due to game-winning field goals) the Tide is back in the hunt. Let’s hope Shelley and Foster have been practicing extra hard. 
The fate of kickers is fickle.  You’re a hero one week, and the next, your own mom might not even claim you as her own.  Kicker Coleman Petersen of Utah knows the feeling.  He was the Pac-12 player of the week for his stellar performance against Washington State, which included a game-winning field goal in overtime. Then, the horrible Buffaloes of Colorado, winners of a paltry two games all year long, came to Salt Lake City to face Utah. The Ute’s were riding a four- game winning streak and somehow found themselves in place for a chance at the division championship. Colorado’s senior class had never won a road game, losing 23 straight.  Seemed like a sure bet that Utah would make easy work of the outmanned Buffs and send the senior class home winless.  Enter Peterson’s right foot. A week after being the hero, he missed three field goals, one from a measly 26 yards out, a distance most high school kickers routinely put between the uprights.  Needless to say, the Buffaloes are on a one-game winning streak heading into next
season and Utah is headed to a bowl game that will be played before Christmas against a team from a middle-sized Midwestern university that has a good ag program.   
But let’s save the best for last.  Or the worst, depending on your point-of-view. The Cinderella team, yep, the Boise State Broncos. For two years in a row, BSU has ridden an undefeated season and potential Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game going into the last few weeks. Last year kicker Kyle Brotzman missed two short field goals in a 34-31 loss in overtime to Nevada. That loss knocked Boise State out of the BCS. This season? Same story only with a different kicker and different team. Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal (from the middle of the field) that sailed into another zip code against Texas Christian University. The kick missed as time expired which allowed TCU a narrow 36-35 victory over fifth- ranked Boise State.  (Just a thought here for the BSU coaching staff: Recruit a good kicker in the off-season.  A very good kicker.) Those two kicks have been estimated at costing Boise State $10 to $15 million dollars in bowl game money. Ouch.  
Kicks are costly. They can cost a school millions of dollars. The last phrase any coach wants to hear in a close game is “wide right.” But it’s part of the deal.  Kickers know going into any game that, with thousands in the stadium cheering or jeering you, millions of fans rising from their couches in agony, tens of millions of dollars maybe riding on your foot, with eternal fame or infamy seconds away, that it’s anything but paradise.
No question about it.  I’d rather be an astronaut.