Here’s the Kicker

I am baffled by football—not so much the rules or the strategy, which seems clear enough to me, but by the culture of the sport. To move from baseball to football seems to me like being dropped into a tribal South American culture. Goodbye flannel shirt and table manners. Hello loincloth and body piercings.

Except for that one player—the little guy who nobody talks to. The one who looks way too small and way to clean to be a part of the on the field barbarism.

I’m speaking, of course, of the kicker.

In baseball, every many on the team matters, from the star outfielder to the middle reliever. Not every player gets into every game, but every one has a role to fill and is appreciated by his teammates for that role.

To be fair, I’ve heard the same said of football teams, particularly in the pros. “You only get 53 spots on an active roster,” I heard one commentator say. “And two of those spots have to go to the punter and the kicker.”

It’s a prejudice backed up by history. No kicker has ever won college football’s Heisman Trophy. Only three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and only one of those (Jan Stenerud) did not play any other position. Kickers are usually draw the lowest salary on the team, and is usually seen by other, more athletic players as an outsider.

And yet kickers decide the biggest games in the biggest moments, as was evident in the Auburn-Alabama matchup last Saturday. The Alabama kickers missed four field goals, any one of which would have given them the win in a game they ultimately lost. The final miss ended up in a 107-yard return that ended the Crimson Tide’s national championship hopes.

I don’t want to pile onto those poor kickers. They are very young men, after all—too young for their lives to be defined by this all too public failure. Besides, it really is just a game.

But I do want to shine a brief spotlight on the importance of the kicker, because most of us play that role at one time or another. We do thankless jobs for little or no pay, only to be overlooked by virtually everyone else around us.

Lack of notice does not translate into lack of importance, however. Ellsworth Kalas tells the story of medieval stone masons who carved the gargoyles atop buildings in great detail, even though their top and back sides would never be visible to the masses. Yet God could see their work from his heaven, and he would notice.

May we do our own work with such care, even we have to do it without recognition from the rest of our tribe.

Loincloths look ridiculous anyway.

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