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Mike Leach (1000)

How does a tight end who's never caught an NFL pass last seven seasons? By becoming the master of football's overlooked art

Posted: Tuesday August 28, 2007 3:31PM; Updated: Tuesday August 28, 2007 3:31PM
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The King 500
Mike Leach, Long Snapper, Denver broncos.
Mike Leach, Long Snapper, Denver broncos.
Greg Nelson/SI

After a run through the list of the top 500 players, aren't you curious about 501 through 1,696? While I didn't rank every one of the 53 men on the 32 rosters, I did want to single out a player who represents the unranked 70% of the NFL and embodies the notion that, in a league of stars who date Gisele BŁndchen and hang with Kenny Chesney, there's a critical role for everyone on the roster. This player, given the symbolic ranking of 1,000, is Mike Leach, long snapper for the Broncos.

The man who hikes the ball on punts, and field goal and extra-point attempts might seem the most replaceable of players. But consider this: Over the last decade 24% of all NFL games have been decided by three points or less, and a poor long snap can be the difference.

In Week 16 last year, with 41 seconds left in a game at Denver, the Bengals got a bad snap on a point-after attempt that would have tied the game at 24. A victory would have ensured Cincinnati a nine-win season and an AFC wild-card spot over 9-7 Kansas City. Instead, the Bengals finished 8-8 and stayed home. Such is the value of a player like Leach, who in 4 1D 2 seasons with Denver has made 641 regular-season snaps, and every one was spot on; the only muffed exchange in that time came when the holder turned his head away after calling the signal.

A tight end and punter at Boston University and William & Mary, Leach signed with the Titans in 2000. "One day [at training camp] I just picked up a ball and snapped it to [punter] Craig Hentrich," Leach says. "The special-teams coach, Alan Lowry, noticed something in that snap and told me, 'A tight end who snaps can stay in this league a lot longer than a tight end who punts.' "

Though officially listed as a tight end, Leach has never caught a pass as a pro and has been on the field for only 13 plays with the offense in his time in Denver. Instead, he runs on and off virtually unnoticed and handles the pressure with ease. Says Leach, "I've just never let the moment get to me." Not even against Oakland in the snow three seasons ago, when Raiders tackle Warren Sapp tried to ice him. "I was clearing the snow away from the spot where I was going to snap,' " Leach says, "and he kept kicking the snow back on the spot. I was just kidding around, but I said something like, 'Don't make me come over there and kick your ass.' "

As usual, the snap was made and the kick was good.