Posted: Friday January 5, 2007 1:45PM; Updated: Friday January 5, 2007 1:45PM
Eagles kicker David Akers says Koy Detmer (10) is the greatest holder he's ever had.
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Football coaches are forever trying to convince outsiders that their game is so infinitely complex that we could never really understand what's going on. Reporters nod in appreciation of this knowledge, but deep inside we're usually thinking: "Right, buddy. Run, pass, block, tackle. Don't make it sound like you're discovering the DNA double helix.''
Armed with this attitude, I stood in front of Eagles' kicker David Akers Thursday afternoon in the Eagles dressing room, three days before their playoff matchup with the staggering -- but still dangerous -- Giants. I wanted Akers to explain to me the rationale behind the Eagles signing Koy Detmer this week to hold for Akers's field goal and PAT attempts in the playoffs.
"Think of it this way,'' Akers said, trying to find a metaphor that I could understand. "My buddy had a swimming pool put in at his house this week. A guy showed up with a backhoe, dug the pool, got the slant perfectly and was gone in one day. It looked like a job that you would need a whole team of people to do, but this one guy did it in one day and he made it look easy.''
Pause for me to understand what he was saying.
"That's what kicking is like,'' Akers said. "It looks easy, but there's a whole lot more to it than snap, hold, kick.''
OK. Let's take a trip back to Square One. Coming into this season, Akers, 32, had made 155 of 187 field goal attempts since signing with the Eagles before the 1998 seasons. (He went 0-for-2 with the Redskins in 1997). His .820 percentage (including the two misses with the 'Skins) was ranked fifth in NFL history. He had never missed -- 40-for-40 -- from 29 yards and in.
Detmer, the perennial backup QB from Colorado, younger brother of Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, had been his holder on every one of those kicks. On Wednesday, Aug. 30, near the end of training camp, the Eagles cut Detmer, who went home to San Antonio with his wife and three children and started a new life as a quarterback tutor and financial planner. (Detmer was made expendable by the signing of quarterback Jeff Garcia).
Akers did fine without Detmer, whom he says is, "The best I've ever seen,'' at holding for placekicks. He made 12-of-15 field goals through November with Eagles' punter Dirk Johnson doing the holding, in part because veteran snapper Mike Bartrum is also one of the best in the game. But on Nov. 26, Bartrum went down against the Colts with an injured neck and was placed on injured reserve.
Three days later the Eagles signed four-year veteran long snapper John Dorenbos, who had previous snapped for the Bills and Titans (and is also known as a magician of dizzying skills). With a new snapper and a new holder, Akers was now working without a net. "There was all of sudden a whole lot of pressure on all three of us,'' Akers said.
They handled it fine for a month. Akers missed a bomb against the Giants on Dec. 17, but went three-for-three against the Cowboys on Christmas Day. However, last Sunday he clanked a 23-yarder off the right upright in an otherwise meaningless 23-7 win over the Falcons. The miss was set in motion when Johnson failed to handle Dorenbos's snap and put the ball down with the laces facing Akers. It was the first miss of Akers' career inside 30 yards, after 51 consecutive successful kicks.
The next day -- New Year's Day -- Detmer got a call at home in San Antonio. "I was a little surprised,'' Detmer said. "But it was also understandable, going into the playoffs and everything.'' The Eagles signed Detmer on Tuesday morning -- he was filling out tax forms at his locker on Thursday -- and he was holding for Dorenbos and Akers on Tuesday, alone on the rest of the team's day off.
It was a swift adjustment for Detmer. He had been staying in modest shape while tutoring a few high school and college quarterbacks, but also apprenticing under his brother in the money business. "As far as holding,'' he said. "None of that. I wanted to get to Philadelphia as quickly as possible.''
Why all the fuss? Well, first of all because field goals routinely decide playoff games and because you want your kicker happy when he's looking at the ball. Second, because holding the ball is actually a fairly complex job, which, when done well, can be the difference between a make and a miss.
"Case in point,'' explained Akers. "We're playing the Packers at home in the 2004 Playoffs. We're got a 37-yard field goal to tie the game and force overtime. Earlier in the game I missed from almost the same distance [33 yards, actually] going in the same direction. So we realize this time that the ball has to be leaning forward and away from the holder to accentuate a draw into the wind. Koy gets it down just like that and the ball fights the wind and goes straight through the middle. If there had been no wind, it would have gone high and wide left.''
Akers explains that in windy conditions he will often ask Detmer to lean the ball left or right, forward or backward, depending on the hash mark and direction of the wind. It's delicate work, undertaken with 65,000 people screaming and 11 crazed defenders attacking at the snap. Like Akers said, it looks easy on television, but it's not.
As Akers talked, I couldn't help but notice some of the items inside his locker: A caricature of Detmer, hand-drawn in pencil, a large oil painting of Akers kicking in an open field from Detmer's hold. (Clearly, there is a bond). Many pairs of shoes. Helmet, Pads.
And a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. I'm guessing the pool digger doesn't carry the pink stuff around.