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What a long, strange trip

Complete opposites Landeta, Sapp unite in retirement

Posted: Wednesday March 12, 2008 12:06PM; Updated: Thursday March 13, 2008 2:05AM
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Sean Landeta was the last active player remaining from the USFL, which folded in 1985.
Sean Landeta was the last active player remaining from the USFL, which folded in 1985.
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What a week for retirements! Brett Favre, then Sean Landeta the punter, then Warren Sapp. Hey, wait a minute... wasn't Landeta gone a year ago? I mean the record book shows no punts for him in 2007.

"I counted last year because I suited up," he said. Well... OK, I guess, technically...

"No, it counts," he said. "I worked out all season, waiting for the phone call that never came. So I'm counting it. And then I realized, that's it. I'm through. But if someone called and said, 'Look, we need somebody right away,' I bet I could get myself in shape."

He thought for a moment. Sean Landeta is your textbook phone call in the middle of the night. A punter goes down. Quick, call Landeta.

Every time a team said goodbye to him, the final word was, "Stay in shape. You never know." It has paid off for the 46-year old ex-punter, who can list seven NFL teams and two in the old USFL -- that's right, 25 years ago -- on his résumé, some of them which were represented more than once, a couple in two different cities.

"The other punters out of work, well, they'd keep working out, but by October 1 they'd shut it down 'til next year," he says. "Not me. I was in shape right through January. A punter always can get hurt in the playoffs, right? And when they make that call, they want somebody right away, I mean the next day.

"I had the same routine I'd follow every week during the football season. I'd pretend I was in a regular week of the season. I mimicked the practice week. Monday and Tuesday I did some lifting, some running. Wednesday and Thursday I'd punt. I'd go out to one of the high school fields on Long Island, where I live. No, I never found anybody to go out and kick with me. The high school and college punters would all be in school. I'd take a bunch of towels out there, spread 'em 50 or 60 yards apart, and punt at them. Just me, I didn't mind. Toward the end of the week, I'd tail off, then on Sunday, I'd pretend I was in a game, punt 40 or 50 balls. If it was a game I wanted to go to, I'd punt in the morning.

"My theory was that it could happen at any time. A guy goes down, the phone rings. 'What kind of shape are you in?'"

I must have seemed a bit skeptical because he was quick to point out, "Hey, that got me another 10 seasons, almost."

The year was 1997, Landeta's 13th in the league, after three in the USFL. It was his fifth year in St. Louis, which had been Los Angeles his first year with the club. He was coming off three straight seasons of averaging in the 48's, which got him first place in the NFL, then first and second in the NFC. But the Rams had a new coaching staff and the special teams guy, Frank, Crash, Gansz, thought he had "found a flaw" in Landeta's technique. So Sean was gone, back to Long Island and the towels.

"I went home and punted by myself," he says. "I told myself, 'Stay ready.' Well, week one went by, then two, then three, then four. I said, 'This is it. It ain't gonna happen.'"

In week six, Tampa Bay's Tommy Barnhardt broke his collarbone, tackling the Packers' Bill Schroeder. A day later there were 11 punters in the Bucs' camp. "There were five young guys," Landeta says. "I was part of the old guys group...me and Rich Camarillo and Mike Horan and Mike Saxon, people like that. I thought everyone punted pretty well.

"They gave us lunch. We thought they'd come out of the office and say, 'OK, you're it.' But they told us to go home. They'd let us know. When I got to my house from the airport there was a message on the phone. I'd been picked. I just turned around and flew back down there. That phone call bought me 10 more years."

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