Maybe hiring kicking coaches, such as the Cowboys' Steve Hoffman, a former Dickinson (Pa.) College punter, is the wave of the future. "I'm the shoulder they cry on," he says. "They're so alone. My job is to keep them comfortable."
His job is also to find kickers who are game tough, not flaky like Johansson. "When I scout a college kicker," Hoffman says, "I usually say a couple of things to challenge him, and then I look in his eyes and listen to his voice. How does he respond? When you look in his eyes, do you see confidence or paranoia? You have to go with your gut feeling on a guy."
Hoffman had a gut check this summer when he had to replace kicker Ken Willis, who went to the Tampa Bay Bucs under Plan B. Dallas signed two kickers—Brad Daluiso of the Buffalo Bills through Plan B and Lin Elliott, a free agent out of Texas Tech—and had them square off in the preseason. Elliott won the roster spot when he hit both of his field goal tries and put all four of his kickoffs into the end zone in the final preseason game. Even so, he was bothered by a strained groin, and the game doesn't count.
The scariest thing for NFL coaches to realize is this: If Johansson and his miracle leg were around today, he would probably still get a tryout somewhere. It's enough to make Peterson plot some revenge. "When I retire," says Peterson, "I'm going to open a kickers' camp. I'm going to get them all in there, and you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to throw pies in their faces."