2. Then' is a change of possession.
3. There is a specific attempt to score.
The job of special teams coach has grown in stature since Allen placed that phone call to Vermeil. "A decade ago this was an entry-level job," Dallas special teams coach Joe Avezzano says. "You did this until you got a real job. Now head coaches view it as a crucial hire."
Getting the right coach for your special teams units has always been a lot easier than getting the right players. Coaches routinely pluck standouts off the kicking teams to fill holes in the starting lineup. Special-teamers are also hit hard by the fiscal realities of the NFL. This year the minimum salary for fifth-year players rises from $185,000 to $275,000, and veteran top-notch kick coverage men may find themselves without a job. Avezzano notes that with a rookie minimum of $131,000, teams sometimes can sign two youngsters for the price it costs to land one veteran.
In this era of the salary cap, Avezzano might have the toughest job of any of his peers. He has lost first-rate special-teamers Kenny Gant, Darrick Brownlow, Matt Vanderbeek and Joe Fishback to free agency because the Cowboys have so much money tied up in stars like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Avezzano knows he will have to build his units with a solid veteran such as Bill Bates, a couple of starters sprinkled here and there, and a bunch of kids whom nobody has heard of.
"But I understand," says Avezzano. "I've got three [Super Bowl] rings in the last four years, and they don't hand those things out if you've got the best special teams. They hand 'em out if you've got the best team."
So Avezzano and his peers are always on the lookout for fast, inexpensive, fearless guys prone to violent behavior. "If the NFL announced tomorrow that in football games from now on, bats would be optional, everybody would carry Louisville Sluggers," says Buffalo's Steve Tasker. a choirboy look-alike who might be the best special-teamer of all time. "It's a violent game."
"I've noticed that the guys with the big bonus money feel they don't have to be great special teams players," says Shelley. "It's demeaning to them. At crunch time they just don't have it in them to destroy someone."
Do the great special-teamers feel fear? "You sit on the sidelines, and you might think about it," Shelley says. "You sit at the meeting Monday and watch film, and you think, God, how did I walk away from that one? But when the whistle blows, fear's the last thing on your mind."
Players like Shelley are underappreciated and unknown in part because there aren't stats for what they do: change the tempo of the game; knock the home team off its emotional high horse. It has little to do with numbers but everything to do with momentum. Ravens special-teamer Bennie Thompson helped teach the Falcons that lesson a few years ago.