It's also time to meet the press. Long snappers do not get interviewed unless something has gone badly awry. The Atlanta Falcons' Harper Le Bel recalls a game in which he triggered a "jailbreak"—snapper-speak for the anarchy that ensues when the ball sails over the punter's head. After the game reporters crowded around his locker. Feigning compassion but looking for blood, they asked, "What happened?"
"I wanted to say, 'What does it look like happened? I snapped it over his head!' " says Le Bel. Instead he explained, as if to a group of second-graders, "I...held...on...to...the...ball...too...long."
Not all NFL snappers bend over and peer back at an upside-down punter. Junkin is one of the few who snap "blind." Another is Trevor Matich of the Washington Redskins. The advantage of this technique is that it enables the center to pick up a rusher more easily. As a result, says Redskins special teams coach Pete Rodriguez, "a lot of teams don't even bother trying to pressure us." The skill is even more impressive considering that Matich, a licensed pilot, did not start snapping until 1990, his sixth season in the league. It was easy to pick it up, he says, "because I didn't have a paradigm to unlearn."
We'll take your word for that, Trevor.
When he was with the Arizona Cardinals, Rodriguez once coached another blind snapper, a Hawaiian named Kani Kauahi. In 10 NFL seasons Kauahi earned a reputation as one of the league's finest snappers. Unfortunately he stuck around for an 11th.
Kauahi played one game in 1993, and Rodriguez remembers it well. Kauahi's first snap in the opener, in Philadelphia, was a peach. "But Kani blocked the wrong way," says Rodriguez, "and the kick was almost blocked." His next snap was somewhere over the rainbow. The play resulted in a safety. Kauahi bounced the next snap to punter Rich Camarillo, who kicked the ball sideways. "Kani almost put another one over Rich's head," says Rodriguez. "All of a sudden Kani couldn't snap, and he knew it. That was his last game in the NFL." We feel a haiku coming on:
The punter should not
need an eight-foot stepladder.
Good luck on waivers.
How does a deep snapper go off the deep end? When does a long snapper...snap? "You get the mental spins," says Adam Lingner, a 13-year long-snapping veteran who retired from the Bills last spring. "You're thinking, Should I snap it now? Yes—no! Don't! I'm not ready. Once you start thinking over the ball, you're doomed. That's why I used to crack jokes at the line of scrimmage. To keep myself from thinking."
A bad back, rather than the mental spins, forced the retirement of Lingner, who attributes the first poor snap of his career—it came in 1989, during his seventh NFL season—to his inability to come up with a timely put-down. "We were playing the Jets, and [New York's] Troy Benson looks across at John Davis, our tackle, and says, 'Hey, John, nice gut.'
"I was trying to think of a snappy retort when John Kidd, who is holding for the extra point, gives me the signal to snap. I wasn't ready, and I put it over his head."