They are anonymous except in times of disaster, for which they are invariably blamed. They are paid to perform an act that gives them an upside-down perspective on the world and leaves them in an absurdly vulnerable position that cries out to opponents: Clobber me! Is it any wonder that there is an inordinately high incidence of strangeness among NFL long snappers?
Among their number we find a poet, a pilot, the owner of a boutique cookie business, a singer in a group called Toe Jam and a heavily tattooed heavy-metal junkie who has sported a Mohawk. And you thought kickers were flakes.
Our question for Trey Junkin is this: Does long-snapping lead to eccentricity, or are the eccentric drawn to long-snapping? Junkin, a 14-year veteran who returned to the Oakland Raiders in June after six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, believes it is the latter. "Not every kid grows up and says, 'Mommy, I want to put my head between my legs and let other guys beat on me while I snap a football,' " he says.
When Junkin and Dave Binn of the San Diego Chargers got together in a hotel coffee shop to swap anecdotes and insights about long-snapping, it looked like a Hell's Angels' chapter meeting. Binn, who is entering his third NFL season, showed up with shoulder-length hair and a goatee; Junkin was sporting a goatee and a black leather jacket with a Harley-Davidson pin. Security eyed them nervously.
Tell us, guys. Has anyone tried to sabotage a long snap by putting a foreign substance on the ball?
"My rookie year a guy threw dirt on the ball," says Binn. "That wasn't too cool."
Junkin has a longer list: "I've had Stick-um. I've had Vaseline, which some defensive linemen put under their arms, so you can't hold 'em. I've had packing grease on the ball. I've had guys spit on the ball. One time a guy spit on my hands while I was snapping the ball."
"How was the snap?" asks Binn.
"The snap was good," says Junkin, "but I got fined for punching the guy."
These two occupy opposite ends of the long-snapping spectrum. Binn was a walk-on at Cal who eventually received a scholarship to do nothing but long snap; in 1994 the Chargers signed him as a free agent solely to snap. Junkin didn't snap at all at Louisiana Tech, where he was a linebacker with 4.3 speed in the 40. The Buffalo Bills took him in the fourth round of the '83 draft. "That was 13 years and six knee operations ago," says Junkin, who doubles as a tight end. He took up long-snapping in 1990 to make himself more valuable. Smart move. For the last six or seven years long-snapping has paid the mortgage.