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In Oakland, Errol Mann, who missed extra points in five consecutive games last year, has already been cut loose by the Raiders, and his successor—for the moment—is Jimmy Breech, who was working in a Bay Area cardboard factory when the Raiders signed him late last season.
Another veteran who had difficulty last year is Pittsburgh's Roy Gerela; he never signed a contract, missed 14 of 26 field-goal attempts and then claimed that playing out his option had ruined his concentration. To light a fire under Gerela, the Steelers drafted Penn State Placekicker Matt Bahr, whose brother Chris kicks for the Bengals. Bahr quickly put pressure on Gerela by converting field-goal attempts of 41,39 and 25 yards in the Steelers' opening exhibition. Gerela, who now has signed a new contract, responded to the competition last Friday by connecting for two 48-yard field goals in the Steelers' 27-14 win over the Jets. After the second one, Bahr turned to teammate Tony Dungy and said grimly, "I guess I'll see you when Pittsburgh comes to town." Bahr didn't say what town.
Miami's Garo Yepremian had no trouble with field goals last year, converting 19 of his 23 attempts, including his last 16 straight to tie an NFL record. His kickoffs were so short, though, that Coach Don Shula used his seventh-round draft pick for Oklahoma's Uwe von Schamann, who set an NCAA record by converting 125 straight extra points. Von Schamann's big problem is that no one can pronounce his first name. "The logical way to pronounce my name is 'YOU-we,' because that's the way it's spelled," he says. "But in German the 'w' is pronounced like 'v,' so my name is really pronounced 'OO-va.'
"During the four years I was at Oklahoma, my coach, Barry Switzer, never once pronounced my name correctly. Coach Switzer always called me 'You-va.' Every week on TV, on the Barry Switzer Show, he'd call me 'You-va von Shoeman.' He never got it right. I got to thinking that maybe Coach Switzer has one of those Arkansas speech defects." Von Schamann has made two of four field-goal attempts and has so impressed Shula with his deep kickoffs that, as the kicker says, "Some of the coaches now are calling me 'von Foot.' But the players call me all sorts of names. Tim Foley calls me 'You-glow.' I ask him, 'How come you call me You-glow?' He tells me, 'It's easier to pronounce.' Other guys call me 'You-ee' and 'You-vo.' At least Coach Shula knows how to pronounce my name. That's impressive. That makes me feel real good."
Strangely enough, Erxleben feels real good—about his kicking. Though his statistics don't show it, he believes he has kicked well enough in his month with the Saints and expects to improve. "It's just a matter of being all glassy-eyed, excited and nervous," he says.
Nevertheless, Erxleben is so confident about his future that he almost enjoys the ribbing he has been getting. When one of his practice punts fluttered 25 yards, there was a sideline chorus of "Quack, quack, quack. Shoot that duck." Guard Conrad Dobler turned to Harry Hulmes, the Saints' director of player personnel, and said, "Great No. 1 pick, Harry. When he goes, you're going with him."
Erxleben is not the first collegiate Super Foot to encounter difficulties in his rookie pro season. One problem confronting placekickers is that they cannot use their college kicking tees for field-goal or extra-point tries in the NFL; they must kick the ball off the ground. Steve Little, the record-setting Arkansas kicker who was drafted in the first round by St. Louis in 1978, has made only one field goal in an NFL game; his kicks—sans tee—don't get high enough.
Nolan hoped that Erxleben would be able to handle both the punting and placekicking. However, Szaro has spent the preseason suggesting that two jobs for Erxleben are one too many. Says Erxleben, "Szaro will come up to me and say, 'Why don't you just concentrate on punting? You'll get paid the same and you can work into placekicking more gradually.' He's trying to mess with my mind. He thinks I'm a dumb rookie. I'm a rookie, but I'm not dumb."