- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Before, I was always an athlete who punted," McInally explains. "I knew I really wasn't a punter, and I couldn't live with that anymore."
In 1981, McInally kicked for a 45.4 average with only 11 touchbacks and was voted All-Pro. He also led the league in 1978 with a 43.1 average. His longest kick is a 67-yarder in 1977. Not a punter? "I did well enough to win a number of titles," McInally concedes, "but there was no joy. I was always tight. I didn't enjoy punting in public."
What McInally did do in public was court controversy by knocking the kicking of the NFL's most acclaimed puntmeister, Ray Guy of the Raiders. McInally once told a Cincinnati sportswriter, "If Ray Guy is the model punter, he's a pretty poor model. He's always had a high average, but that's because he's always kicking the ball in the end zone from the 50-yard line." In other words, Guy would give opponents possession at the 20, instead of trying to pin them down closer to the goal line.
Confronted with that quote, McInally laughs. "I've mellowed through the years on that. For one thing, Ray doesn't just kick it in the end zone anymore. And Ray is beautiful. He's like a home-run hitter. Do you remember when he caught that bad snap with one hand last year in the Super Bowl? His mystique is justified. He rises to the occasion."
But McInally refuses to back away from his original criticism of Guy. "I know what a good punter is, and he just didn't use his talent the way he should. It's a field-position play, that's what punting really is. A punt downed or out-of-bounds inside the 20 should count more than a touchback. I had three touchbacks one year, and I think Ray had 25. Look it up." We did. It was 14, but the point is the same.
McInally's new technique did not produce immediate success. "This was the worst preseason I ever had," he says. When I'd get in the game, it just wouldn't happen. I averaged about 38 yards a kick. If I'd been a rookie, I wouldn't have made the team." He found his rhythm in Cincinnati's opening game at Mile High Stadium in Denver, where he averaged 51 yards a punt in a 20-17 loss. Now he is seventh in the league, with a 42.9 average, one yard better than last year. He has also improved his net average (punts minus touchbacks and returns), by 2.4 yards per kick, and his ability to place the ball inside the 20, from 19% of the time to 27%.
When the Bengals drafted McInally in the fourth round in 1975, they were interested in his hands, not his feet. As a wide receiver, McInally was Harvard's first All-America since Endicott (Chub) Peabody in 1941. And McInally had a mystique of his own. After spending most of his sophomore season on the bench, he startled the school's sports information director by vowing, "Next year, I'm gonna run your inkwells dry." He did, too, making All-Ivy while setting Harvard's season reception record with 56 catches. In his final game, against Yale, McInally threw his only pass as a collegian—a 46-yard completion—to help set up a touchdown and the win. McInally had a modest 38.3-yard average as Harvard's punter his senior season, which is why no one took his booting seriously. A Bengals scout who watched McInally break his leg catching a touchdown pass in the College All-Star Game told him, "You had a great game as a receiver, but you certainly will never punt in the NFL." Bill Walsh, then the quarterback and receiver coach for Cincinnati, heard McInally's plea to try out for punter and replied succinctly, "No." Mike Brown, the team's assistant general manager—and later a booster of McInally's punting—listened to his request for a $10,000 contract bonus in the event he won the punting job and replied, "I won't waste the ink."
The most humbling putdown came during workouts before the College All-Star Game, when the All-Stars head coach, John McKay, asked McInally to kick downfield for punt-return practice. McInally shanked several punts out of bounds, and finally an impatient McKay ordered him to throw the ball instead. "I was so em-barrassed," McInally recalls. "That's when I quit on punting."
And yet, McInally insists that he knew, from the time he was a child, that someday he would be a punter in the NFL. "I was born to kick," he says. "I'm a natural." As if it were yesterday, he recalls a day from his youth in Southern California, the day his father, Jack, an insurance executive, said, "Let's go down and try punting." Says Pat, "We practiced at five o'clock every evening at the Mark Twain Elementary School in Garden Grove. And there was such joy. The games never meant as much to me as dreaming with my dad. From the time I was eight until I left for Harvard, we averaged five days a week."