SI Vault
Rick Telander
November 12, 1979
Knute Rockne's maxim may be valid, but there's more to it than just blasting a football
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November 12, 1979

When In Doubt, Punt!

Knute Rockne's maxim may be valid, but there's more to it than just blasting a football

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As the game started, I forgot these gloomy details. On our second drive the offense stalled, and I looked to Copeland for a sign. He pointed to the field and I trotted out, passing our quarterback with a nod. In the huddle I counted the 10 other players to make sure we had 11 men. The other players were facing me, some chewing their mouth guards, some squinting remotely through their face masks.

"O.K., hold 'em out," I said. "Nothing inside. Spread punt on the snap. Bobby, don't back up. Ready! Break!"

I walked to my position 15 yards back and scanned the line, looking for any obvious holes. I checked Bobby James, our 5'4" blocking back, to make sure he was far enough forward so I would not kick him in the tail. I looked for a target and picked the far goalposts because this would be my first punt, and I wanted something I couldn't miss. "Down!" said Bobby James. "Set!"

I flicked my fingers, and the ball began its unfortunate path far over my head. There is an adage that says a punter is only as good as his center. I'd forgotten this. I was spoiled in college by my center, Joe Zigulich, who gave me 77 perfect snaps. Intelligent and witty, Zig was named Academic All-America his senior year and now has a doctorate in education. More important to me than his brain were his strong wrists, which could send me lovely spirals from as far as 40 yards away.

But the damage was done, and I turned and chased after the ball. Thirty yards behind the line of scrimmage I grabbed it and looked upfield. I dodged a screaming Wildcat, ran three steps to my right and kicked the ball. An instant later I was flattened, but I could see that the ball had made it to the line of scrimmage and was still bouncing. It continued forward, guarded by a phalanx of Suns players, until it finally stopped on the Delray 25. It was only a 25-yard net punt, but one that traveled 55 yards to get there.

Rubbing my bruised hip, I jogged back to the bench. One of the halfbacks, a young man with a fading, homemade tattoo on his forearm, pointed his finger at me. "No. 14," he yelled. I suddenly realized that none of these players even knew my name. The halfback extended an open palm and grinned. "Way to go, my man."


We are now halfway through our season, having won three games and lost two. Still, we're a collection of people playing football for many different reasons—we certainly aren't any Pittsburgh Pirate-type family—but we are in a good position to overtake the division-leading Fort Lauderdale Rattlers, and that has me a bit fired up. I've even gone in and played as a defensive back a couple of times. Once I intercepted a pass and ran it back 42 yards, missing a touchdown by two yards.

I have punted 13 times for a 37.2-yard average, one-tenth of a yard better than my college average. Of the 13 snaps I've taken, one was low, one was off to the left and three were high—though only the first went over my head. It has rained during three of our games, and on at least three punts, the rush was strong enough to make me forget about everything but getting rid of the ball.

One of my punts, against Riviera Beach, traveled 64 yards, counting the roll, but I am far from satisfied. I'm still waiting for that perfect punt that lifts off like a rocket, for a bunch of them. I have my excuses for the bad ones.

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