Undoubtedly, it is being in a position to perfect their craft on their own and to earn a job by performing solo that gives punters a characteristic I have found common to most of them—a decided aloofness. (Dave Jennings of the Giants says the common characteristic is small feet but admits this is only a theory.) Punters generally have the ability to take credit when it is due them and to put the blame elsewhere when it is not. I was traveling with the Jets in 1975 when Greg Gantt had the first punt of his career blocked. Gantt put the entire blame on the "plant brains," the offensive line. He ranted so long on the plane coming home that Joe Namath finally came forward and told him to cool it.
Perhaps punters have to be this way, to feel no shame for not actually playing the game of football. I was bothered by my status, however, knowing that if everything went right, I could play the entire season without getting my pants dirty.
One day the ball I punted rolled over to where the offensive linemen were practicing, and one of them picked it up. "Give it back like a good boy," I said jokingly. The lineman sized me up coldly, eyeing my padless pants, my puny shoulder pads, my oddly laced right shoe.
"You worm," he said, flinging the ball at me.
Whole sessions went by during which Hale, Sapp and I had virtually no contact with the other players. We stayed at our end of the field, in our world. Now that Burnett was gone, Sapp and I punted back and forth quietly, breaking the silence only with an occasional "Damn!" or There we go!"
At one of the last practices before our opening game, Copeland walked over and gathered his placekicker and two punters for a pep talk. Only occasionally had we even spoken to the coaches. Indeed, there was never much to say.
"How's it going?" Copeland asked.
"Fine," we replied.
"You guys ready?"