The kick was wide left. It was one of those kicks that was doomed from the second it left the ground and it also happened to be one of those kicks that ends a team's hopes for a national championship.
But before Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado even took the field to try to send his team into overtime on Saturday night, the Duck gear-clad woman on the bar stool next to me said, "Our kicker is awful." Then she said it again, and then one more time as Oregon marched down the field. It turns out this was foreshadowing the final seconds of the game when it all came down to the kicker, as it so often does.
And this isn't fair. Not in the slightest, because a kicker isn't really part of the team. Yeah, they're on the roster and they get a uniform (usually taking whatever number happens to be left over) and a helmet with inadequate facial protection, but if you were to grab a defensive end at random and ask if he knew his kicker's name, there's a good chance he'd just mumble something vaguely eastern European and walk away. Hell, kickers don't even participate in the team practice. While the squad is perfecting its offense, the kicker is typically at the other end of the field, perhaps with the punter if he's lucky, just kicking the damn ball around. They just don't fit in and even announcers don't give a damn about them most of the time, failing to even narrate the goings on of extra points - which are an expected certainty yet are actually incredibly difficult to execute.
If a kicker worked in your office, he'd be the HR guy... oh wait, no, he'd actually be the IT guy. You know, the one no one really wants to hang out with, but who everyone relies on when things go to hell.
The other thing about kickers - that shit is hard. Go ahead, give it a try, lady sitting next to me at the bar last weekend. Try to kick an oblong-shaped object 37 yards between two sticks separated by 18 feet that are standing 10 feet off the ground. And you'll need to do that after a guy throws it through his own legs for some reason and another guy holds it with one finger while 11 other guys try wholeheartedly to rip your damn leg off.
Kickers were never meant to be football players. Most of them were probably soccer midfielders or horse jockeys who switched to football in the hopes of impressing their fathers. I mean, their last names often seem more apt for shortstops or nightclub owners than gridiron tough guys and are too vowel-laden to look right on the back of their uniform. After all, you just don't hear kids asking for a Sebastian Janikowski jersey this holiday season, do you?
There is some irony in the fact that several football games each year include 59 minutes and 57 seconds of game time devoted to massive men smashing into other massive men, only to be ultimately decided by three seconds of finesse and, ultimately, precise physics, executed by the smallest, least-known player on the team. Actually, that's not ironic. That's absurd. And I've always felt awful for these guys. Even if they do nail that game winner, they still won't even be the hero. The quarterback will be interviewed, while the kicker retreats to the locker room in search of his inhaler.
So, when you see a kicker next, give him a hug, because he almost certainly hasn't received one lately. Well, unless he nails that 48-yard game winner, of course.