The earliest thing one realizes in catching a punt is the need to totally block out the sound of the crowd whether you are playing in front of 1,000 or 100,000 people. Actually, it is a fairly easy task given the dizzying amount of minutia one must analyze before, during and after the snap.
Knowing the punter’s average, weather factors, time remaining, a return planned to the left or right, a reverse if called for, an immediate judgement upon the ball leaving the punter’s foot as to the direction of the kick…..all these gridiron nuggets of knowledge occurring within a nano second.
You must pay no heed to the galloping herd of buffalo coming towards you, straining to stay in their respective lanes, mirroring a phalanx of rumbling Ford 250’s on a six-lane Interstate at rush hour.
With the ball in flight, one must gauge immediately whether a fair catch is called for, such signal alerting friend and foe alike that your well-being is sufficiently insured and you will live to see other punts on other days. You will be aided in your decision to “Fair Catch” by a teammate screaming at the top of his lungs such a directive. You ignore his dictum at great risk as he is every bit your guardsman as was Sancho Panza Don Quixote’s.
The flight of the ball is an adventure in that you might get a spiral, the ball twisting in the air like a “Dairy Queen Delight,” floating earthward with a predictable path making it easy to catch, much like a baby floating to your waiting arms in a warm blanket. The ideal situation is exactly that type of punt, properly addressed by your teammate yelling the aforementioned “Fair Catch,” floating to where your opponents can’t lay a friggin’ finger on you.
Conversely, the opposite of the descending floating spiral is its ugly cousin, the “Dipsey Doo,” the oblate spheroid acting much like a German V-2 rocket falling on London in the early days of WW II, nobody knowing where the hell it’s gonna’ end up, nor the damage it may cause.
In halcyon days of yore, there was known to exist a “Coffin Corner Kick,” the intent of which was the punter aiming his kick out of bounds inside the five-yard line, making a return impossible and indeed making a long 97-yard touchdown drive as unlikely as Burt Reynolds escaping from prison in “The Longest Yard.” Truth was, there were precious few kickers able to effectively use such a weapon. The suspense, though, as the football beautifully spiraled approaching that Coffin Corner was wonderful for both teams as fans cheered or moaned, depending upon their allegiances.
A closing word about the old reverse-return as run at my Alma Mater, Minnesota. With two receivers deep, after the catch, both men would race towards each other to effect a sleight-of-hand as to who would end up carrying the ball. Predetermined by design, it always irritated Pinky McNamara that whoever caught the punt, his big brother Bob, a year older and faster and more athletic than he, would end up with it. Tired of this, at a team meeting one night, Pinky asked coach Murray Warmath, “Hey, coach, when do I get to carry the ball?” The quick retort that put everybody into stitches, including Pinky, was, “When Bob graduates.”
Celebrity Sighting # 64
This week’s “Celebrity Sighting” is somewhat different. In the Broadway play, “A Few Good Men,” an actor wearing an army fatigue jacket while shouldering a rifle is seen intermittently in a guard’s tower high above the stage to constantly remind the audience that the courtroom action taking place is at the prison in Guantanamo Bay. The soldier turns every fifteen minutes or so to give the audience the impression that everything going on below is closely watched. It is a very effective theatrical device. That actor’s name was Ron Ostrow. He had no spoken lines. An hour after the show ended, I was leaving a restaurant eight blocks away from the theater district when who rides by me but a man on a bicycle wearing the same outfit as the guy in the tower. I got as far as, “Hey, weren’t you……” before he peeled off across 56th Street shouting loudly, “Yes, ‘A Few Good Men!’ That was me!”