While watching some good old-fashioned Thanksgiving Day football, the mood of the games soon turned sour when all of the kickers were ruining the production.
During the Texans at Lions early game, both kickers — Houston’s Shayne Graham and Detroit’s Jason Hanson — were fowling (get the pun?) up the beginning of a three-game turkey day marathon.
Paid to do nothing but hit the showers early, ride bicycles during practice, get the first tee times and become either the hero or goat, kickers have a pretty good life expectancy in the NFL.
But as many will attest, the lot of them are a house of cards waiting to crumble.
Emotional, pouty, frail — it’s no wonder the bulk of them come from soccer backgrounds. Prepubescent girls asking boys to their first dance usually have more confidence.
But the salty ones, you know, the Adam Vinateris and Robbie Goulds of the world, are worth their weight in gold.
Most NFL games come down to the last possession, with the culmination of 60 minutes put on the shoulders of the guy who, for all intents and purposes, probably just finished serving the defense their in-game refreshments.
So when both Graham and Hanson stunk it up in the overtime, missing from 51 and 47 on back-to-back drives, it occurred to me that kicking — although one of the most stressful occupations in the world comparable to the lives of an underwater welder or natural birth obstetrician — is as easy as riding a bike.
Basically, you are dependent on two things, the snap and the hold. Because 99 percent of the holders are backup quarterbacks getting paid more money to hold a clipboard than they are to win games should tell you it’s a pretty good bet the ball is going to be on spot. Actually, the only thing that changes from kick to kick is the distance and the moment.
I’m not saying the profession of kicking is easy, just the mechanics. If you’ve been blessed with a leg that can kick a ball 55 yards, you’re probably a shoe in for a nice payday. Plus, most kick in domes or at least stadiums that don’t get a whole lot of wind.
I get it, confidence is huge. After a string of misses, long, talent-rich careers (I’m talking to you, Green Bay’s Mason Crosby) can be forgotten in the matter of a few games.
But like bartending on slow nights where tips are few and far between, that’s part of the job.
Even last weekend during the 112th Montana State-Montana game, poor Chris Lider shanked kicks of 23 and 37 yards, not to mention getting fortunate on an extra point that pounded the upright and fell forward.
Do you think Lider all the sudden forgot how to kick? Of course not. But when the demons of doubt creep inside the head of the kicker, it’s like a bomb went off between their ears.
Then again I feel for them. Here they are checking their fantasy team one moment on the sidelines and put into the heat of the moment the next.
I should say I felt for them, up until last Friday, that is. That’s when I knew all there was to kicking is a little talent and a lot of guts and heart.
Jake Dennehy, a senior kicker for Butte High, proved to me what I’ve always known — athleticism is only a small part of becoming successful on the playing field.
You see, Dennehy was a former starting linebacker for the Bulldogs before a shoulder injury challenged his playing career. But that young man put his pain and ego aside and did what was best for the team, staying on for coach Arie Gray’s ‘Dogs as the kickoff and field goal specialist.
Through his trials and tribulations, he watched his ‘Dogs begin to slowly climb in the Class AA rankings. After each and every win, most athletes in his position would’ve had their dobbers down, all because the limelight that once shined bright on his No. 12 as the starting backer for Butte High was now relegated for another.
But not Dennehy. He just wanted to be a part of something special.
And he was. Butte High and their high powered passing offense, week after week, put the state on notice. After blowing out Billings Skyview in the first round of the playoffs, the competition began to get tougher.
The Bulldogs needed overtime to take care of CMR and were down by one with less than 30 seconds left when Bozeman kicked off in Butte during last Friday’s state championship game at Naranche Stadium.
A big return by Dalton Daum to midfield, scramble by Dallas Cook and quick pass complete by Cook at the Bozeman 29 left time for one play.
Forget that Dennehy’s first extra point of the night was blocked, coach Gray trotted the senior out for the game winning 46 yard field goal try in front of over 8,000 screaming fans, not to mention another 500 or so like me on the sidelines — just there to be part of such a spectacle.
Having not celebrated a state championship since before he was born, 1991 to be exact, Dennehy’s legacy was not going to be that he gave his heart, soul and arm, as it were, to be a Bulldog, it was going to be this kick — made or missed.
To make matters worse, Dennehy’s line was late getting set for the kick, adding even more of a distraction from the wet field for a kick some 16 yards farther than he’s ever attempted in a game.
I thought Gray was crazy. Here he had the biggest arm and some of the most sure handed receivers in the state and he was putting this all on a kicker? But if there was one thing I gathered from watching Butte High during their overtime win against CMR the week before and the game plan against Bozeman, Gray knew exactly the limits of what his players could achieve.
As Dennehy struck the kick, a few thoughts went through my mind. I knew he got it good because the audible “whomp” from a compressed football is unlike any sound in the world. But I couldn’t believe how he approached the kick. After making contact, both feet were off the ground, something any kicker will tell you is highly irregular and almost assuredly a way to pull the ball.
Just like a golfer’s tee shot or a bowler’s first ball, the harder you throw or swing, the more prone to hooking or pulling your shot. For a kicker, this almost always amounts to a shank.
But not for Dennehy. He hit that ball so squarely, so true, there was nowhere for it to go but straight.
And even as the ball wobbled to it’s finish, running out of energy in the misty, 25 degree air of uptown Butte, it managed to travel 46-and-a-half yards for an improbably 38-36 Bulldog win.
It was a finish that Hollywood couldn’t have written. Bozeman erased a 14-point deficit in less than two minutes to take a one point lead, then an injured linebacker from Butte High, whose shoulder popped out of socket on a tackle earlier in the game, kicks a game-winning field goal from a distance where most collegiate kickers routinely muck up in golfing weather? Uh huh, sure he did.
But it did happen. It happened to a kid who deserved the limelight because he put the team before himself.
That’s why when I watch the high-priced prima donnas possessing 10 times the ability as Dennehy playing on Sunday afternoons, I can only shake my head in disgust when they miss.
Dennehy made the same length field goal Hanson missed Thursday, yet the latter didn’t get paid to do it (of course that doesn’t count the mountains of adult beverages that will be bought for him in Butte area bars from his 21st birthday on).
The kick heard ‘round Montana may be the only thing Dennehy is remembered for on the gridiron.
No amount of pressure or odds against him could match his heart.
Tell Dennehy kickers get no love.