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NFL's most thankless job

 

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Ask yourself this question. Before last week, how many long snappers could you name off of NFL football teams?

If you answered more than five, than it's time to put the remote control down, take the money you spent on the NFL direct ticket and buy a life.

If you answered more than two, than you still need to buy a life, you just won't have to pay as much.

If you answered none, than you, my friend are the normal average football fan.

I get paid to follow sports for a living and I couldn't tell you name of the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper any sooner than I could tell you the phone number of any of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.

But this week, I, like many other people can tell you the name of one long snapper. Trey Junkin.

For those of you haven't picked up a newspaper or watched the 24-hour coverage that ESPN offers on the NFL playoffs, Trey Junkin is the long snapper for the New York Giants.

It was Junkin's snap, or should I say half a snap, that ended the Giants season on Sunday.

Before Sunday, no ordinary fan knew who Junkin was because, he wasn't even a member of the Giants. Junkin was coaxed out of retirement and signed with New York only five days before the game. He was the sixth long snapper that the Giants went through this season.

To say that the Giants had problems in the kicking game would be like saying Tony Soprano has some family problems.

This season they went through six snappers, two holders and even lost game to Minnesota because of three bad snaps. But that was a game, this was the season.

To his credit, Junkin did something that not many athletes do these days. He admitted his mistake and accepted responsibility for it. He didn't blame his rough childhood like Randy Moss or the media like Terrell Owens. He stood there in front of a group of reporters and blamed himself for the loss.

"I tried to make the perfect snap instead of a good snap," Junkin said. "You can't do that. This is something I've done for 32 years, but not anymore. If you can't count on me at the end of the game, that's it, I'm done.

"I cost 58 guys a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I'd give anything in the world, except my family at this point, right now to still be retired."

They were strong words. But Junkin shouldn't take the blame on himself. The Giants are guilty of one of the biggest second half collapses in NFL playoff history. Choke isn't a strong enough word to use. The Giants did nothing but self-destruct as the 49ers rallied from a 24-point deficit.

But back to Junkin. When was the last time a long snapper's name was in the paper? That's easy, the last time there was a bad snap in any football game.

Offensive linemen complain about lack of recognition or media attention. But you'll never hear a long snapper complain about not seeing his name in paper. Because the only time it's in there is when they screw up.

If ever there was a thankless position in the NFL, long snapper is it. When was the last time a coach, or any player including the kicker compliment the long snapper for his performance? You haven't heard John Gruden say, "How about that long snappin' today? It was a key to our win,"

Quarterbacks can throw an interception, a receiver can drop pass, a running back can fumble and a defensive player can miss a tackle, but a long snapper, make bad snap? That's a quick way to an early retirement.

There isn't another position on the football field where more is expected and less is tolerated. Be good every time, or be out of a job.

The only time we know that long snappers exist is when they screw up. The media has something to do with it. We certainly don't write about them any other time. Nobody wants to read about the consistent long snapper who had 14 quality snaps in the game. Nope, people want to read about touchdowns, 300-yard passing games and 100-yard rushing games, not good snaps on punts, field goals and extra points'.

A few years ago, when I was covering the University of Montana football team for the college newspaper, the Grizzlies had similar kicking problems. The long snapper was struggling, the holder had no confidence and the kicker was a wreck.

The beat writer for the Missoulian took a particularly keen interest in the long snapping woes. I think it was because the reporter was a long snapper in high school.

Anyway, he wrote several stories about the long snapper and the kicking problems, as well as offering a weekly analysis of the kicking game. The long snapper, Jacob Yoro, was a friend mine and was none too pleased with the coverage. Yoro was also a starting linebacker for the Griz, but it seemed that all anyone knew him for was his long snapping abilities or lack thereof.

One day at practice, as the Missoulian reporter walked by, Yoro confided in me that he would like nothing better than to long snap the reporter's head. I won't even tell you what he wanted to do with the guy's pen, pad and recorder.

But he did say this, "nobody even knew I was the long snapper until that guy made me the story of the week."

Soon after that Yoro was relieved of his long snapping duties and just played linebacker. He didn't need any Kleenex to wipe away the tears. He was actually happy.

"Thankless, that's all that job is," he said.

Yoro is right. The job is thankless and underappreciated.

Long snappers everywhere felt Junkin's pain on Sunday. The only worse possible nightmare would be to the same thing in the Super Bowl.

Junkin won't be back, he is emphatic about retiring and staying retired. Contrary to what he thinks, he didn't lose the game for the Giants. It was lost long before Junkin ever took the field.

And if you think differently, if you think that one snap is responsible for a 24-point meltdown, you don't need to buy a life. You need to buy a clue.

 
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