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Why the punt shouldn’t be pushed to the wayside

Why the punt shouldn’t be pushed to the wayside

Why the punt shouldn’t be pushed to the wayside
September 30
13:00 2022

If you’re a football fan, you might use a punt as a chance to refill your chips and salsa. Upon closer examination, there is something entrancing to this ritualistic play and the reason they call its participants “special” teams.

A punt is when the offense in a football game kicks the ball to an awaiting player from the defense, handing over possession to gain a field position advantage. Or, to quote former punter for the Detroit Lions, Pat McAfee, “a calculated turnover when one man launches a pigskin into the sky to the other team.”

When you consider the alternative is going for it on fourth down, punting seems like waving the white flag. Is there anything bolder than willingly handing your opponent the ball? The punting team is basically saying, “That’s okay, we don’t think you can score anyway.”

The real purpose of punting is to force the other team to march further down the field. It isn’t surprising there’s a direct correlation between field position and the chance of scoring. When Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hecker launched the longest punt in super bowl history, he completely reversed the field in what sportscaster Jim Nantz called “the highlight of the game.”

Punters influence the game more than people realize. Throughout punter Jeff Feagles’ five-team career, he booted the opposing team back over 71,000 yards. That is more yards than all but four NFL quarterbacks have thrown for in their careers.

For every punter, there is a punt returner who can impact the game with equal force. Skirting for a modest punt return can dramatically change their team’s chances of scoring. Returning the ball longer can flip the game on its head.

With 14 in his career, Devin Hester returned more punts for touchdowns than any other player. On Oct. 16, 2006, Hester returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown to put the Chicago Bears ahead of the Arizona Cardinals with less than three minutes to go. The game would be a famous one for Cardinals coach Dennis Green’s “they are who we thought they were” comments.

On Dec. 19, 2009, the New York Giants were tied with rival Philadelphia Eagles with 14 seconds left in the game. Matt Dodge punted a line drive to DeSean Jackson, who immediately dropped the ball, causing the Giants team to swarm toward it.

Jackson picked the ball back up, weaved through the traffic jam of Giant’s special teamers, outsprinted a diving Dodge and ran in for the game-winning touchdown. Fans know the game simply as the “Miracle at the New Meadowlands.”

Punt-returning is the art of playing with fire. Once the ball contacts the returner, it is a live ball that either team can recover.

On Sep. 19, Buffalo Bills’ Sam Martin punted to the Tennesee Titans, with Buffalo up 24-7 in the third quarter. Kyle Philips signaled for a fair catch, before letting the ball bounce off his chest and into the hands of Buffalo’s Tyrel Dodson.

The Bills won 41-7. These are a football game’s defining moments and the stakes could not be higher.

A successful punt is almost as fun to watch as a blocked punt. Steve Gleason surprised New Orleans when he blocked Michael Koenen’s punt in the New Orleans Saints’ first game back in the Superdome. Curtis Deloatch scooped the ball up and ran it into the end zone. The moment has been immortalized with a statue outside of the Superdome.

Fake punts are unicorns: rare and beautiful. On Dec. 20, 2020, Cardinals’ punter Andy Lee received a fourth-quarter snap before floating a dime to Ezekiel Turner, converting to a first down. The Cardinals won by a touchdown.

For all the joy punts can bring, like watching players perform acrobatics to keep the ball out of the end zone, they are becoming less common. In 2020, NFL teams punted at the lowest rate in history.

Now, let’s not return to the days of punting on first down or crazy games with 77 punts and zero points. It is time to show the punt some respect and watch for 30 seconds before going to grab another drink from the fridge.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Jack Moraglia

Jack Moraglia

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