Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Cable Companies and Kickers

I spent the morning traveling halfway across Brooklyn to trade in a broken cable box for another broken cable box, then speaking to a customer service representative who did not understand anything I was trying to say. I've written in the past about my tortured relationship with Time-Warner (Motto: We Don't Like You) and how it relates to Alex Rodriguez--if it wasn't for my girlfriend's unrequited crush on Pat Kiernan, I'd be long gone to satellite--and I suppose my way of dealing with this is by constructing utterly tenuous metaphors that attempt to explain how a major American corporation can be so utterly, unlikeably incompetent.

So anyway, I was standing in line, listening to the man in front of me threaten to strangle a clerk with a set of audio cables unless they provided him with an HDMI cable, and I was thinking about kickers, and all those I'm-so-clever Nate Kaeding jokes zipping across Twitter feeds, and why a profession that seemed to be trending toward perfection has regressed this season, for reasons that no one can explain. If you think about it, kicking is probably the strangest element of any major sport; imagine if an NBA playoff game were decided by a cadre of dwarves drop-kicking Spaldings from the free-throw line. In football, every game has the potential of ending like one of those Doritos halftime contests, where a bricklayer from Wahpeton, North Dakota, has to convert an extra point in order to win a lifetime supply of Cool Ranch. Because kicking is so inherently weird, kickers themselves are--fairly or unfairly--stigmatized as weird, and set apart from the actual game.

Because of that stigma--because kickers do nothing but kick--we'd like to think, of course, that someone like Nate Kaeding has an edge over the bricklayer, in that he's spent his entire lifetime learning to boot the oblong spheroid through a pair of uprights fifty yards away. That's the only reason we tolerate him on a football field, yes? In an obvious way, we're right about that, of course: Expertise is a major factor, but as Michael Lewis reminds us in this predictably excellent piece,* kicking is largely about mental fortitude, about repetition sweeping away fear, and some dudes just aren't capable of such things.**Who knows? Maybe Nate Kaeding is one of those guys; physically gifted, but psychologically incapable. Then again, maybe he's not, and maybe he ate something lousy for breakfast, but at this point, it hardly matters.

Such is the Faustian bargain of the kicker: A quarterback can miss a throw, and a running back can fumble a football, and a wide receiver can drop a pass, and they can all get over it, and rewrite their legacy, and earn redemption. But we'll always just expect kickers to make kicks, to somehow transcend humanity, to perform with robotic precision. They are men apart; just as we expect Time Warner to do one thing to improve our lives (deliver cable),*** so do we expect our kickers to deliver field goals, every single time. The last thing we want from a kicker is anything resembling a human being.

*I know that The Blind Side has made Lewis richer than Mark Cuban, but I wonder if he ever worries about all those desperate housewives who are buying his book at the local B. Dalton, only to find themselves reading a detailed description of NFL theory, beginning with Lawrence Taylor snapping Joe Theismann's leg like a piece of the Colonel's original recipe.
**Like me.
***Tenuous connection made!


Preston said...

At half time the San Diego Chargers had it and let it slip away. What a bunch of losers and Nate you were real helpful in realizing this loss.

WarningTrack said...

This is going to sound terrible, but...

...I'm kinda glad Kaeding missed those field goals. And I hope a lot of other kickers start missing more regularly. It's absolutely one of the best things that can happen to the game right now. Field goals in the mid 30-yard range were becoming like extra points, which are already the most boring part of just about any football game. If kickers can only make, say, three-fourths of their attempts inside 40 yards, the games would be a lot more dramatic all of a sudden--particularly in overtime. I'm sure this is an aberration and all that, but I kinda hope it isn't.

Re: the plight of the kicker. You're right, it isn't fair, and they've been victimized by their own success. It's one of those jobs where doing it right is considered acceptable (rather than good), and doing it wrong is always considered terrible. Kickers don't even really get to be heroes when they nail kicks, for the most part; the only real exceptions are a) crazy-long field goals, b) crazy-weather field goals, or c) a series of high-profile, moderately hard kicks that win games. And even that last one isn't likely to make you a household name.

Then again, they almost never have to get tackled for their million or two, so I wouldn't feel *too* sorry for them. But all in all the kicking game in football is, indeed, hopelessly out of place and inherently tragic.

Stephan White said...

every game has the potential of ending like one of those Doritos halftime contests, where a bricklayer from Wahpeton, North Dakota, has to convert an extra point in order to win a lifetime supply of Cool Ranch.