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Monday, September 06, 2010

Who Are These Guys? (Hint: They're All Professional Athletes and They Play in a Major Sports League)

You might not have heard of Tanner Purdum, Garrison Sanborn, John Donney, Jake Ingram, Morgan Cox, Clark Harris, Ryan Pontbriand, Greg Warren, Jon Weeks, Justin Snow, Jeremy Cain, Ken Amato, Lonie Paxton, Thomas Gafford, Jon Condo, David Binn, L.P. Ladouceur, Jon Dorenbos, Nick Sundberg, Patrick Mannelly, Don Muhlbach, Brett Goode, Cullen Loeffler, Joe Zelenka, J.J. Jansen, Jayson Kyle, Mike Leach, Chris Massey, Brian Jennings and Clint Gresham.

Chances are that you might never hear of them. They're long snappers in the National Football League. The guys who snap the ball with a spiral between their legs back to punters and to holders on place kicks. You'll only hear about them if they goof up, and typically that would be not if they're team is leading by three touchdowns, but if their failure of execution in a key moment proves to cost their team the game. The most prepared teams seem to be the Steelers and Texans, who go three deep in long snappers on their depth charters. The longest tenured -- the Chargers' David Binns, who's been in the league for 17 years. The most interestingly educated? Probably the Cowboys' L.P. Ladouceur, who majored in earth and planetary science at Berkeley. The one with the most interesting hobby? The Eagles' Jon Dorenbos, who is a professional magician. Some were long snappers in college -- they weren't offensive linemen even there. One -- the Bears' Patrick Mannelly -- has the second-longest tenure with his team of any player in the NFL, about 12 years.

If you read these players' bios, they're scant, they're relatively anonymous, they've moved around a lot, they get touted for helping snap for Pro Bowl punters and kickers or helping them improve their accuracy. Or, making tackles on special teams. I didn't go through the bios carefully, but I'd venture to say that a large majority of them, if not all of them, are white.

You typically read about head coaches, about quarterbacks, skill-position players, "shutdown" corners and hard-hitting linebackers. You don't read about long snappers, and I'd bet that if you met one in an airport (assuming he had no gear), you'd assume he might have played somewhere, sells lumber or steel, and is, well, just a little larger than the average guy. You don't see these types in the other sports' leagues, but the NFL has become so specialized that there's a place for the hard-working guy who, well, for lack of a better explanation, couldn't play any other position in the league.

But before you dismiss this position as frivolous and not worthy of respect, you should read Jeffrey Marx' book The Long Snapper, and then you can decide for yourself just how easy this job really is. They toil with an abject fear of being found out, of their name's becoming a household word in their media market for something they did -- wrong, naturally. They don't get rewarded for success, at least, not the way skill-position players do. But, if they play mistake-free football for a while, they're future is set, and they could have a much longer tenure in the NFL than the average player.


Anonymous tim said...

They also benefit from being the only players on a football field who are protected from being hit by an explicit rule. That helps their longetivity.

Even kickers can get hit if their kick is blocked or if they engage themselves in the play.

2:03 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, Tim. The position is a real curiosity, isn't it?

10:41 PM  
Anonymous tim said...

yes, though I'm not sure I'm curious enough to read an entire book about it :-)

1:44 AM  

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