Long-Snappers May Help Decide Super Bowl

The precise choreography between long snapper, holder and place-kicker on field goals and extra points doesn't get much attention during NFL games. That is, unless something goes very wrong. The Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts players who fill those roles are working to ensure that all goes smoothly in Sunday's Super Bowl.

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The Super Bowl in Miami is just two days away and aside from the requisite hype about quarterbacks and kick returners, TV commercials and half-time shows, there is a decent amount of attention being paid to the kickers, the guys with the clean uniforms who get their share of grief when they miss.

But there is no grief likely this Super Bowl. Veteran Adam Vinatieri of the Colts and newcomer Robbie Gould of the Bears are the two best kickers in the game. Another reason no one's poking fun - the guys who work with the kickers are getting more publicity.

From Miami, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Many sports reporters define their careers by the memorable moments they witness, an athlete breaking a hallowed record, a team unexpectedly winning a championship. So imagine the tingles I felt earlier this week when by chance I was there as Entertainment Tonight's Kevin Frazier handed a glass trophy to Chicago Bears punter Brad Maynard, who also holds the ball for the kicker.

Mr. KEVIN FRAZIER (Entertainment Tonight): This year, you're getting the Justin Timberlake Award. You know why? You're bringing sexy back to the Super Bowl.

Mr. BRAD MAYNARD (Chicago Bear's): That's great. I appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: With Maynard earlier had been crowned Sexiest Bear in an online poll in Chicago, a title that frankly confused him since by his own admission he's balding, married and has three kids. No matter. Receiving the Justin Timberlake Award was a defining moment for guys who anonymously kneel down and hold the football on field goals and extra points.

Truth be told, holders emerged from the shadows earlier in the post-season, thanks or maybe no thanks to Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who also holds on field goals, fumbled the ball when it was snapped to him in a first round play off game. It prevented Dallas from converting an easy field goal that almost certainly would have sealed a victory.

The Cowboys lost and when head coach Bill Parcells unexpectedly retired recently, there was speculation the Romo bobble had something to do with it.

Again, here's Brad Maynard.

Mr. MAYNARD: You know, I felt bad for Tony and absolutely would not want to be in his shoes. But you know what, it's something he's going to learn from. It's all he can do. You know, he's probably still hurting today.

GOLDMAN: Of course, a holder can't operate alone, so the bad and sexy publicity has also brought attention to the guys who deliver the ball, the long snapper. Chicago's Patrick Mannelly is 31 and he's been snapping since he was 13. His is an upside down world as he bends over and looks at Maynard through his legs.

Mr. PATRICK MANNELLY (Chicago Bears Snapper): I pick a spot on his left elbow and just try to hit that spot with the ball. That's it. And just wait for the, you know, to get hit from the guys across from you and you try to hold them off for two seconds.

GOLDMAN: The perfect snap gets the ball to the holder about eight yards back, so all he has to do is catch and put it down. Most good snappers can deliver the football with the laces in the proper position, so when the holder spots the ball, the laces are on the front side, away from where the kicker's foot makes contact.

When the snap's not so good, Indianapolis holder Hunter Smith says he has to stay calm and be sympathetic to his snapper buddy up on the line of scrimmage.

Mr. HUNTER SMITH (Indianapolis Holder): If there's one that's tough to handle, I have to remember that he has 11 guys trying to put their face masks through his back down there. And just catch it and get it down. That's my job, so that's what I do.

GOLDMAN: Smith did it well two weeks ago in the AFC championship game when he successfully handled low snaps twice. Both resulted in made field goals. Despite the problems, Indianapolis long snapper Justin Snow is considered one of the best. He was rewarded accordingly late last year with a contract extension worth about six million dollars over six years. He may not be the guy getting mobbed after a game winning kick, but obviously his bosses know the importance of seeing the world upside down.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Miami.

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