Giants’ Feagles Gets a Kick Out of It All
Veteran Punter Is Documenting His Unforgettable Week
CHANDLER, Ariz., Jan. 30 — Deep in the abyss beneath the stadium’s stands Tuesday afternoon, New York Giants punter Jeff Feagles encountered a giant rolling container clenched shut with all kinds of mysterious padlocks. Given this is his first Super Bowl, Feagles, 41 and holder of the NFL record for most consecutive games played, had resolved in his mind to notice everything unusual, lest he should miss something significant.
Thus he inquired about the case’s contents.
“Would you like this?” he remembered a man asking.
“Well, what’s inside?” Feagles replied. Oh, just the Super Bowl trophy. Feagles, also being a persuasive man, gifted with a significant amount of boyish charm despite his years, managed to persuade the man to open the box. There, in the murky light of a stadium corridor, wrapped in felt was the Vince Lombardi trophy in all its stainless steel splendor. A pair of white gloves rested on top.
“Did you touch it?” someone asked Feagles on Wednesday as he recounted the tale. For a moment, he looked stricken, as if someone could dare wonder such a thing.
“Oh no,” he said. “I got a great picture of it, though.”
Lost somewhere in the hysteria of a week gone wild, where a man in a kilt asked Feagles countless questions about his Scottish-born teammate, Lawrence Tynes, there was the joy of a man approaching middle age seeing the Super Bowl through the eyes of a rookie.
Feagles came to the interview room at the resort where the Giants are staying at least 20 minutes early, not to sit at the table with his name on a piece of cardboard, nor to seek whatever airtime he could seize, but rather to look around, to gaze at the spectacle he had long heard about but had come to believe might never happen for him.
His wife and children told him to film everything, so he arrived bearing a digital camera and a video recorder. He held one in each hand, ready to chronicle everything that might occur, no matter how inconsequential, just in case he were to discover the Super Bowl trophy all over again.
The strange thing about this season is that unlike other years, Feagles thought little about the Super Bowl. His Giants got off to a terrible start, losing their first two games and falling behind badly in their third at Washington.
Plus he was so busy with work being done on his New Jersey home and his oldest son, Christopher, learning to drive and wanting to punt for his high school team, that it was hard to focus on everything that was going on with his employer.
Feagles never realized the significance of the comeback against the Redskins or the 10 road wins in a row until Tynes’s overtime field goal was going through the goalposts in Green Bay, and he finally was going to the one game he always had dreamed of experiencing.
But before anyone thinks Feagles is just another aging superstar clinging precariously to a dying career for a chance at a week like this, realize that without Feagles the Giants might not be here. For even at 41, he could well be the most effective punter in the NFL. He has always carried a reputation for trickery, kicking to the places where returners are not, specializing in the knotty art of coaxing a ball to rest on the brink of the goal line.
In recent seasons, however, the years have caught up to him. He noticed he does not have the same strength in his right leg and while he might still be able to boom a ball 60 yards in the air, it won’t go as high or have the same hang time. Invariably gravity has caught up to him, forcing him to be more cunning than usual.
“I can put the ball where I want to now,” he said. “Clubs will take what I do, punting 38 yards out of bounds, every time. They will take that 72 times a year. It eliminates the returns.”
Kick returns are what keep coaches awake at night. In the old days, back when Feagles first came into the league, the list of great punt returners was small, maybe no more than two or three. But as specialization crept in, more players were finding themselves on NFL rosters simply for their elusiveness after punts landed in their hands until it seemed almost every team had a kick returner considered dangerous.
The game has moved away from the men who can kick the ball higher than the tallest seat in the stadium and come to embrace players like Feagles. Rather than pushing the returner back to his end zone, it’s better never to let him catch the ball.
Every year now, the Giants sign a young punter to compete with Feagles in training camp, just as teams have done to him throughout his career in Arizona, Philadelphia and Seattle. This has been done more as a formality, insurance in case he gets hurt, save for the season the Seahawks used their seventh-round pick to draft a punter. That player didn’t last too long.
Feagles jokes that he can tell the ones who will be serious competition and will be frosty to them. But the reality is, nobody expects any of these young punters to take his job; he’s simply too valuable. The more likely result is the younger player gets a two-month tutorial on the values of kicking to corners, away from the other team’s top returner.
Plus who would hold on field goals and extra points? After years of practice at this, Feagles has become adept at the thankless task of catching snaps and holding the ball for kickers. There is a science to this, and he demands the entire process — from snap to the moment the ball is placed on the ground — take 1.25 seconds. Anything faster or slower, and the intricate timing falls apart.
To be sure of this, a coach stands next to Feagles every practice and times the kick-holding process with a stopwatch to ensure that nothing falls out of sync, that everything is precise.
Because after two decades in football there is no point in leaving anything to chance.
In his first Super Bowl, 41-year-old Jeff Feagles arrived with camera and video recorder to capture the experience for posterity.