February 21, 2018

Long Snapper, Long Life

Do you want your child to have a long, productive and safe career?  Then don’t send them to law school, medical school or charm school.  No.  Drag that kid into the backyard, make them turn away from you, back up 15 yards and tell them to hike a football to you.  Do this a thousand times a day, every day, for 22 years until the kid’s fingers bleed, the neighbors call the police or “Silent Library” starts because long snapping is about the best job a young American can get in these troubling times.

The truth of this is seen in Patrick Mannelly who is now in his fourteenth season with the Chicago Bears and has gotten more work in a Bears jersey than Walter Payton, Sid Luckman, Brian Urlacher or George Wendt.  And it’s all because Mr. Mannelly is a long snapper.  He snaps the ball on punts, field goals and…no, that’s it.

Mannelly has played 206 games for the Bears and shows no signs of slowing down.  In fact, staying close to the ground and propelling things in the wrong direction sounds like something we’d get better at in our later years rather than a skill that would decline, doesn’t it?  Mannelly even has his own website.  It’s called manigotacooleasyjob.com.  Just kidding.  It’s called Longsnapper.com which sounds like it should also be hawking fishing gear.

Mannelly went to Duke which usually means two things:  1) You’re smart.  2) You’re not good at football.  Obviously, Patrick defied the odds and he continues to jettison the pigskin through his legs for long distances on Sundays just as he began doing back when Bill Clinton was President and Cher still had a daughter.

Long snappers, like left-handed pitchers and Baldwin brothers, seem to have lifetime employment.  Cardinals long snapper Mike Leach is in his twelfth year.  Falcons long snapper Joe Zelenka is in his thirteenth year.  Browns long snapper Ryan Pontbriand has been around for nine years.  L.P. LaDouceur of the Cowboys has been chuckin’ it backwards for seven years now.  Punters and kickers have employed Denver’s Lonnie Paxton for a dozen years.  Detroit’s Don Mulbach is in his eighth year.  Colts LS Justin Snow has been around nearly as long as Peyton Manning and is in his twelfth year.  Miami’s John Denny is starting his seventh year.  The Vikings’ Cullen Loeffler is in his eighth year.  John Condo of the Raiders is in his sixth year.  It’s now the ninth NFL campaign for Eagles LS Jon Dorenbos.  Greg Warren of the Steelers has been around for seven years.  The 49ers’ Brian Jennings is in his twelfth year and Tennessee’s Ken Amato is in his ninth year.

So, nearly have of the league’s long snappers are not only members of the NFLPA but also the AARP.

Are there any long snappers in the Hall of Fame?  No.  But there are no punters in Canton either, so what the heck do the voters know?  If punters have a crown prince who should be in the Hall it’s Ray Guy who was so good that Raiders fans liked it when their team failed to score just so they could watch Guy punt.  Guy’s career in Oakland overlapped by two seasons with the man who, if he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame definitely should be on the Postal Service’s first commemorative long snapper stamp: Trey Junkin.

Junkin was, like all long snappers, trained initially in football’s other arts, specifically tight end and linebacker, but parlayed his ability to snap the ball accurately over long distances into an NFL career that lasted from 1983 to 2002.  Unjustly, Abner Kirk Junkin (now you know why they called him Trey) is most often remembered, if he’s remembered at all, by one game, the final game, of his career.  Long snappers, like officials, umpires or cue card holders, are remembered only when they screw up, and in 2002 the New York Giants coaxed Junkin out of retirement for one playoff game and in the final seconds he launched a bad snap, not a terrible one, but bad enough, and the Giants missed out on a chance for a game-winning field goal and lost to the San Francisco 49ers.  Ouch.

Life is long for long snappers but even they, like the rest of us, have moments when it feels nasty, brutish and short.