By Jose M. Romero / @RomeroJoseM
I used to work with a guy who played center and long snapper on his high school football team.
“Wanna take some snaps?” he would ask in the middle of the afternoon when he needed a break from writing his golf column.
I would look at my hands, knowing that any failure to catch the ball correctly might result in a broken finger.
“OK. I’ll take a few,” I would say, not wanting to show any weakness.
The co-worker would bend down to hike the ball. Suddenly the ball would zoom toward me in a tight spiral, and I had no choice but to stick my hands out in front of me and make the catch. Sometimes the spiral would be so tight it would be like a throw.
Thankfully I caught the ball more often than not. I was never a punter or a quarterback!
The funny thing is, another colleague of mine in the sports writing business actually played college football at Louisville, as a center and long snapper.
So I know guys who understand the position of long snapping well, and they either A) had to feel sorry for the Oakland Raiders Monday night; or B) were disgusted that an NFL player whose only job was to snap the ball back to his punter could figure in the outcome of the game so much.
Poor Travis Goethel. Pressed into service for the Raiders as the long snapper when Pro Bowler Jon Condo took a hit to his head and had to leave the game, Goethel failed to consistently execute the snap twice. A third snap led to a blocked punt, and the San Diego Chargers took advantage with great field position to start three drives.
The Raiders’ punter is Shane Lechler. Oakland’s three best players are their running back, Darren McFadden, kicker Sebastian Janikowski and Lechler. No joke.
With Lechler unable to get his punts in the air, the Chargers weren’t backed up enough times in their own end of the field. The Raiders defense played heroically and did pretty much all it could to stop the Chargers, but that unit’s job would have been less challenging if Lechler would have been able to place the ball down the field and give the Chargers a longer distance to travel to score points.
So the Chargers won 22-14 and you could see the faces of the fans in the Black Hole full of disgust and despair. The Chargers deserve credit, though. This game wasn’t as close as the score showed.
The Raiders need to address that long snapper situation first, if Condo can’t return this week per the league-mandated concussion protocol. They also could use some help at receiver.
Will teams learn from Monday night’s game and start carrying an extra long snapper? These players are critical to the mechanism of a team. The long snap is a thing taken for granted. As long snapper, your only job is to get the ball back to your punter or holder quickly and on target. You can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in the NFL if you have the skills to long snap. It’s a highly specialized skill.
So to parents who want their kids to play football but are worried about the violence of the game: send them to long-snapping camp. You snap, you try to block and that’s it. You’re on the field only a few times a game so your injury risk is lowered. Muy facil!
Well, not really. Just ask Travis Goethel.