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Monday, December 13, 2010

Washington Post 'Kicked Around'

It was great to see the Michael Leahy’s article ‘Kicked around: Inside football's loneliest position’ in the Washington Post this weekend. Kickers rarely get any ‘serious’ media attention, and to have a publication as prestigious as the Washington Post give it so much space in their magazine is incredible.

It is really is a fine article, and I am honored to have been included in it. Not only because the Washington Post is such a great publication, but because Michael Leahy is such an esteemed writer.

As a writer, Michael usually spends his time stalking the Halls of Congress looking for a good political story for the Washington Post. However he has, on occasion, focused his writing on sports, just as he did in 2005 when he published his book on Michael Jordon titled ‘When Nothing Else Matters - Michael Jordon’s Comeback’.

Now I haven’t had the time to read the book, but a recent review I read seemed to sum up the power of Michael’s writing. This reviewer said:

“This is the finest book I've ever read on Michael Jordan. It is one of the best sports books written in many years, I think. What Michael Leahy has done so magnificently is wipe away the stardust from our eyes and enable to see what the Jordan comeback meant to the star, a city and a struggling team. It is sympathetic in parts, and tough in parts.

It is unflinchingly honest and brilliantly written. The way he writes about basketball games was reason alone for me to devour the book. The writing is so vivid and powerful. And I thought I was seeing Jordan for the first time. I finished the book thinking I finally understood the measure of his psyche, and the pressures bearing on him, and the stresses felt by his teammates and others who seemed to chafe under his incessant demands that they either win or satisfy his other demands.”

I believe Michael has brought the same insight to his article.

I read with fascination how Michael described Billy Cundiff’s journey through both his success and his failures as a kicking specialist. And yet at the same time, Michael takes the reader off the football field and into Billy’s personal life, showing him not just as a kicking specialist’, but as a husband and a father.

I know Billy Cundiff, I’ve worked with Billy Cundiff, and yet I still learned about Billy Cundiff by reading Michael Leahy’s article. Michael showed that kickers are people too. And that’s something you don’t always see in sports articles.

That’s good writing! (I will be posting a blog about Billy later this week).

When Michael first called me about doing the article, he also asked if I would introduce him to an ‘up and coming’ kicker who would fit well into his article.

Well coincidentally, I had just started working with former Fresno State kicker Clint Stitser who, at that time, had been given a try-out with the Jets, but had not been signed to a team.

I believed in Clint’s ability to make an NFL roster, so I invited him to a workout where Michael would both observe, and interview him.

Watching Michael at work is a treat in itself. To be honest, I think I saw the ‘top’ of his head more than any other part of his body. Every time I’d look up to see where he was on the field, all I would see was his head down, eyes intently focused on his notebook and his pen scribbling at a frantic pace.
Notes, notes and more notes. He was ALWAYS taking notes.

Driving to the practice field, in-between bites at a meal, Michael was always taking notes.
How he managed to make all the astute observations he made, while taking all the notes he took, I don’t know. But I was beginning to think he had ‘eyes’ in the top of his head.

But I know Michael was observing what was going on. That’s obvious from the questions he asked during, and after every session. And if there was one thing Michael did more than scribble on his notebook, it was ask questions.

Questions, questions and more questions. I have never been asked so many questions.

And they were good questions. And from the questions he asked, it was obvious Michael had a great deal of knowledge about kicking. And though the article doesn’t necessarily reflect it, he did spend quite a bit of time interviewing Clint Stitser, and asking him quite a few questions as well.

Now I don’t know if Michael asked Clint how quickly he thought he would make it into the NFL, but I think it would have surprised both of them had known the answer to that question. Because shortly after Michael left (he was here for four days), the Bengals called me asked for my recommendations on kickers. I recommended three -including Clint- who went for a work out and was signed the next day.

In his first game he was three for three on field goals with a long of 47 yards. (I will be posting a blog about Clint later this week).

Now you can call it just good timing -or perhaps you can call it good coaching- but it was great to have Michael’s article published, and have Clint make it into the NFL both in the last few weeks.

Pretty good Christmas gifts if you ask me!

But the real gift here is the one Michael Leahy has given to all kickers.

By taking his time, and using his brilliant writing talent to write such a wonderful article about kicking, he has shed some serious media attention on what it means to be a kicking specialist.
And if you are a kicking specialist, you realize what a gift this is.

The Lonely Writer
Kicking is not only football’s loneliest position; it is also one of football’s most ‘ignored’ position when it comes to media attention; this, even though kicking specialists play such an important role in the game.

Perhaps when other sports journalists read Michael’s article, they will realize there are many of good stories to be told about kicking specialists.

I just want to thank Michael for telling this one.

Click to read Michael Leahy's article 'Kicked Around: Inside Football's loneliest position' in Sunday December 12, 2010 edition of the Washington Post - Sports Section.

It was a pleasure meeting and working with Michael.

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