Sunday, August 22, 2010

Snapping a Football

Football is all about time, distance, momentum, precision and the bounce of a misshaped ball -- physics for cheeseheads. It was basically invented to keep thugs off the streets. Like a romantic fling with a Capricorn, football is a contact sport -- you can get hurt but you enjoy it.

Football season is just starting. Some people think football is a matter of life or death. Actually, it's much more serious than that -- it's a man thing. Being a woman is of special interest only to aspiring transvestites. To actual women, it's simply an excuse not to like football.

A long snapper, also known as a deep snapper, is someone who hikes (tosses) a football, through his legs, backward, to a punter or to a player who will then hold the football on the ground for a field goal or extra point.

Becoming a long snapper is like embarking on an accidental journey with an unforeseen destination.

Cullen Loeffler attended high school in Ingram, Texas. He was a good student and a multi-sport jock.

In 1999, he enrolled at the University of Texas. His major was finance. He was also a 6-5, 242 lb. freshman tight end on the Texas Longhorns football team, a powerful college football program in the Big-12 Conference.

Texas opened the 1999 football season at home against North Caroline State. Texas was a heavy favorite to win, by double digits, but North Carolina State blocked three punts and upset the Longhorns 23-20.

After the game, the head coach told Loeffler it would be in his best interest to take up long snapping.

As a tight end, Loeffler was a decent collegiate player but not quite good enough for pro football. So he took his coaches advise and became the team long snapper his last three years in college.

Loeffler was no ordinary college student. His father, Tom Loeffler, had been a U.S. Congressman in 1980-86, representing the district that includes San Antonio. Tom Loeffler also ran for governor of Texas in 1986, and lost, then became a lobbyist. His circle of powerful friends included the Bush family (as in the Commander-in-Chief).

As a college student, Cullen was known to "hang out" with Jenna Bush (daughter of the president). "We're just friends," Loeffler claimed. Asked if he ever gave the president any advice, he said, "No, definitely not."

After his senior year in college, Loeffler was eligible as a rookie free agent to sign with a professional football team. He was considered to be the best long snapper available in the 2003 crop of collegiate rookie free agents.

A rookie free agent is a player who was not taken in the annual NFL college football draft (7 college players are chosen per team). Although long snappers are critical to the game of football, they are almost never drafted.

Loeffler's father, Tom the lobbyist, lives in San Antonio, near Red McCombs, owner of the Minnesota Vikings at the time. Tom Loeffler also rents one of his commercial real estate businesses through Red McCombs. Not too surprisingly, Cullen signed with the Vikings. Sometimes in this world, it's not what you know but who you know.

Rusty Tillman was the special teams coach for the Minnesota Vikings when Loeffler joined the team. "Cullen is the best long snapper I've ever been around," he declared. "Accuracy-wise and zip-wise, he's the best."

I was a computer programmer for 30-plus years. Accuracy-wise I was the best, but zip-wise I was only average.

Loeffler earned $310,000 in 2003, then soon signed a 5-year contract extension, through 2011, worth about $3.1 million. Being an outstanding long snapper, both accuracy-wise and zip-wise, definitely pays off.

The life of a long snapper isn't exactly glamorous. The quarterbacks are the heroes, running backs are the workhorses, receivers are the acrobatics, offensive linemen are the bulldozers and defensive players are the headhunters. But the long snappers are just long snappers. To the average fan, they don't even exist.

Moreover, long snapping comes with an element of risk. The long snapper leans over the football, with his head down, looking backward between his legs. As soon as he snaps the ball, a couple of rather large, macho dudes ram into him, trying to push his head back into his chest cavity rendering him unable to long snap again.

So if you want to be a football player but aren't good enough to be a starter, and are able to look backward between your legs, learn to be a long snapper. You won't have to be involved in too many plays and getting your uniform all messed up. Just don't snap the ball over the punter's head or you will soon become the team mascot.

Football is all about the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and impressing chicks. The quarterback always gets the good-looking cheerleader; and all the other players, including long snappers, scramble for the leftovers.

Being a long snapper is a lot like being the guy who inspects the landing gears on a jumbo jet – you're very critical to the success of the mission, but nobody knows who you are unless you screw up.

I was in high school in the Minneapolis area when the Minnesota Vikings came into being exactly 50 years ago. I have been bleeding purple ever since. The Vikings have been to four Super Bowls and lost all four. But that's okay because suffering builds character. And when you live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, you need lots of character just to make it through winter.

Quote for the Day -- "Football combines the two worst things about America -- violence punctuated by committee meetings." George Will

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where most long snappers are long turtles. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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