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News » Escalating space race lands at kickers' feet Field-goal distances grow to moon shots

Escalating space race lands at kickers' feet Field-goal distances grow to moon shots

Escalating space race lands at kickers' feet Field-goal distances grow to moon shots
Kicks in the 60s and 70s are much like kicks in the '60s and '70s: far out.

Sebastian Janikowski knows the outer limits of his craft.

On Sept. 28, then- Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin sent him out to attempt a 76-yard field goal. That's from the 34-yard line - on the opposite side of the field, only four yards past kickoff distance.

"It looks like a video game," said Janikowski, who'll be in town Sunday (2:05 p.m., CBS 4), as the Raiders (2-8) visit the Broncos (6-4) at Invesco Field at Mile High. "When you're 76 yards away, those goal posts are really, really narrow."

Nearly as slim as the odds of making such an attempt.

The 10th anniversary of Jason Elam's NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal for the Broncos occurred last month.

Since then, Janikowski has banged a game winner from 57, the longest effort in the NFL this season.

In 2006, Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant hit a 62-yarder that ranks second behind the record shared by Elam and New Orleans' Tom Dempsey (1970). Also in 2006, Tennessee's Rob Bironas connected from 60 yards to become one of only six kickers all time to convert from 60-plus.

But no one has surpassed the all- time mark.

It's a record that historically has been slow to fall, about every 17 years since Wilbur "Pete" Henry launched a 45- yard drop kick through the uprights in 1922.

Jeff Reed of Pittsburgh attempted a 65-yard kick last October in Denver, but it was fielded in the end zone. Janikowski smacked a 64-yarder halfway up the right upright two weeks later in a game against Houston. Those tries would have counted.

A 65-yarder by Ola Kimrin, subbing for an injured Elam six years ago, cleared the crossbar by 3 or 4 yards but isn't a record because it occurred in a preseason game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been 26 field-goal attempts of 60 yards or longer since Elam's record-tying effort. Bryant and Bironas are the only two to convert.

"I'm really, honestly, shocked that record hasn't been beaten by now," Elam said recently. "There's so many guys in the league that have the ability to do it. It's just really getting the opportunity. . . . That record is not going to stand for long."

At or near the top of the list of players with the leg strength to shatter the record are two squaring off Sunday - Janikowski and the Broncos' Matt Prater, who knocked a 68-yarder through the uprights during training camp.

But there are others with prodigious power, including Jacksonville's Josh Scobee, Detroit's Jason Hanson, Carolina's John Kasay, Bironas, Buffalo's Rian Lindell, Green Bay's Mason Crosby and others.

"I'd say at least half the guys could do it, under perfect conditions," Prater said.

Such conditions either might constitute a strong wind at the back or complete calm. Warm weather helps.

Bironas related a recent story from practice when he was having problems with 45-yard attempts in Nashville. He solved the issue by turning around and hit it from 70 yards going the other direction.

"The problem is, it's got to be the opportune point, right at the end of the half or the end of the game," Bironas said of successfully kicking a record-setting field goal. "Because they put returners back there to return it, and you're supposed to have seven linemen tackle a return guy. That's a tough position."

Elam, now kicking for the Atlanta Falcons, was short on a 57-yarder in October 2002. Baltimore's Chris McAlister fielded the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone, picked up a slew of blocks and didn't stop until he had scored a 108-yard touchdown. Last November, San Diego's Antonio Cromartie trumped McAlister by a yard with his runback of a 57-yard missed field-goal attempt in Minnesota.

In the flow of a game, coaches generally are comfortable kicking from no farther than about 53 yards, depending on the setting and game situation. That's because, if an attempt from that distance is missed, the opponent would receive the ball from the spot of the hold, which would be the 43-yard line, not yet in the kicking team's territory and still a decent drive from a legitimate field- goal attempt by the opponent.

"Field position is just so important in this league that it's not that they don't have the ability to try it - the percentages, obviously, aren't that great," said Broncos special teams coach Scott O'Brien, who began in that realm as a college assistant in 1983. "And if you don't have that situation where it's not OK to lose that field position, then I think you would see more of it."

Janikowski, who last month misfired on 57- and 59-yard attempts in a game in New Orleans and only reached the goal line on his 76-yarder, described the miss from 64 yards in a home game against the Texans as the one that got away.

"That's one of those kicks where I hit it perfect. I couldn't hit it any better," he said. "I went home and was upset with myself, but I gave it my best effort. I mean, it was good from 74."

Prater has hit a 73-yarder before "just messing around" and regularly kicks 67 yards during warm-ups at the Broncos' Dove Valley practice facility.

At those workouts, temporary uprights are wheeled into place at the goal line. Prater frequently will blast the ball through that set - and the permanent goal posts 10 yards deeper.

"It's like hitting a nice drive on the golf course," Denver's first-year kicker said, when asked to describe the feeling of hitting a ball that far and that straight. "You walk out and you hit it, and it feels so flush on your foot. It's one of those things where, as soon as you hit it, you know it's going to be a good kick."

Dempsey's 63-yarder came at the closed end of Tulane Stadium on a wind-swept afternoon in November 1970. The reaction to his record kick was jubilation for the ne'er-do-well Saints and their fans but also initiated complaints that Dempsey, who was born without toes on his right foot, somehow had cheated because of his disability. His modified shoe was flattened and enlarged at the end.

It even was rumored Dempsey had used a steel plate in that shoe, later prompting a rule change about the composition of kicking footwear.

Today's kickers have other metal at their disposal to help them reach greater heights - and lengths. They train with weights and get specialized attention from a position coach. Still, it took 28 years for Elam to catch Dempsey.

"The coaching and the training these days is beneficial," Bironas said. "But, at the same time, you've got the 'K- ball,' and it's a coin toss whether you're going to get a good ball for the game or not. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't."

The K-ball was introduced in 1999, after Elam's record breaker. These shiny, new Footballs are exclusively for use by the kickers and often are hard and slick.

Kickers can practice all week with worn game balls that have softened leather and have been doctored for use, making easier launching pads for lengthy attempts. Rules have since been modified allowing teams a half- hour pregame to manipulate the Footballs, but they still aren't scrubbed of wax and compressed to previous levels.

"To me, it's Darwin's theory of live or die," O'Brien said. "And they've learned to adapt."

In Denver, one factor working in a kicker's favor is altitude. It allows for increased distance, Janikowski said.

"I think it's seven to eight yards. It's totally different," he said.

"It is somewhere around that," Prater said. "You definitely have an advantage, kicking around here. That's why it would be awesome to get the record out here."

So what's the unbreakable standard for field goals? Seventy-two? Seventy- four? The consensus seems to be that a 70-yard-plus field goal will occur.

"I know that Janikowski and Matt have the ability to hit from that distance, no question," Elam said.

But here's an oddity that's possible for a record attempt - a field goal on a free kick after a fair catch. In an end-of- the-game, end-of-the-half scenario, a punt could be fair caught and the kicker trotted out with a potential record at stake.

Mark Mosley of Washington attempted free kicks of 70 and 74 yards in 1979.

"It's versus no rush. You don't even have to have time left," O'Brien said. "And he takes five steps instead of three steps."

The goal posts, though, still look Arena Football League narrow.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 22, 2008

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