May 2, 2007
Last week I finally settled on a name for my son. He will be named after his father (Me) and my favorite baseball player of all time: Andrew Kirbert Thell. Kirby for short. The most solemn burden of all parents is the adequate, thoughtful preparation of their child’s future. Though my firstborn has yet to be conceived, I have already given this hallowed task solemn and serious consideration. I want to ensure that he is able to live comfortably, provide for his family, earn recognition and leave a legacy. Though I’m sure he’ll be brilliant, an intellectual career among the ranks of egghead academics or precious dilettantes and esthetes does not necessarily guarantee that kind of life. I’m no fool, I watch TV, and I know that in modern American society there are only three ways to ensure it: becoming a celebrity, having a successful music recording career or excelling at professional athletics. I have no way to guide him to success in the first two endeavors, but that last one? I think that’s doable.
The idea first occurred to me a little over a year ago when I read about current Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri’s new contract. He received a $3.5 million dollar signing bonus and $7.5 million over the first three years of the deal. To kick footballs in a straight line he gets paid $11.0 million dollars. He trots out onto the field a few times one day a week, he kicks the ball, knocks back a few Gatorades, goes home to his mansion and everybody loves him. Now that’s not to take anything away from Mr. Vinatieri, he’s crucial to his team’s success and excellent at what he does. Maybe the best ever. But still: he’s a kicker. I also know there’s a tremendous amount of preparation that goes into those few kicks we see on television every week, and I’m willing to put the work in. Kirbert will be, too.
You’ve probably noticed that nearly all of today’s placekickers are “soccer-style” kickers, meaning they approach the ball from a few steps to the side of the ball and and several steps behind it. So that’s the first step, Kirby is going to have to grow up playing soccer. Now, I don’t know how you feel about soccer, but I’m a little iffy on the whole thing. I see these guys with one-word names like Ronaldo and Pele running around taking their shirts off after goals and it gives me pause. But nobody said there wouldn’t be sacrifices along the way to stardom as an NFL kicker, and this is one I’m prepared to make. Soccer has the additional benefit of forcing kids to run around in circles non-stop for several hours. There’s nothing more depressing than a fat kid, and I haven’t seen any fat NFL kickers, so keeping Kirby in shape will be important. I don’t know a whole lot about soccer, so I can’t coach his team, but you better believe that I’ll be at every game and every practice. I’ll be the guy in the bleachers, front and center, screaming until my voice is hoarse, wearing a Vikings Starter jacket and sunglasses with a whistle around my neck.
Of course, I’ll be responsible for a bulk of the early placekicker training. This is by no means an exhaustive routine, I’ll try to continue working on the regimen as time goes on and change things up every once in a while to keep it fresh, but I’ve already had a few great ideas. For one thing, mornings before we go to school and work, respectively, Kirbert and I will be on the local high school football field practicing for one or two hours each day. Weekends we’ll do five or six. I want him to wake up thinking about those uprights. I want making field goals to become engrained in his subconscious before his mind is even awake. And we won’t start out this way, but eventually he’ll be kicking with light weights around his ankles. I think it should really improve leg strength and I’ll be damned if any son of mine is going to need a kickoff specialist. After school, I’ll be waiting for him in my car at the curb. Front and center. Wearing a Vikings Starter jacket and sunglasses with a whistle around my neck.
When we get home he’ll do some light kicking and then have an hour or two to get his homework done and eat something. Then we go out front. You see, the reason Adam Vinatieri is considered perhaps the best kicker of all time is that he’s clutch. Nothing can distract him. That’s why he earns the big money. They call him “Iceman” and “Automatic Adam”. He’s played in five Super Bowls, won four Super Bowl rings and he’s made some of the most high-pressure kicks in history, including two game-winners in the final five seconds of Super Bowls.
That kind of composure doesn’t just happen. You learn it, you work on it every day. So after he’s done with his homework, Kirby and I will work on pressure situations and ignoring distractions. I’ll set up in my lawn chair and get the hose and airhorn out, and he’ll go to work. I’ll randomly shout, sound the airhorn and spray him to simulate distractions. We’ll turn on the steady stream so he knows what it’s like to kick in adverse weather, maybe get some sprinklers going. If he can’t make a kick with a hose in his face in front of some neighborhood kids or the girl he’s got a crush on, how will he ever make a Super-Bowl-winning kick? Of course, I’ll put down the hose in the winter, but hopefully mother nature will give us a hand between December and March. Once he gets good, in order to increase the pressure I’ll have to throw out the occasional ultimatum (“If you don’t make this kick, you’re calling in sick to school tomorrow!”).
After the front-yard conditioning, he’ll have a few hours to watch game film. Then we’ll do some toughness work. The knock on professional kickers is always that they aren’t ‘real’ football players, that they’re wimps. This stereotype is continually driven home week after week as we see return men embarrass the punter or kicker by faking them out or breaking a weak tackle. That’s not going to happen to Kirby. Each night before bed, we’ll turn on the flood lights in the back yard. He’ll have to tackle me 20 times in a row before he can go to bed. I’m talking about open-field tackles. I start at one end of the yard, he starts at the other. If I make it across without my knee touching the ground, we start over.
As we’ve seen in recent NFL drafts, nothing can make an athlete’s draft stock drop like a failed drug test. On top of that, doing drugs takes away from valuable practice time and dulls focus. No, Kirby won’t be touching any of that stuff, I’ll see to it. That’s why there will be weekly drug tests every Monday morning, 5:30 AM sharp (just before we start on drills). They’ll be scheduled right after the weekend because I know what kids these days do on weekends. And I’m not going to let him pull an Onterrio Smith ‘Original Whizzinator’ on me either. No, I’ll have to watch to ensure the results are accurate. Of course, it would be too expensive to take all of the samples to the lab every week, so I’ll only be able to test random batches, but I think the possibility of a failed test and the potential consequences will be enough to keep Kirbert in line.
Drugs are just one obstacle though. Friends, girls and religion can all derail a promising career before the age of 16. I’ll have to keep close tabs on young Kirby. I might have to look into the possibility of home schooling to keep him focused. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I need to work on a diet and strength-training regimen.
Move over Adam Vinatieri, Jason Elam, Tom Dempsey and Gary Anderson. NFL, prepare for the greatest placekicker of all time:
Andrew Kirbert Thell.