In a mass outbreak of Lou Costello Syndrome, Browns fans alternately laughed & sobbed at the selection of Ryan Pontbriand, a "stealth" center (who had info on this guy?) from perennial doormat Rice University. He wasn't even Rice's starting center, but a specialist. Pontbriand is a long-snapper.
Pontbriand is apparently a pretty good one, for he not only has parlayed his specialized skill into a college scholarship, but also what could be a lucrative professional career.
In Pittsburgh about 15 years ago, noted radio jock Scott Paulsen (he was doing Bob & Tom years before B&T went national, AND he was funnier) had regular interviews during football season with a continuing character, reserve place kick holder Booger Smoot. Life imitates art to an uncomfortable degree.
But don't laugh—or cry. Long-snappers are in, they're hot commodities. For years they labored in obscurity. Like referees, the best ones were those you didn't notice.
Then came last year's playoffs and Trey Junkin. The man lasted 19 years in the league, the Lou Groza or George Blanda of long-snappers. But then he had a nightmare of a game that cost his Giants the game against the 49ers. The same skill that kept him in the league since the Reagan years had finally betrayed him into unemployment.
Soon talk escalated about the importance of deep snapping. Talk usually reserved for place kickers with the yips was now directed at another sub species of football player.
It cost the Giants a playoff victory. The Cowboys claim their lousy long snapping cost them several victories last year, so they signed linebacker Jeff Robinson to a 4 year, $4.8 million contract including an $850,000 signing bonus. It is his long-snapping, and not his run defense, that won Robinson the sizable contract.
A web search revealed the usual human- interest stories of poor slobs who were no bigger or faster than you or I… BUT they had that one skill that put them in a uniform. There is even a web page devoted to HIGH SCHOOL football recruiting that features a section devoted to long-snapper prospects. Rice University must be busy scrutinizing it to replace their legendary graduate.
And yes, there is even a sports agent, Kevin Gold of Harrisburg, whose client list (okay, only 3 guys) is exclusively long-snappers. He also has a web page: longsnap.com.
Mr. Gold takes pains to point out that Butch Davis is ahead of the curve:
This weekend's NFL Draft was yet another example of the trend of teams recognizing the value of a good snapper. As in recent years, teams in need drafted snappers and some other clubs have signed, or will be signing, a snapper to compete for a job during training camp. In perhaps the biggest news, the Browns, who lost veteran Ryan Kuehl to the Giants in free agency, grabbed Ryan Pontbriand from Rice in the Fifth Round. The pick, which surprised even Pontbriand, makes him the highest drafted pure snapper in NFL history. Later in the Draft, during the Seventh Round, the Texans selected client Chance Pearce from Texas A&M. Both Pontbriand and Pearce should be familiar names to longsnap.com readers, as both have been profiled in News and Notes since last summer.
Some would argue that the Browns reached for Pontbriand. Gold confirms that it was the biggest reach in NFL history. But Butch is just ahead of the curve. They laugh now, but he'll show them (insert maniacal laugh here).
The ice has now been broken, and we can expect to see a new section in all the draft sites for next year. A little space is devoted to the top kickers and punters, but now make way for the long snappers. Being ahead of the curve right along with der Butchum, here are Aardvark's Top Long-Snapper Prospects for the 2004 Draft. The figure in parenthesis represents the timed snap to a punter:
On the Rise: Kent Byzfyx 6' 2" 255 North Dakota Southern (0.68)
Consistently puts snap within a foot of the punter's sternum. Coach Carmine "Fats" Fazzola calls him the best long-snapper he's coached in 25 years. Mechanics improved greatly after attending Pete Newell's Long-Snapper Camp.
On the Decline: Joe Schlabootnik 6'1" 270 South Dakota Northern (0.76)
Shoulder injury his senior season limited him to field goal attempts. His snaps to the punter were on line, but usually arrived on two hops. Team may gamble a low pick on him in the hopes his injury will heal with a year off. If healthy, he's a stud, shutdown long-snapper—a top 3 pick.
Sleeper: W.K. Smoot
6' 4" 284 University of Texas at El Rancho Un Segundo (0.61)
Younger brother of Steelers reserve placekick holder Booger Smoot, so has the pedigree. Accurate, phenomenal velocity, though timing may have been aided by altitude.
Underrated: Joe Beets 5' 11" 245 West Virginia at Eastern Shore (0.70)
Only fair velocity but consistently accurate. Limited by the SlackJaws' kicker converting 4 of 27 attempts last year, but Beets put the ball on the money every time. "If it wasn't for Joe," remarked backup QB and holder Dongee O'Vanni, "we wouldn't have made a darn one all year."
Overrated: Olid Tunji 6' 3" 270 New Hampshire A & I (0.65)
Winner of 2001 Trey Junkin Trophy (Outstanding Division II-A Long-Snapper) fell off last year. Coaches blame off season rock throwing for ruining his mechanics. Is eager and smart, so can be coached up.
I've a feeling that someday soon we'll hear news out of Chicago from the George Halas estate. Seems a great grandson was mulling through his papers in preparation for a Legends exhibit at the newly refurbished Soldiers Field. He found a missing last page to something the Papa Bear wrote in 1937. When he found the accompanying papers and pieced them together, we will have discovered that George Halas really wrote,
"Football is nothing more than blocking and tackling
Copyright 2003. Questions? Comments? Post in the Fans Comment section, or write Aardvark at AakronAardvark@aol.com.