During his 18 seasons in the NFL, Jeff Feagles has mastered directional punting like few others. He has combined his uncanny knack for putting the ball where he wants it with a work ethic that has allowed his body, now dealing with 39 years of wear, to avoid the natural pitfalls that have consumed the less dedicated.
"I've taken care of my body and done what I've needed to do to play this long," Feagles said. "Often guys my age start having back and hamstring problems, but I've been working hard to compete at this level at my age.
"I do a lot of stretching and lift weights. I go to chiropractors to get massages. I do a lot of things that aren't really necessary, but essential if you want to keep doing what you do. I tell the young players all the time that it doesn't get any easier as it gets older because your body doesn't recover.
"I'm still in the game with all the young guys around me. You see guys come and go and every year I just move along."
By the end of this season every punter in history will be looking up at Feagles.
With his fourth punt against the Cardinals, Feagles surpassed former Giant Sean Landeta for the most attempts in history (1,369). His pursuit of the record looked like it might be on hold after the Eagles re-signed Landeta in training camp as insurance for injured Dirk Johnson.
But Landeta was cut, which paved the way for Feagles. And now nothing stands in his way.
"I thought it was great that the Eagles had re-signed Sean," said Feagles. "He and I have been going at it for so long."
And should Feagles continue to avoid injury – like he did when the Eagles Jeremiah Trotter mercilessly flattened him last September – he will surpass Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall's record for consecutive games played (282) when the Giants play the Seahawks Nov. 27.
Feagles' streak was 273 prior to Monday night's game against the Saints.
"I realize a lot of people will say it should be Jim Marshall's record because he was a defensive lineman and they are right," Feagles said. "But unfortunately punter is the only position I play and it's a personal record that I'm very happy about."
Feagles' career began with the Patriots in 1988 after kicking for the University of Miami's undefeated national champions.
In his second year with the Pats, he had only two touchbacks, the fewest in history among punters with at least 60 attempts. But his reputation really began to emerge in 1991 with the Eagles, when he had 29 punts downed inside the 20 and had a career-long 77-yarder.
"He's so good and it doesn't look like he's aging at all," said Dave Jennings, the former Giants and Jets punter. "Usually the legs go first, you know, but he's hitting the ball consistently well. He's a great punter. He doesn't get a lot of press. Maybe he doesn't want it. But all I know is he's a very steady guy who hits the ball well 99 percent of the time.
"What I notice about him is he's always working, practicing correctly. He's just amazing and I'm very happy for him because he's also a very good person. If he's not the most dependable and productive player on the team he's certainly close to it. I'm in awe of what he's done. Sean [Landeta] and I set a standard [for punters] here and I'd like to see Jeff continue it."
Feagles has kicked for five teams but made the Pro Bowl just once, with the Cardinals in 1995, despite having more punts downed inside the 20 (430) than any kicker in history coming into the season.
And so it seemed appropriate that his record-setting kick, a 56-yarder with 3:14 remaining in the third period of New York's victory over the Cardinals, was touched down on the Cardinals' 13.
Feagles moved from the Patriots to the Eagles in 1990, to the Cardinals in 1994 and the Seahawks in 1998. During that time he was concerned about his career only once, when the Seahawks tried to save $500,000 against the salary cap in 2002 by drafting Michigan State's Craig Jarrett in the sixth round.
"I got into a contract dispute with management because they wanted me to take a pay cut," Feagles said. "To me that signified they felt I was making too much money for a punter and they wanted to replace me. I basically dared them to bring someone in to compete against me because I felt at the end of the day he wouldn't be any better than I was."
Feagles beat out Jarrett and since Feagles joined the Giants in 2003 – signing a five-year, $4.3 million deal – the Seahawks have sifted through former Giants Rodney Williams and Tom Rouen in addition to Ken Walter, Donnie Jones and now Leo Araguz.
"I've always welcomed competition. I've never worried about someone taking my job," Feagles said. "If it happens, it happens. But I also know if I do what I've been doing all these years I'll be OK."
With his name in the record books, Feagles doesn't see much reason to continue his career after his current contract expires, although he hasn't totally ruled out playing into his 40s.
"I think this will be my last contract," Feagles said. "There are other circumstances in my life, like my family [four sons] that would dictate that. I should be ready to move on. It will be somewhat sad, but also a great day. The game has been a part of my life and my family forever. It'll be a big transition. But on the flip side, it will nice to be away from the game a little and watch my sons play. I have one (Christopher) who is in high school now. He's a punter."
Once he does retire he will anxiously await the affirmation of Hall of Fame voters, understanding no punter currently is enshrined.
"The Hall of Fame needs punters," Feagles said. "Every position is in there it seems besides us. It's such a huge part of the game. I'm sure there are a lot of people who'd love to go to the Hall of Fame and see a bronzed bust of some punter."
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