Jeff Feagles – one of the best and certainly the most durable punter in NFL history – will return in 2006 for his third year with the Giants and his 19th in the league. It was widely speculated that Feagles would retire after the 2005 season.
Indeed, he told general manager Ernie Accorsi and coach Tom Coughlin he would not return, and he moved his family – wife Michelle and four sons – to Arizona.
But after discussing the matter with his family and the Giants, Feagles decided he did not want to leave an 11-5 division winner while he is still at the top of his game.
"In sports, there are not a lot of times when you can walk away from the game on your own terms," Feagles said from his Phoenix-area home. "That was important to me after so many years of working so hard to establish myself in the NFL. I still think that I have a lot of years left for me to play. However, my family is more important to me than that. And at the time we felt this was the right thing for our family.
"Now everything has changed a little bit. I do get excited again about playing because I am a football player. That is what I have done all my life. I got a little taste of retirement for two-and-a-half months. Obviously when we are done playing every year we do have that time off, but you know that you are going to get back into it soon. But at this point in my career I kind of had a rekindling, so to speak. And it was nice. I'm excited. We had to make sure it was going to be the right thing to do. And I think it is."
Last season, Feagles punted 73 times and had a 42.1-yard gross average and a 37.0-yard net average.
"We've been very pleased over the past two seasons in his improvement and the positive things that have taken place in the kicking game as a result of his experience, professionalism and ability," Coughlin said. "Last year, he averaged 42.1, which was up from 41.5 the year before. His net was 37, up from 34.6 the year before. He had 26 balls inside the 20, compared to 23 the year before. So from the standpoint of production and experience and performing in big games and understanding the winds in Giants Stadium, this is a huge plus for our football team."
"I couldn't let him retire before me," said Accorsi, who recently decided to remain on the job for at least one more year. "To have an athlete like Jeff Feagles on your team doing such a critical job so professionally and superbly gives us tremendous peace of mind."
Feagles is also the holder for placekicker Jay Feely, who led all NFL kickers with a career-high and team-record 148 points. Snapper Ryan Kuehl, Feely and Feagles form a veteran battery on field goals and extra points.
"We spend so much time with that combination," Coughlin said. "To assure Jay that Jeff will be the holder again and the continuity of Ryan Kuehl, Feagles and Feely, that's good for our football team."
Feagles, who turned 40 last month, has never missed a game in his career, playing in an NFL-record 288 regular season contests in a row. That's 60 more than the active runner-up, Pittsburgh punter Chris Gardocki. Last Nov. 27 in Seattle, Feagles played in his 283rd consecutive game, breaking the record Minnesota's Jim Marshall had held for 26 years.
The 288 games played put Feagles seventh on the NFL's career list, seven games behind Darrell Green.
Feagles is first in NFL history with 1,437 punts and 456 that were downed inside the 20-yard line. He is second in punting yardage with 59,830, which is 878 yards behind former Giant Sean Landeta.
When the 2005 season ended, Feagles thought he would take those numbers into retirement.
"After the season I had let Tom know, and also Ernie, and (special teams coach) Mike (Sweatman) – all of the important parties – that I was going to retire, but at that point it wasn't official," Feagles said. "But that was my thinking and if the team needed to move in a different direction as far as what they had to do, I understood. We moved back to Phoenix (where Feagles grew up and played four seasons with the Cardinals), I got my kids in school and it was basically one of those family decisions."
But Feagles still had the itch to kick, and the Giants wanted him back. The key was finding a balance between family and football.
"We sat on it and through the course of talking with Ernie and (assistant general manager) Kevin (Abrams) and Tom over a month-and-a-half or two months, we came up with a plan to make it possible for me to return for another season," Feagles said. "We all came to an agreement and I think both parties are very pleased with the outcome. I am excited to play football again."
If he doesn't move his wife and sons back to New Jersey, Feagles, with Coughlin's permission, will likely be permitted to visit them at times during the season. Feagles, for example, might fly to Arizona following a Sunday game and not be required to be back at Giants Stadium until the start of the work week on Wednesday.
"I think collectively, between the organization and me and Michelle and my family, we all agreed that in order for it to happen there had to be some give here and there," Feagles said. "I think one of the big ones was Tom understanding the situation and me giving him my utmost word that while I am out here I am going to be training hard and things are going to work out for the best and not to worry about it. And I think that he is trusting me and I am trusting him. It had to be a perfect situation, because my wife was saying, ‘Come on, we have been doing this for 18 years and now we moved to Phoenix and you want to go back another season.'
"I think that Tom and I have a mutual understanding that in order for this to happen, we have to understand each other's needs and wants. I'm aware of the situation – it is difficult for him to just let a player go whenever he wants to go home. So I won't abuse the system. It is just a matter of my need to get home and see my family, because they are 3,000 miles away."
Feagles will soon fly to New Jersey to participate in some offseason conditioning program workouts. He will attend the June mini-camp and, of course, report on time for training camp in Albany. Unlike the past two seasons, when he was the only punter in camp, the Giants will reduce his workload by using Travis Dorsch, who is currently punting for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe.
"Right now, it's just business as usual," Feagles said. "I really don't ever start punting again in the offseason until May, anyway. I have just been resting and started working out back when the offseason workout started back there. So I'm still in a routine and nothing has changed, really, other than me being here and everybody else being there."
Feagles is tending to his real estate interests in California, playing plenty of golf and helping coach his sons' baseball and lacrosse teams. But he is not ready to turn any of those diversions in to a full-time pursuit. For at least another year, Feagles will be a football player.
Feagles to Return for 19th NFL Season
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