In Their Words: Eric Metcalf

Eric Metcalf has returned 10 punts for touchdowns in his 12-year career. He also owns the NFL record with a combined 12 touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns. It's not the mark he figured he'd carve in the NFL, but it's one he now welcomes. Metcalf talks about the art of punt returning and how he thought his career would go.

''I didn't start returning punts until my third year in the league. I did it in college, but once I got to Cleveland I didn't do it because we had Gerald McNeil. Then they asked me and I didn't want to do it. I don't know why. Especially when I hadn't done it in a couple years.

I just wanted to be a running back, that was my thinking. But coach [Bill Belichick] convinced me this is like being in the open field, you score touchdowns this way. It worked out for me.

Still, there a lot of things I wish I could have done more of. Playing six years at running back and never getting 1,000 yards. That's something I always thought I wouuld do. I just never had enough carries to do it. But one of my goals coming into the league was I wanted to be like Roger Craig, and get 1,000 yards running and 1,000 yards receiving. As a running back 1,000 yards was the goal.

Now I enjoy returning punts because it's open space and if everything goes right, the results can be great. In 1993 against Pittsburgh I scored two touchdowns on punt returns, but that game would only be the third or fourth best memory of my career. My Raiders game in [1992] I had four touchdowns. And one year in a game against Houston I had over 100 yards receiving and around 90 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns. That's how I figured I would be playing throughout the course of my career.

For me returning punts is just more reaction. I go out there and guys are running at me and I figure I can make a guy or two miss and then try to get to space. That's when all the other guys play a part in it. If I can make the other guys miss and get to the wall, that's what does it. But the moves just happen. Sometimes when I make someone miss I'm like, 'How did I do that?' I don't have an answer. I just do what I can to make him miss and that's what happens.

I think when I was younger I used to admire my moves. I think right now if I make someone miss and shake them good I'm like, 'Oh I just shook him.' But I don't think about it like used to when younger because I expect it. It's old hat.

The first place I look after I catch the punt is usually in front of me. Because when you run a return, whether it's right or left, most people should take one or two steps forward if they can because it gives people time to set up blocks. I look in front of me then and try to break off a block. On the touchdown I didn't even look left at all. I glanced a little bit, made guys miss and took off.

It's a combination of making guys miss and being able to see the field. Guys are coming down in waves. This past week the guys in front of me had not worked with me before and it's not the fact that just mowed everyone down. It's that they kept working to get me up the field after they made their first block.

As I went around the corner I still didn't really think I had a chance. I not think I had a chance of scoring until I cut back. I was thinking I could get 25-30 yards on this because I had no idea how far I had to run. I got the cutback and I was thinking, Hey, I could go.

But there's only one time where I felt, before the punt, that I would score a touchdown. It happened in 1995, my first year in Atlanta. You want to score every time, but how realistic is that? But St. Louis kicked the ball to me, and I couldn't get to it. But they had to wave it off because there was a penalty. So they had to re-kick it. D'Marco Farr was on their sideline and he was calling to me. And I looked at him and put my arms in the air, signaling for a touchdown and pointing toward the end zone. Then they kicked it and I scored.''

John Keim covers the Redskins for The Journal Newspapers. To read more of his stories, log onto www.jrnl.com


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