There are enough pressures on players during training camp when their minds are focused simply on the job at hand. When there is a big outside distraction, it can become nearly impossible to maintain that focus.
Such has been the double-edged sword facing long snapper Cullen Loeffler. As a specialist with whom perfection is not only expected but demanded, precision and attention to detail are prerequisites. Outwardly, it was difficult to see the strain he was under. There was a lot on Loeffler's mind other than getting a snap perfectly into the hands of Chris Kluwe for a punt or a field goal.
At 12:20 p.m. Monday, Loeffler and his wife Jardin welcomed their second child – William Senate Loeffler, who entered the world with measurables of 8 pounds, 22 inches. He will be known as Senate, which is a name of family significance on his wife's side. Loeffler was able to drive back to the Twin Cities for the birth, given Monday and Tuesday off from practice – a gesture he said he is eternally grateful for.
"Coach (Brad) Childress and (special teams) Coach (Brian) Murphy were both very good to me," Loeffler said. "They let me out of practice on Monday and let me stay there that night and all day yesterday. I got back last night and was ready to get back at it."
The mind of a football player is always on the season at hand or, once that is over, the coming season. When Loeffler and his wife learned they were having a second child – they have a 2-year-old daughter, Landyn – Loeffler immediately started a monthly count on his fingers and realized that the baby's birth would likely coincide with training camp. In his best Scooby Doo imitation, Loeffler's immediate reaction was "Ruh, Roh!"
"We figured it out pretty quick," Loeffler said. "We first found out in January and started doing the math. I was like, ‘Oh, no! The baby is coming during training camp.' Those are the types of things you think about as a football player. It's great to have a baby, but it's tough when it conflicts with the season."
Loeffler said he didn't know how to break the news to the coaching staff because he knows the importance placed on his unique talent during training camp. As the team's only true long snapper, he knew that any time he missed would impact the special teams as a whole.
After summoning up the courage to let the coaches know months in advance, he said he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction.
"At first, I was really, really nervous about it," Loeffler said. "But everyone has been great and really good to me about it. They didn't have a problem with me spending some time with my wife and enjoying the birth of my son and spending some time with him afterward. I'm thankful for that because it's something you don't want to miss out on."
As the due date drew closer, Loeffler tried to keep the thought of "the call" out of his mind. It wasn't easy. He was worried that Jardin would go into labor while he was on the practice field. The result was that he was ready to dash off the field after each practice, not to seek the comfort of an air-conditioned locker room, but to check his cell phone and hope there wasn't a message saying Jardin was heading to the hospital.
"It was a sigh of relief that we were able to have him on the day scheduled for induction," Loeffler said. "They had pointed to Monday as the date. Every day in camp prior to that, I was running to check my phone constantly and calling her to make sure everything was fine. It worked out perfect and I couldn't be happier about it."
However, it wasn't all fun and games. Back in Mankato, the Vikings struggled with special-teams snaps. John Sullivan tried to give it a shot and it was an epic fail. After a few multi-hop snaps, Jared Allen gave it the old college try. A long snapper in college, when Allen was drafted, one of his positives was the versatility to long snap. He said it was fun to try again, but has no intention of quitting his day job.
"I'm hanging it up," Allen said. "As soon as my days as a DE are finished, I'm done. I've had enough."
Sullivan said he, too, was glad to see Loeffler back. It brought an end to his misery.
"(Long snapping) is a lot harder than it looks," Sullivan said. "I figured I could get it close, but I was all over the place. It's a skill."
Loeffler heard of the struggles that others had trying to do what he does with such ease. He said that, while he didn't want his absence to be a distraction, he said he felt good to know that he was needed – and missed when he wasn't there.
"The good thing was that maybe people appreciate what I do a little more," Loeffler said. "So maybe it worked out OK. It's a lot different from regular snapping with the timing you need. They were kind of thrown to the wolves because none of them practice it very much."
When the Vikings break camp today, Loeffler will have a lot more time to spend with his newborn son and a story to tell him about having the leave to Mankato to see his birth.
Loeffler said he is just happy it is all over with and that both baby and mother are doing fine. He said it has been a whirlwind of emotions and now he can get back to being himself, which, more often than not, is a little bit goofy.
What does he remember most about it? The numerology associated with having a son born of Aug. 9, 2010.
"His birthday is 8-9-10, so that's cool," Loeffler said.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Training camp baby isn't such a snap
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