Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Long Snappers Do Cry

Gene Collier:

From the time the Steelers cut him a second time in June until Oct. 28, mover was probably the most stable position Retkofsky held. He considered taking a glorified janitorial gig for a chain of nursing homes, but that paid even less. He applied to police and fire academies, but nothing was happening.

It wasn't hopeless. Retkofsky had seen hopeless, and this wasn't it.

"My mom had a real bad drug problem, in and out of rehab," Jared said. "I had a best friend growing up in Wichita, and I stayed at his house a lot because of that. Then, my best friend's dad killed his mom and himself. He went to live with his uncle and aunt, and I started staying there, too.

"My mom didn't want that. She had a real bad relapse. I couldn't take it anymore. I was 12. They finally convinced her that they should take care of me."

Eric and Kelly Dennis, the people Retkofsky now calls his mom and dad (he never knew his biological father), got him into a better school, where he played football and learned to snap. He wound up at Texas Christian University.

Even among specialists, who are very close on every football team, Warren didn't know all this until fairly recently.

"I thought I'd been through some adversity because I was a walk-on at North Carolina," Warren smiled. "But what Jared has battled through is a great story. Most snappers have a way of being able to focus so you don't stress out; we have a way of forgetting the last play."

Retkofsky's had to forget plenty, but the day he likely never will was that Tuesday after Warren's injury, when all four potential replacements had completed their snapping auditions. Doug Whaley, the club's pro personnel coordinator, came into the locker room and said to Jared, "C'mon; let's go upstairs and sign some papers."

"It's a long hallway to the stairs," Retkofsky said as the sun baked the grass stage of the Super Bowl, "and I thought, 'Ya know, I might just collapse on those stairs and bawl.' I am so blessed, so thankful. It's just surreal to be here."

And then he cried a little.

"I'm sorry," he said.

His mom and dad will be there Sunday.

Long-snapping (For my European friends, the long snapper's sole job is to come out about a dozen times a game and throw the ball backwards between his legs either seven or 15 meters so that it can be safely kicked. If your snap is off by a few feet, it could cost your team the game. Also, as soon as you start to move, the defenders can plow into you. Then you go sit down for ten of fifteen minutes before doing it again.) has to be the most absurd job in the wide world of sports.

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