“You’re not comfortable in your life. That’s the best way to be.” (63)
I jumped out of the car and trotted onto the football field. The cool March breeze blew by me as I slung the bag of footballs over my shoulder and headed for the ten yard line. I put down the Harry Potter book, which would be used as a makeshift PAT block, and put a ball on top of it held there by a tee made of three PVC pipes. My right foot was placed right behind the book and I took three steps back then two steps to the side. My left foot was placed forward. I started my approach, kicked the ball, and saw it sail through the uprights. The first thing that my mind said was,” Well, I better get used to this.” Football is currently the most popular sport in the United States. The more popular the sport becomes the more important winning becomes. Coaches are constantly looking for new talent and getting rid of useless assets to their teams. “A Few Seconds of Panic”, written by Stefan Fatsis, gives a personal in depth look into the most popular sport in America and the players involved in it.
Fatsis starts the book out by describing his journey to become an NFL kicker. He was 43 year old reporter that decided he wanted to join an NFL team, so he could experience what it was like to be an NFL player first hand. After using his connections he had made while reporting he was finally offered a tryout by the Denver Broncos to be a place kicker. He then went to work trying to figure out how to kick the football. I started kicking when I was a freshman in high school. After four years of working on it I’m not even close to having the skill set of an NFL kicker. The fact that this guy was planning on learning how to kick in about two months at his age seems almost impossible. He ends up finding a kicking coach, learning how to kick decently, and heads up to Denver for the Broncos minicamp.
Fatsis arrives at the Broncos minicamp and is instantly treated like a rookie. He is forced to do a dance in front of the team and sing his college fight song. This reminds me a lot of the difference between being a sophomore and a senior on the Carroll football team. The sophomores get told what to do and are considered tackling dummies for the older varsity kids. When you’re a sophomore you’re considered expendable. If you go down, there’s always another to take your place. This is the same for a practice player in the NFL. The veterans also have to assert their authority and show you your place. The hierarchy of a football team is based on talent and experience.
Fatsis begins his NFL minicamp out on the field practicing his kicking. He does a series of drills and talks to some of the players who are auditioning for a variety of roles on the team. There is roughly 1,800 players in the NFL (57). Most of these players are pursuing a dream that will never become a reality. As a sports fan we only think of the superstar players and that they make a ton of money. We forget that there is 53 players on the roster and a lot of guys working to become one of those 53 players. Fastis talks to a man named Preston who is an NFL journeyman. He plays quarterback and is desperate to find a team that is willing to sign him for the year. Preston has a wife and kids that are relying on him to provide for their family and football is all he knows. That’s a lot of pressure to be under. People commonly mistake the fact that just because someone is in the NFL doesn’t mean they are rich. In Preston’s case, he’s making 400 dollars a week.(59)
Fatsis shares a locker with Tyler Fredrickson, another NFL journeyman, who’s trying out to be a kicker. Tyler is competing with other kickers for a spot on the roster. The amount of pressure on him is unimaginable. While being on the high school football team I’ve never had to compete with another person for my kicking job. It’s always been almost guaranteed to me. Kicking already comes with a lot of pressure. Because I’ve always had my spot locked, I’ve been able to 100% focus on the upcoming game. I never had to push myself during the season beyond my own self-motivation. Putting myself in Tyler’s shoes I can’t imagine that amount of stress. Kicking for a chance to make over a million dollars would be filled with pressure. You have to have a type of mental toughness that is out of this world. In the NFL you are never guaranteed to keep your position too. As a kicker if you start missing you get replaced. The game is no longer a game anymore. It’s a performanced based business and if you start to become unfit to do the job then you will replaced instantly with someone who is fit.
While attending the second mini-camp Fatsis introduced to Todd Sauerbrun. Todd Sauerbrun is one of the best punters in the NFL but also has one of the worst attitudes. He has career averages of 47.5 yards per punt.(63) Todd also has been suspended for four games because he broke the NFL’s performance enhancer policy. This one part of sports I’ve never understood. If you have the talent and are able to play at the highest level then why would you take a chance to screw it up. Todd ends up getting in front of the entire team and apologizing saying the drug he took was supposed to help his stamina while lifting.(101) After learning about the turnover rate of the NFL and how competitive it is to keep a job it starts to become more understanding. When you’re fighting against other players for a position you’re willing to do anything to give yourself an advantage. It has a lot of that risk-reward mentality.
“The little stuff hurts the most,”P.J. Alexander says.(116) Injuries are a common theme in the NFL because of all the contact that occurs. Fatsis hangs out inside the training room and watches Greek, the team's trainer, treat multiple different injuries. For a rookie or an NFL journeyman injuries can’t exist if they plan on making a team. Because the majority of every player is considered expendable an injury can put the end to players career in a matter of seconds. If you tear your ACL odds are you won’t make a comeback. The team will cut you to save money. Nothing is taken personally in the NFL. Personal relationships rarely exist. NFL teams want to win and nothing is going to stop them from doing that.
“If NFL players thought about the future they couldn’t possibly play in the present.”(143) Fastis describes the importance of kicking in the presence. The second you begin to look into the future, you begin to lose focus on what’s happening now. In order to stay in the present Fastis states some phrases every time before he kicks. I too have a phrase that I say before every kick, but I have never told anyone what it is. It helps me stay focused and alert. Kicking in the NFL requires you to work under extreme pressure in front of a massive crowd. Fastis says that you need to have complete confidence in yourself or your destined for failure.(144) I’ve always loved kicking on Friday nights because there’s a pressure that I enjoy a lot. I like it when a lot of people are watching me kick because it’s my opportunity to show others what I’m capable of. Kicking in front of thousands of diehard fans would be another story. You’re paid to make the kicks. That adds a whole new sense of pressure to it and confidence is very important to have and to maintain.
Fatsis is hanging out in the locker room talking to the players about the media. He finds that most players have very negative views on the media because they judge their every move. “Athletes complain that the reporters who smugly judge their performance and behavior can’t possibly understand what they experience.”(141) Athletes have a right to dislike the media because the media goes out to show that athletes should be perfect. Anytime they mess up or do something stupid the media targets and punishes them beyond what the normal punishment would be. Professional sports players are people and they are going to mess up like everyone else. It’s not our job to scrutinize their every move. Professional athletes also need to understand that they are role models and that people look up to them.
“A Few Seconds of Panic” gave a great insight into how NFL players live their lives and the pressures involved in being a professional player. The amount of pressure there is to perform well enough to keep your job is astonishing. The second you don’t perform another person will take your place. Injuries can also put an end to someone’s career in a matter of seconds. NFL players aren’t living life as most people see. It’s a stressful and panic filled job that requires a lot of hard work, effort, and luck.