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A Few Seconds of Panic

“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.

 

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  • “The modern NFL player craves what we all crave: to be understood.” (310)


    The NFL held its first event on September 26, 1920. The league consisted of only two teams. A crowd of around 800 people watched the Independents beat the St. Paul Ideals. Now, over 90 years since its first game, the NFL consist of over 32 teams and has the highest ranking attendance out of any sporting event in the world. Fans come together every Sunday hoping to watch their team win. Players experience more pressure to win each game now more than ever. “A Few Seconds of Panic”, written Stefan Fatsis, takes a look into the Denver Broncos football team, and the players playing the game.

    Stefan Fatsis, a 43 year old reporter, was given the opportunity to come try and kick for the Denver Broncos and experience what it was like to be a professional football player. Upon arrival Fatsis settles in and starts training camp. “Every day of training camp should be, for me new and exciting. But after a week I begin exhibiting the same symptoms as my teammates: exhaustion, boredom, claustrophobia” (171).Fatsis describes training camp to be paralytic (171). It’s a constant routine. I think back to the beginning of my senior football season when training camp began for us. We traveled up to Central College and participated in a team camp where we stayed on campus for three days in dorm rooms with all my teammates. We had three practices everyday and I had the same symptoms Fatsis was having. By the second day, my teammates and I were starting to fatigue and the repetition became boring. NFL players will have training camp for over a month. I could barely make it three days. The exhaustion that these players experience have to lead to some type of effects on their ability to produce consistently. Over a month of repetition and physical contact is enough to drive the majority of people to experience a level of unrest and fatigue.


    Fastis talks to a punter on the team named Paul. Paul was recently named the starting punter, but is under pressure to lose this position to the backup who is currently serving a four game suspension. Punting and kicking in the NFL are two of the most stressful positions, because one mistake could lead to the end of your career. The Broncos coaching staff has informed him that he has four games to show them that he deserves the starting position or his backup, Todd, will replace him. If he doesn’t produce he will be dropped from the team. This is there way of testing him to see how he acts under pressure. Paul claims, “Every night you’re on pins and needles. You’re snapping at people. It’s so stressful. You feel like you have a deadline you can’t make”(185). I kicked for three years at the varsity level for my high school team. Every year though, the coach in charge of my special team would throw someone out there to kick to try to put added pressure on me. I never understood why. Being a kicker comes with a lot of pressure already and you’re always competing against yourself. Whenever this coach would put someone against me, I would just become angry and upset because kicking was something I took great pride in doing good at. In this case I think the Broncos coaching staff made a mistake, especially in Paul’s situation. I was under pressure playing at a high school level. Playing at a professional level amps the amount of stress up tremendously, because you’re kicking for a salary and in front of over 60,000 people who are ready to boo you if you screw up. It’s a bad decision to put added pressure on a person who already is experiencing a high level of stress.


    Jake Plummer was the quarterback for the Broncos in 2005 and Fatsis befriended him during his time with the Broncos. Fatsis asked Plummer about his time playing football and how he feels about his career so far. He describes his time with the Broncos as a series of up and down experiences. He also states that he loves football, but when football is over he will be ready to walk away (232). Plummer seems as though he is looking forward to retirement and getting away from the NFL because of the lack of loyalty. He claims that football isn’t pure in the NFL and that it’s treated like a business. A large amount of other players agree with Plummer in saying that coaches and management only care about winning (233). The second you don’t have value on the field they will dump and replace you as soon as they find someone more fit to do the job. High school football is praised for creating a family like atmosphere in which people are brought together to learn how to work as a team and find success on the field. Successful coaches at the high school level preach team unity and that the least talented player on the team is just as important as the first. NFL teams use the exact opposite philosophy. Every player is considered replaceable. This to me would take all the fun out of football. Coaches in the NFL no longer treat the sport like a game. It’s a business. Players are treated like assets, and when the assets value decreases new assets are brought in to replace the old assets. After seeing how the NFL is from a player’s point of view I realize that I wouldn’t fare well as a professional kicker. I love football because of the team aspect, and I enjoy playing with my friends under coaches that I know would do anything for me. I wouldn’t want to be treated like a business piece that is used to make money and win games.

    The Broncos make it through the training camp with minimum amount of fighting. There was one outbreak though between two players named Kircus and Terrell. The dispute was about who was better at the wide receiver spot and race was also involved. Terrell claims that Kircus is getting the white privilege in practice and getting the ball passed to him more often (263). The two eventually stop fighting, but won’t agree to shake hands. Kyle Johnson, the fullback for the Broncos, tells Fatsis that it’s an unwritten rule to use personal attacks in the locker room (263). This fight brings me back to my junior year playing basketball. There was constant fighting in our locker room and it caused us to lose a lot of games. After every loss we would go into the locker room, fight for a while, and then leave angry. I’ve been told to play against the other team, not my own team. Team chemistry can make a huge difference in win column at the end of the season. Being kind to each other in the locker room makes all the difference, because the players develop trust and playing together is a lot more fun. Neither Terrell or Kircus have any significant value to Broncos team. If I was the coach I would have both of them dropped from the roster because I wouldn’t want a small personal argument split up the rest of the locker room. Race is also a touchy subject because a vast majority of NFL players are African American. The argument
    could lead to unwanted media attention because of this. It’s best to just cut the two and move on.

    As training camp comes to an end Fatsis begins to realize that his NFL playing days are coming to an end. He packs up his equipment and leaves the Broncos facilities along with all the other players that didn’t make the 53 man roster (311). For Fatsis this is like his retirement from the league. He will never kick a ball competitively for the rest of his life. I understand this feeling because I recently played my last down of football. Right after football ended for me I was emotional. I went into a slight depression, but I was able to pull myself out of it really fast. I’ve always told myself that when I will finish my senior year I will be ready to move on football. I’ve done a great job doing that so far. For some of these NFL players this is a retirement from their job and livelihood. Some of them want to keep playing, but they either have aged, been injured, or aren’t good enough to keep playing. Imagine retiring from your job that you love at the age of 30. It would be hard to move on and find a life outside of football.

    Fastis communicates with multiple different people on his football team and a lot of the players tell him that they don’t enjoy life in the NFL (283). They say it is a stressful job that requires a major amount of time. They also say that they know there is no person on the team that is assured a spot. Coaches will replace as fast as they got you. This leads to Fatsis to ask them why they play. The majority of answers are centered around two ideas. Financial stability and they don’t know anything else besides football (281). Players playing in the NFL are paid a fortune. The problem with this fortune is that none of it is guaranteed. NFL contracts are set up in a position where the team has all the power. You can agree to a five year 50 million dollar contract, but if you get hurt the team will cut you and may only see a fifth of the money. For players making the league minimum, this can cause financial concerns. No production equals no salary. That is why players are dying to make the team because if they don’t, they might not get another chance to play and get paid.

    Football at the professional level has changed from being a game to being a large scale business in which players are working to keep their jobs. The popularity of the game has forced teams to constantly replace players with better ones. The lifestyle of the players is stressful and difficult. Football for them is no longer a game; it’s a necessary job done in order to find success.
  • How are the kicking positions outliers on an NFL roster, and how might that affect their treatment by fellow players and coaches?
    • Kicking for an NFL team is a lot different then playing any other position. It isn't a physically demanding job and by the time you're in the NFL, you're not practicing near as much as other players on the team. Most NFL kickers will go out for practice and kick 20 balls and then leave. It's a position in which you only have one job and that's to make the kick. When you screw up everyone knows it. Most players on the team don't understand how hard it is to kick too. Kickers are almost a completely separate part of the football game, but they play a pivotal role in the success of a team. Most players will treat them a lot differently. When I kicked I was always called lazy because I'd go out for practice and kick 35 balls and then I'd be done for the day. When coaches and players would tell me to get to work, I would respond with statements like what do you want me to do. Kicking has a whole different objective and meaning then all the other positions on the field. It doesn't take aggression. It requires being calm and focused. Players who aren't kickers don't understand this.
  • How might the heavy burdens you've described effect a player's state of mind when he trains or plays?
    • Pressure can do many things to a player. It can help them get better, but most of the time it makes them overthink situations and panic. The title of my book was "A Few Seconds of Panic". The title couldn't suit the book better. Kicking comes with a lot of pressure. This football season when playoffs started I started to break out into hives twice a day because I was so stressed out from kicking. Luckily for me, it didn't have negative effects on my production, but it did cause some worry. Mike Shanahan, the Broncos head coach, constantly puts added pressure on the players. He does it to see how they react. If they are on the bridge of being cut, he will put more pressure on them to see if it makes them improve. If they don't improve they get cut from the team. Football is a mind game. If your head isn't in the game you won't perform at the best of your ability. It's one of activities that requires you to be 100% focused on, because the other team is focused on beating you. These burdens and that stress is the reason a lot of NFL players don't last long in the league.
  • How can someone rise above the pressure and find a comfort zone in their own confidence?
    • When I first started kicking I saw it as a release from the everyday situations that were occurring to me at the time. I saw it as an opportunity to better myself, not as an opportunity to pressure myself. Everyone who plays football is going to lose at one time in their life. You have to learn to accept loss, and move on fast. While kicking I thought I was great at learning to move on from the last kick. Every Friday before I would go out to the game I would take a deep breath and tell myself that nothing else matters but the game. For me I turned something that would normally be a stressful activity and turned into an escape from all the stress I was under. The best way for football players and people to rise above pressure is to accept the fact that failure will happen, and believe that no matter what happens, you will give everything you have to offer to do your job.
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