Chasing Command: The Kicker

Acrylic on cardboard.

Statistic: Forty-nine of the 50 highest-scoring players in American football history are kickers.

“And the first ball comes off my foot like a rocket, and then the next one and the next,” he says. “I just felt like I had command over the ball, something every kicker chases.”

(Wil S. Hylton, “How Justin Tucker Became the Greatest Kicker in N.F.L. History,” NYTimes, 9-1-22)

Sports journalism can be commanding and lucid, so replete with specificity and nuanced vigor that it encroaches on poetry. Wil S. Hylton’s profile of Baltimore Ravens kicker (and Austin, Texas native) Justin Tucker is a case in point. I’ve cherry-picked some of Hylton’s lyricism into “stanzas”:

Stanza 1
Kicking is the most consequential and least understood aspect of the sport… [The place-kicker’s job] is to enter a kind of trance, as if he were the last man on earth, and perform a complex choreography of his own.

Stanza 2
He has spent the bulk of his adult life… adjusting… tinkering… perfecting… making fractional changes… He has carefully calibrated the sequence of his proximal-to-distal movements to exploit the kinematic potential of his own proportions.

Stanza 3
There’s the setup… the approach… the plant… the backswing… the follow-through… Each of these movements has its own set of customs and conventions, but none are obligatory… Anybody who’s serious about kicking knows that nobody knows that much.

Stanza 4
… The shape of a football… can be formally described as a “prolate spheroid,” which is another way of saying that it looks like a regular ball getting sucked into a vacuum hose… “The reason not many people have looked into [the aerodynamics of tumbling footballs] is because it’s a very hard problem,” says Timothy Gay, a professor of physics….

Stanza 5
“All great kickers bring a certain amount of arrogance to the table.” And yet to perfect a kick requires an almost inexhaustible reserve of humility and patience as they subject themselves to an endless barrage of punctilious criticism and microscopic correction.

I say this: Respect to the few, the finicky, the inexplicable: poets, translators and kickers.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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