Their are only four members in football's 63-yard field goal club, which I am officially dubbing The Long Booters Club. They are Akers, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski and Tom Dempsey. All four of these kickers have inked their name into football history, yet Akers' kick places him as king of the exclusive club.
First off, Janikowski and Elam both kicked their historic kicks in Denver, where the thin mountain air makes ball fly longer, quicker and easier than in more humid settings. If you've ever been to a Colorado Rockies' game, you can attest to this fact. The natural dryness provides an advantage, and while this does not in anyway discredit the accomplishment achieved by Janikowski and Elam, it does make one appreciate Akers' kick to a higher regard.
Dempsey's case is even more unique. The former New Orleans Saints' kicker, who played in the 1970s and was the first to join The Long Booters Club, was born with birth defects. His right foot is underdeveloped, making it shorter and toeless. Dempsey, as a result, wore a specially modified shoe that featured a flattened toe surface. This shoe, which would be illegal in the league today, thanks to the "Tom Dempsey Rule," was the subject of much controversy after Dempsey nailed his kick in 1970. Critics were quick to point out that the enlarged kicking surface provided Dempsey with an unfair advantage over other kickers at the time. An ESPN Sports Science investigation discounted this theories, yet the debate remains.
Personally, I do not think Dempsey was provided an advantage by his shoe. The flattened surface, while potentially aiding in ultimate distance, provided him much less loft and a much higher margin for error. (think a one-iron compared to a nine-iron) Dempsey's accomplishment as a professional athlete playing with a severe birth defect is also incredibly inspiring. He also kicked his 63-yarder in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium, during the days when the Saints still played outdoors. The New Orleans air is the exact opposite of Denver's; New Orleans sits below sea level, and the air is often muggy, leading to a moisture filled, humid atmosphere. This is not conducive to long field goals in the slightest.
What really sets Akers' kick apart from his club members is his age. Akers is 37 years old. The ages of Dempsey, Elam and Janikowski at the time of their kicks was 23, 28 and 33, respectively. Akers achieved a feat that most kickers can never come close to accomplishing at an age when many players have long retired.
The undrafted veteran, who played college football at Louisville, has been a model of consistency and perseverance throughout his NFL career. After college, he was cut by the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and the Washington Redskins. He then played with the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe before being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. In Philadelphia, he became a vital asset to a very successful Eagles' tenure during the 2000s.
Many teams rotate kickers like mechanics rotate tires - often and without care or thought. Akers defined himself as a franchise player after many scouts and coaches deemed him not good enough, and on Sunday, 15 years after leaving college and beginning his professional career, Akers cemented his name into a unique spot of NFL history.
Some might say that Akers got lucky, since his kick did hit the cross bar and then bounce in. I think it only added to the ecstasy of the moment; the reaction of Akers, his teammates, and their coach, Jim Harbaugh, was priceless. Akers is a telling reminder that hard work, determination, and self-confidence trump all. He is the king of the very exclusive Long Booters Club. Membership: 4.
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