The Kicker Who Wasn’t

Other than winning a Super Bowl, David Akers has had one major goal throughout his career: to convince us all that he is a football player, not just a mere place-kicker.  Maybe that was just part of his make-up, or maybe it was all the time he spent in Philadelphia. This is the town where work ethic and grit are paramount to performance and talent. Kicking field goals wasn’t good enough; he wanted to show us how tough he was.

During his time as and Eagle, he would throw his 5’10” – 190 lbs. frame into oncoming traffic covering kickoff returns, he would make diving tackles on returners, and he would beast opposing coaches and then mix-it up with opposing players…by himself, on their sideline.  But it was one game against the Oakland Raiders that settled the argument, once and for all.  Akers isn’t just a kicker.

On September 25, 2005, the 1-1 Eagles were home against the 0-2 Raiders.  After the coin toss, the Rocky montage, and the fireworks, the Eagles lined up to kickoff to start the game. Akers approached the ball and just as he struck it, he collapsed to the ground and clutched the back of his right leg.  A flag flew and a whistle was blown; the Birds were offside.  Akers got off the ground, placed the ball on the tee, and limped back to his starting position.  On the retry, Akers collapsed again, and the Eagles were offside again.  This time Akers was taken off the field and trainers began working on his hamstring.  Mike Bartum was sent in and booted the third attempt at the opening kickoff out of bounds.

Akers’ injury kept him on the sidelines.  The trainers and coaching staff didn’t even think he could make an extra point.  After a Brian Westbrook 18-yard touchdown run in the second half, Mark Simoneau was chosen to try the game-tying extra point.  It wasn’t successful.  The box score reflects that it was blocked, but in reality, Simoneau drilled the ball into the back of his teammate, Steve Spach.  The Raiders led 10-6 at the half.

During halftime, Akers returned to the field with a heavily taped right leg and began trying extra-point length chip shots.  He had to alter his stance, his approach, and his weight distribution in order to give the ball the best chance of eeking through the uprights and him the best chance of not ending up in a heap after each kick.  It was clear he was in a lot of pain.

When the third quarter began, Donovan McNabb, who was battling through a sports hernia, got things going.  A short touchdown pass to Terrell Owens gave the Eagles a 12-10 lead.  Akers convinced the training staff and his coaches that he could make the extra point, so he limped out onto the field for the P.A.T.  And he made it, giving the Eagles a three point lead.  Then, after a Westbrook touchdown reception, Akers gingerly made another extra point to push the score to 20-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The lead wouldn’t hold; after a Janikowski field goal, the Raiders tied the game on a Doug Gabriel touchdown catch with 2:17 remaining in the game.

A touch back on the ensuing kickoff placed the Eagles on their own 20.  With a healthy Akers, the Eagles would have only needed about 50 yards to get into range for a game-winning field goal.  With a hobbled Akers, the Eagles were thinking end zone.  “We wanted to score a touchdown, so we wouldn’t have to worry,” said Reid after the game.  McNabb hit Westbrook on two consecutive passes to reach midfield, then Greg Lewis and T.O. chipped in catches and the Eagles found themselves on the 17 yard line with 31 seconds remaining.  But they still weren’t in field goal range.  After a Nnamdi Asomugha illegal contact penalty and then a T.O. 7-yard reception, McNabb spiked the ball with nine seconds remaining five yards from goal line.

The outcome of the game would rest on David Akers’ injured leg.  And just like he had countless times before, the dependable Akers made another important field goal.  He collapsed in pain again, but this time it was accompanied by celebration.

Said Mike Bartum after the game, “They call him a kicker, but he’s not a kicker.  He’s a football player…A tough guy.”

Akers will receive a very warm welcome this Sunday at the Linc when he returns as a 49er.  Not just because he holds the franchise records for points and field goals, but because he was more than just a kicker.  He was a leader.  A football player.

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