With 26 seconds left on the clock, the fate of the 2015 NFC Wild-Card Playoff rested on the shoulders — more accurately, the foot — of one man: Blair Walsh, the then kicker for the Minnesota Vikings. The victor of the game would advance in the postseason, getting closer to being Superbowl champions. But by this point in the game, everyone in Seattle had already surrendered. The Seahawks only led by one point and Walsh was setting up for an easy three-point field goal.
For those who were confused by the previous paragraph, here’s a quick rundown of American football: (1) There are two opposing teams on the field, one playing offense and the other playing defense, (2) the team playing offense, through a combination of running and passing, tries to get an elliptical ball to the opposite end of the field. Most of the action in this 60 concussion-fest is carried out by big, masculine figures that wouldn’t look out of place in a Terminator movie.
Now, where does the kicker fit into all of this? The kicker only comes onto the field for two occasions: (1) for the aforementioned single-point kick attempt after his team scores a touchdown or (2) a three-point field goal attempt when his team’s offensive drive is going so poorly that a glorious touchdown seems impossible. In either case, no fan is particularly excited by the arrival of the kicker. The former occasion is treated with routine boredom and the potential excitement of the latter is overshadowed by the disappointment that your team has given up on a touchdown.
Consequently, many fans often point to the kicker as the “easiest” position in football. There certainly isn’t a lot of empathy for the kicker. To most fans, the only seemingly appropriate response to a missed extra point is to mutter “idiot kicker” and wonder if your team hosts walk-on tryouts for kickers. After all, why should you feel bad for a guy that gets paid thousands — if not millions — to do literally one thing and he can’t even do it all the time?
Meanwhile, for the quarterback, fans come to his defense before the incomplete pass even hits the turf: “the offensive line did a terrible job at protection,” “the snap was bad” and, of course, “it wasn’t a fumble — a forward pass!”
But I always root for the field goal kicker — even when he’s not on my team — and every Yalie should too.
While most of us have never felt the crushing gaze of millions of fans, the kicker’s plight should be a familiar one. If the kicker does well, it blends into the monotony of life — as expected. But if the kicker underperforms … well, the only time a kicker makes it onto the highlight reel is if he misses. We notice our shortcomings exponentially more than our successes.
The factors that affect a kicker’s performance aren’t obvious: wind, humidity and air density. They’re hard to consider when they’re literally invisible. Compared to the tangible opponents of the quarterback, like the defensive linemen, they seem trivial. But, why should we judge the validity of a hurdle based on its outward appearance? We should consider them based on how much they affect a player’s performance.
At Yale, we’re fortunate enough to be at an institution where an extensive array of resources (financial aid, career advisory, etc.) mitigate some of the threats to our success. This is not to say larger threats don’t exist – they do, and certainly affect people’s lives in ways unique to their personal circumstances and background. But with so many resources at our disposal, we can fall into the trap of deeming it almost inexcusable that we achieve anything less than what we expect of ourselves. There are still invisible factors that we rarely look at. Why are we refusing to acknowledge the wind, temperature and air density of our Yalie lives?
For starters, the physical limitations of our human bodies: Few of us acknowledge our physical needs and fail to account for the increased risk of mistakes when we fail to do so. Food and sleep seem unimportant compared to whatever tasks we have at hand. Sheer willpower and subpar dining hall coffee are hardly worthy substitutes.
Additionally, the current conditions of our learning are so foreign to us that it borders discomfort. The extended hours in front of a computer drains our energy to learn; What would usually be an intellectually-exciting speaker event is now just another Zoom. The limits of Zoom-hosted seminars stiffen what are supposed to be free-flowing conversations.
These factors, along with countless others, are the eternal adversities of a Yalie’s mental fortitude. The emotional burdens packaged with college are inevitable and their adverse effects on our focus on our problem sets, essays and projects doesn’t mean that we’re dense.
Back to the 2015 NFC Wild-Card Playoff. In a moment that Seattleites often still cite as evidence of the divine, Vikings’ kicker Blair Walsh hooked his kick left of the uprights, cementing the game’s score at 10–9 and allowing the Seahawks to move on in the playoffs.
All of us will be a Blair Walsh at some point during our time at Yale. But when we do, let’s be sure to remind our internal fans that wind, temperature and air density are beyond the control of our kicking, writing, studying, presenting, singing and analyzing abilities. And don’t forget that every field goal that we do make is deserving of a touchdown-celebration.
CHANWOOK PARK is a first-year in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org