Steven Hauschka and a Brief History of Seahawks Kickers

Lost among more exciting things like, you know, winning the Super Bowl, was a terrific year of kicking by Steven Hauschka.  It was, by my estimation, the greatest season of kicking in Seahawks history and one of the greatest in NFL history.  If this sounds like an overstatement to you, consider:

  • Hauschka made 33 of 35 field goals for 94% success rate.  Only four times has a kicker made more field goals and had a higher percentage.
  • He was 14 of 15 from long range (40 yards and up), three for three from long long range (50 yards and up), and his only “miss” was actually not a miss but a blocked kick.
  • He had two game-winning field goal attempts and made both of them (Houston and Tampa Bay).
  • He was a perfect eight for eight in the postseason, including three field goals against New Orleans in a wind storm, one of which was from 49 yards out.
  • Instead of trying a 52-yarder outdoors in the NFC Championship Game, he told Pete Carroll to go for it (what athlete does that?) and then watched as the Seahawks scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Like I said, it was a terrific year.  And it helped Hauschka get paid, as the ‘Hawks resigned him to a three-year deal worth roughly $9 million, $3 million of which is guaranteed.  This seems like a reasonable deal to me.  Hauschka deserves a raise — and he got one — but it wasn’t an overpay. Overpaying kickers is something stupid teams often have in common.*  Plus, as Nate Kaeding, Garrett Hartley, Billy Cundiff, and many others can tell you, kickers can go from hero to hated in the time it takes a liquored up idiot to send the ball 15 yards wide right.

A thing about kicking: If you’re team is really good at it, it is a legitimately big advantage.  Another thing about kicking: It’s almost impossible to predict if your team will be good at it or not.  The talent gap between the best and worst kickers in the NFL is so narrow that a lot of what we perceive to be ability in the kicking game is probably just random variance.  That’s how a guy like David Akers can go from an All NFLer in 2011 (85% FG Pct.) to the worst kicker in the league in 2012 (69% FG Pct.).  Nobody likes variance (luck, as it’s called in some circles) as an explanation for why athletes perform well or badly.  But sometimes it’s the only one that makes sense.

So the bottom line is, I’m fine with Hauschka getting paid, but we probably want to temper our expectations for him heading into the 2014 season.

Now, as part of my super fun offseason plan to drudge up random ghosts of Seahawks past, here is a brief history of Seattle kickers.

The first kicker in Seahawks history was a rookie named Don Bitterlich.  He lasted all of three games, getting the boot (get it?) after missing three field goals in a loss to the 49ers.  He was replaced by a veteran, John Leypoldt, who was nearly as inept as Bitterlich, missing half his field goal attempts on the season.

The following year the Seahawks decided if they couldn’t find a kicker who could actually kick the ball well, at least they could get one who had a cool, foreign-sounding name.  Since Garo Yepremian and Rolf Benirschke were already spoken for, they went with the Mexican sidewinder, Efren Herrera.  Herrera kicked four seasons in Seattle, making 70% of his field goals and 94% of his extra points.  This is interesting mostly in that it illustrates how much the standards of placekicking have increased in just one generation.  There is no way an NFL kicker could have those numbers over a single season today (missing 6% of one’s extra point attempts?!), let alone make a career of them.

After Herrera came the “great” Norm Johnson.  I use quotes because although he’s the starting kicker on the Seahawks “Dream Team”, he wasn’t all that good.  He was fine — serviceable is the correct adjective — nothing more.  In 1984, he was an All-NFL selection, but that was one of just two times he was in the top ten in field goal percentage in his nine years in Seattle.  He actually got much better later in his career, but by then he was kicking for Atlanta and Pittsburgh.  He currently ranks 12th all-time in field goals.

A left-footed rookie with a big leg named John Kasay replaced Johnson in 1991.  He didn’t leave the NFL until 2011, but he played just four seasons in Seattle.  He was pretty good with the Seahawks, except for 1992 when he missed eight of 22 field goals.  But it fit the theme of the ’92 ‘Hawks (not scoring points), so I’ll give him a pass for this.  Unfortunately for all you Kasayophiles out there, he can’t get a pass for his best-known moment in the NFL — a botched kickoff in Super Bowl XXXVIII that set up the game-winning field goal for the New England Patriots over his Carolina Panthers.

Next up was the underrated Todd Peterson.  In his five-year stint in Seattle, he made field goals at an 82% clip, a better rate than any of his predecessors.  And he went a perfect 177 for 177 on extra points to boot (get it?).  Also some random fans mistook a friend of mine for him once while my friend was visiting somebody in the Seahawks locker room after a game.  So, yeah … that’s something.

Peterson was accurate, but he didn’t have a strong leg, so in 2000 the ‘Hawks brought in rookie Rian Lindell who had a strong leg but wasn’t accurate.  I’ve held a grudge against Lindell ever since October 28, 2001.  On that day, he missed a 27-yard field goal with two minutes left in a 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  The Seahawks finished the year at 9-7, and had they won one more game, they would have made the playoffs.  Now, really Mike Holmgren is whom I should be holding the grudge against — what type of gutless coach attempts a field goal on 4th and 4, down 4 with 2:00 on the clock? — but I (correctly) reasoned that Holmgren would do some great things in Seattle and that Lindell would be gone in a few years later.  I was just being smart with my grudge-holding.

Speaking of grudges: Josh Brown.  He came to the Seahawks in 2003 and gave them five solid years.  He was especially good from long range knocking down nearly 60% of his kicks from 50-yards and over.  Except, of course, when it mattered the most.  In Super Bowl XL, Brown missed his only two long attempts (50 and 54 yards).  We Seahawks fans love to whinge about the refs, but those missed field goals were just as bad as any wrong call in that game … except the Darrell Jackson OPI call … and the Sean Locklear holding call … and the Shaun Alexander horse collar tackle non-call … and the Matt Hasselbeck illegal block call …  Actually, on second thought, those shitty-ass calls were worse.  Much worse.

Olindo Mare is a great example why you shouldn’t put too much faith in an NFL placekicker.  In 2001, he led the NFL in field goal percentage (91%) and was rounding out a five year stretch in which he was one of the best booters in the biz.  The following year he began a five-year stretch in which he wasn’t.  In fact, he was quite poor.  Things got so bad for Mare that the Saints cut him after he missed seven of 17 field goals to open the 2006 season.  Seattle signed him the following year, and he was suddenly good again.  In three season with the ‘Hawks, he made 88% of his kicks.  That’s not just good, that’s very good.

But not has good as Hauschka.  In this three years with the team, he’s made over 89% of his kicks.  Overall, he’s the fourth most accurate kicker in NFL history.  Although his time in the Blue and Highlighter Green has been brief, his body of work — all things considered — is, in my opinion, better than that of any Seattle kicker ever.  I hereby declare Steven Hauschka the greatest placekicker in Seahawks history.

Just don’t be shocked if he sucks next year.

-DJG

*Check out this link.  Sebastian Janikowski, Dan Bailey, and Josh Scobee are three of the top five kickers by guaranteed money.  You could replace anyone one of these guys with an undrafted free agent, and it would hardly matter one way or the other.