Deep snappers finally get their due at Pro Bowl
Posted: Thursday February 10, 2005 11:03PM; Updated: Thursday February 10, 2005 11:03PM
KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) -- Kendall Gammon and Brian Jennings are the least famous players at the Pro Bowl. When you're a long snapper, anonymity is a very good thing -- and their seasons never end with trips to Hawaii.
"You can't be a deep snapper and have an ego," said Gammon, the Kansas City Chiefs' peerless veteran. "The only way you get your name in the paper is if you mess up."
But these two standouts in their rarefied field are getting some long-overdue recognition in Hawaii this week. For the first time in their careers, Gammon and San Francisco's Jennings were added to the all-star rosters as the coaches' "need" players, shining a spotlight on one of the NFL's most thankless positions.
Gammon has turned long snapping into an art form during 13 seasons in the league, and Jennings is among the best of the next generation. The players, coaches and fans don't get to vote on the NFL's best long snappers, since the position isn't officially on the Pro Bowl ballot, but almost everybody in the league knows about their skills.
"It's been really nice to see the reaction we've got from other players," Gammon said. "A couple of guys have said to me, 'It's about time you got over here.' It's great to know guys appreciate what you do. If you ask any player, they'll tell you how important a deep snapper can be to a team."
For the past two years, Jennings has campaigned for greater recognition for the art of perfect snaps on kicks. A locker room favorite in San Francisco for his easygoing demeanor, Jennings turns serious when voicing his belief that the best long snappers should be treated the same way as the star running backs and safeties.
"It's great to be here, and now we've just got to figure out how to get us on the (Pro Bowl) ballot," said Jennings, who brought his parents and seven other family members to Hawaii. "We're the need player this year, but you would think you would need us every year. I think it's only right."
When the Steelers chose Gammon in the 11th round of the 1992 draft, there were only a handful of specialized long snappers. The chores usually were performed by regular centers, and mistakes were much more common.
These days, nearly every team fills one roster spot with a player whose only assignment is to deliver perfect snaps to punters and kick-holders -- and their value is well-known within the league, as their escalating salaries attest. Detroit attempted to sign Jennings away from San Francisco two years ago, but the 49ers matched the Lions' offer sheet.
Gammon and Jennings also have played tight end on occasion during their careers, but their lives are focused on delivering perfect spiral snaps at the right height and pace -- even with the laces in exactly the right place. Gammon even produced his own instructional video on the art.
Gammon has more years of NFL experience than any player on either roster, and only San Francisco offensive lineman Ray Brown _ a 16-year veteran when he earned a trip to Hawaii in 2002 -- ever waited longer for his first Pro Bowl berth.
"He's one of the best there's ever been," said AFC coach Bill Cowher, who coached Gammon in Pittsburgh for his first four NFL seasons. "This league has got into such specialization that it's important to have a long snapper here, just to recognize the work they do, and when I looked at the list of guys out here, Kendall obviously stood out."
Cowher also believes long snappers should be added to the Pro Bowl ballot -- but just in case the NFL doesn't put the position to a vote any time soon, Gammon is making the most of this trip.
He and his wife, Leslie, took pictures of their two sons, Blaise and Drake, with every available all-star after practice Thursday. Peyton Manning, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward and Will Shields all put their arms around the boys.
And the vacation isn't over yet: Gammon will be in Maui later in the winter for meetings as a union representative.
"Sure, all 5- and 8-year-olds go to Hawaii twice in a month," he teased his kids.