Programming note: Get the latest news on the Super Bowl from New Orleans on Sportsnet Central, tonight at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area!
So who’s up for some David Akers sympathy? Not Justin Tucker, if that helps.
Tucker is the Baltimore rookie kicker who is considered the owners of one of the game’s brightest feet, who has missed only three field goals all year, and is brimming over with the confidence that only someone who has yet to feel the backhand of the kickers’ profession.
Akers, on the other hand, has a huge red handprint across his face from the most difficult season of his 15-year career. He is among the largest question marks in San Francisco’s Sunday fantasies, and he has answered so many questions about his 29-of-42 season that they are slopping over to his holder, Andy Lee.
“It’s tough. He’s been hanging in there and he’s been working really hard,” Lee said. “It’s just something, that sometimes there’s one little bitty thing here and there off because he kicks the ball great in practice. His form looks great. Everything looks great. It’s just like little things here and there. It’s just little fine tuning things. Those are the hardest, I think, to do because if it’s a big thing you can make a big change. If it’s a little thing, it’s just hard to tweak here and there. We’ve just been in there trying to work and trying to get things right.”
Tucker, on the other hand, is living the life of the nouveaux riches, talking in semi-excited tones about how well he has been kicking, the excitement he felt when he won the AFC divisional game in Denver (“To see all those guys smiling and happy and running onto the field was a great feeling for me”), and how well his practices are going.
“My long in Owings Mills last week,” he said, repeating a question about how he has been ball-striking during practices, “I was probably good to 65.”
Cue deflated sounds coming from 49er fan living rooms.
So when someone asked him obliquely about Akers’ issues and whether they serve as a cautionary tale for him, he said with a young colt’s prance in his voice, “I think it’s the duality of the position. It’s about getting over the hump. The hardest one to make is the one after a miss.”
It’s almost as if he could see Akers’ 38-yard doinkmaster off the left upright in the NFC Championship Game, and wanted to mention it in case Akers might have forgotten.
As in, fat chance.
“To put it simply, you have to have a short memory,” Tucker said, a remarkable thing for someone who’s never had to have a short memory. “You have to block out everything except the next kick, forgetting the last one, and working on your technique.”
His own trick is to end every practice by re-enacting the 48-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri that won Super Bowl 38 for the New England Patriots nine years ago. Hey, whatever works, when everything is working.
And as for Akers specifically? He ducked the subject, by broadening his answer beyond a question about Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard miss that ended Baltimore’s 2011 season. Yes, that Billy Cundiff.
“I’m not going to talk about anyone who’s not wearing black and purple,” Tucker said, keeping his eyes on his own prize. “What’s important is that we go 1-0 this week.”
So it goes. David Akers remains on an island, and will stay there until he gets to be Adam Vinatieri. And Justin Tucker doesn’t have to relate . . . largely because he hasn’t had to yet.