SAN DIEGO -- Mike Scifres didn’t exactly know how to feel when he found out he would have to handle kicking duties after the opening kickoff of the San Diego Chargers’ season.
Scifres has been the Chargers’ punter since 2003 but hadn’t attempted a field goal since he was at Western Illinois and he didn’t even want to think about that attempt.
“I tried not to think about it,” he said.
San Diego and Scifres, however, didn’t have any other options when Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding injured his left knee on the opening kickoff, which was returned 103 yards for a touchdown. Not only were the Chargers down 7-0 but they were also down their Pro Bowl kicker with nothing more than a punter, trying to forget his kicking days as an option.
“That first extra point was the first time I had been behind the line with a snap and a hold since college,” Scifres said. “I’ll tell you that last field goal I kicked in college wasn’t pretty, but I hadn’t done it in a while.”
That last kick came 10 years ago at Western Illinois on a desperation 61-yard attempt Scifres said didn’t even get 10 yards off the ground before dying in mid-air. Scifres did admit he made a game-winning 56-yard field goal in his first career field-goal attempt in 1999 but couldn’t remember much else.
“That was a long time ago,” said Scifres, who signed a five-year, $20 million contract extension with the Chargers this week.
Chargers coach Norv Turner wasn’t going to put Scifres in a situation where he had to kick a 56- or 61-yard field goal Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Then again, he didn’t know the range of his punter who practices field goals maybe once every month by his estimation and never practices kickoffs.
“I didn’t have a chance to see him kick and he couldn’t in the middle of the second quarter,” Turner said. “I told him when they do that promotion where they have the fan kick a field goal for a prize, run out there and kick a couple of field goals so we can see how it goes but that’s not legal.”
Turner had such little faith (or knowledge) in Scifres that he passed on a 42-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter, instead electing to go for it on fourth and 20 at the Minnesota 25-yard line, which resulted in an incomplete pass.
“I wanted to go but [special teams coach] Rich [Bisaccia] looked at me and shook his head,” Scifres said. “So I turned around and walked away. They tell me when to go.”
The Chargers didn’t have a choice in the second half and Scifres delivered despite not always knowing what direction his kicks would go.
Scifres connected on a 40-yard attempt to tie the score in the fourth quarter, the first such attempt of his NFL career, and hit three extra points while booming two kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be, but the nerves did creep in a little bit on that first extra point but when we got that out of the way it was smooth sailing,” Scifres said. “Everything I was asked to do, kickoff-, field-goal or extra-point wise I felt comfortable doing and knew I was capable of doing it.”
Since Scifres is the holder on kicks, safety Eric Weddle had to fill in as the holder and Scifres said he and Weddle have practiced field goals before, but hadn’t this week or even in the past month.
“I’ve held [snaps] in high school and college,” Weddle said. “It’s like riding a bike. You remember how to do it. We went in and executed. Everyone has a role on this team and I was asked to do mine. Mike [Windst] did an excellent job snapping it back to me and Scifres did the rest of it.”
Although Scifres punted three times for 127 yards, he wasn’t forced to punt in the second half as the Chargers outscored the Vikings 17-0, allowing him to concentrate on his kicking duties.
Turner said he wouldn’t put Scifres in the same situation next week if Kaeding isn’t able to go, preferring to sign a kicker rather than asking his punter to pull double duty again. Although Scifres proved Sunday he is more than capable of doing it if needed.
“To do what he did is pretty amazing,” Turner said. “To kick field goals and kickoff when Nate couldn’t go is really impressive. He’s the best punter I’ve ever been around and I’ve been around some great ones. He’s a complete football player.”