Thursday, October 28, 2004 Updated: August 31, 11:31 AM ET
Gardocki's streak is no snap
By David Fleming Page 2
A select few names evoke some of the greatest streaks in sports.
DiMaggio, Favre, Ripken ... Gardocki?
"Yeah," says Pittsburgh Steelers punter Chris Gardocki, 34, who over the last 14 years has booted an NFL record 1,009 punts without having a single one blocked. Honest. "I know, right? I know what everyone must be thinking, 'Who is that?'"
Well, actually, it's mostly just me, Chris.
But, I mean, 1,009 punts without a mishap? 1,009 good snaps in a row? 10,090 good blocks in a row? 1,009 kicks without a shank, a yip, a dipsy-doodle or a knuckler? Come on. You gotta admit: It's a bit freaky, even in the bizarre world of NFL special teams. 1,009 punts without a block? Shoot, I can't even type 109 words without getting writer's block. If we believe what coaches are always saying -- how special teams are really a full one-third of the game and field position is everything, blah blah, blah -- then Gardocki must be a huge reason the Stillers are off to a 5-1 start, right?
Yet for some reason, you could fit the pub this guy gets onto a business card. So to clear up the mystery behind what I think is one of the sports world's most bizarre, impressive and underrated streaks, I chatted up the NFL's most prolifically-perfect punter recently.
FLEM (external): "The previous record was 624 by Giants punter Dave Jennings. So you're, like, on your way to doubling the streak, which would be the same as the Patriots winning 34 games in a row or someone jacking 1,500 career homers."
GARD: "Some guys in the middle of a streak don't like to talk about it. But it's been going on for so long now, I stopped worrying about those things. Our snapper, Mike Schneck, hates when people bring it up."
FLEM (e): "Oh, great. So that means I'm gonna jinx you. On my hockey team, every time I start talking about preserving the goaltender's shutout ... "
GARD: "They score like 10 seconds later?"
FLEM (e): "Yup."
GARD: "Most people don't bring it up because they think all kickers and punters are weird."
FLEM (e): "Well, aren't they?"
GARD: "That's the rap we all get, pretty much."
Why isn't anyone talking about Chris Gardocki's streak? Come on!
FLEM (internal): "Weird is the nice way to say it. Goofy. Wacky. Bizarre. Two words: Sebastian Janikowski. Wait. Note to self: Whatever you do, don't ever say the words 'special-team streak' around that dude."FLEM (e): "Have you gotten any attention at all, I mean at all, for this streak? I think I saw 20 whole words on the Steelers' website."
GARD: "Yeah, some. They took the ball from the game where I broke the record (on Sept. 10, 2000) and it's in the Hall of Fame now."
FLEM (internal): "Yeah, as a door stop or something. I'm not even sure the geeks at the Hall of Fame recognize special teams as an actual part of football. I propose a separate special teams Hall of Fame in Peoria or Flint or something."FLEM (e): "I believe in karma, which means if your punts aren't getting blocked, you must be experiencing blocks in other parts of your life. Does your kitchen sink ever get blocked up? Ever get writer's block? Blocked arteries? Your car get blocked in? Anything?"
GARD: "Nope, I'm unblocked in the rest of my life, too. All the other possible blocks are clear. But now that you've got me thinking about it, thanks. I need to go knock on some wood or something."
FLEM (internal): If you were smart, you'd wrap this interview up and get as far away from me as possible. Or you can kiss your streak goodbye against New England this week."
FLEM (e): "Tell me about your closest call. At some point, man, I hate to keep harping on this, but I would just figure somebody would flub a kick or shank a snap or just fall down or something. You know, the shanks, the yips, the googly-mooglies."
FLEM (i): "The what? Good god, man, are you just making stuff up as you go? Kinda."
GARD: "I've had a few close calls with guys busting loose right up the middle. During games, you hear the crowd go 'oooooooh' and then a guy will cross right in front of your face and you'll know it was close. In Chicago [Gardocki was a third-round pick of the Bears in 1991] in, I think, 1993 or 1994, we were playing the Lions on Thanksgiving, and the snapper sent it, like 30 yards over my head ... "
FLEM (i): "Yeah, that sounds like the Bears."
GARD: " ... I ran back there to like the 5-yard line, and got to it and somehow side-winded it out of there as the guy was tackling me. I kicked it, literally, as the guy was dragging me down. It rolled and rolled and rolled and I think it ended up going, like, five yards past the line of scrimmage."
FLEM (e): "I read where you credited your fast release to the fact that you used to 'quick kick' as a high school QB in Stone Mountain, Ga. Any good fly fishing down there?"
GARD: "I don't fish."
FLEM (i): "Ah, yes. Another fine stick-in-the-spokes question from the Flem File school of interviewing. Think of something fast, you moron!"
FLEM (e): "Yeah, uhh, we were talking about your high school ... "
GARD: "Yeah, I was usually so tired I'd just, real quick, two-step it and boot it out of there so I could get to the sidelines and rest some. But I've always been relatively quick at getting the ball off."
FLEM (e): "How fast are you [from snap to kick], since that's really the key to not getting a punt blocked?"
GARD: "2.1 seconds is considered a decent time. We're usually around 1.9."
FLEM (i): "Everyone fibs about how fast they are in the NFL. Everyone. Watch. Here it comes."
GARD: "Well, about 1.9 or 1.95, it varies in different situations. I'm lucky to have had so many long snappers who get the ball right to me so I don't have to move around too much back there. And weather is always a factor."
Somtimes, even as a punter, you gotta deal with some contact.
FLEM (e): "Yeah, Coach Cowher is always referring to you as a good 'cold weather' kicker. But, uh, you grew up in the South."
GARD: "I don't necessarily like that term. But I learned to kick in Chicago and I played in Cleveland; and, mentally, every game, you know it's gonna be cold and the wind will be blowing and the weather will be bad. The wind can float the ball four to five inches from where you drop it and where you have to kick it. So weather plays a factor."
FLEM (i): "Tell me about it. People always ask me if I've ever cried at a sporting event and my answer is, 'Yeah, I used to ball my eyes out every time my Dad the psycho Browns fan would drag me down to that steel igloo on Lake Erie to watch Cleveland lose by 30.' But I've dealt with that and let it go."
FLEM (e): "OK, so tell me exactly what's going through your mind. I mean, really break it down for me when you're about to punt the ball."
GARD: "Honestly, I don't know. I don't know what happens. I don't see anybody. I don't hear anybody ... "
FLEM (i): "Ho. Hum. When's Halloween? Do I say 'dude' too much? I wonder, hmm, how long could I survive on nothing but PopTarts? A week? A month? 37 years?"
GARD: "I just focus in on the ball and do two things: No. 1, catch it; and No. 2, kick it ... "
FLEM (i): "Ho. Hum. La-di-da. Man, did my Li'l RedHawks crush UCF this week. Sweet. I need to cut my nails. Look at those things. Ugh. Ya know, every time I hear Eddie Vedder sing, I think, 'deviated septum.' Canfinabeddamaaaain."
GARD: " ... You focus so hard on what you're doing out there, the details kinda leave you and ... "
FLEM (i): "Gardocki. Gar ... dock ... eeee. He should name his kid Rocky. Rocky Gardocki. Rocky Gardocki drinks sake in Milwaukee. Sweet."
GARD: " ... and you don't know what goes on. You just line up and kick it and hope for the best. I've been really lucky."
FLEM (e): "All kickers do weird things with the ball to kill time on the sidelines. I've seen guys juggle 'em, kick 'em back to themselves, bounce it off the ground. What's your signature move?"
GARD: "Hey, those are valuable techniques needed for standing around and watching while everyone else practices."
FLEM (e): "Uh huh ... "
GARD: "I twirl it. I can really twirl that thing up on my finger, like a basketball. Tommy Maddox is always making fun of me, says I do it a lot -- all the time. It's a habit now. I don't even know I'm doing it."
FLEM (i): "Well it keeps that middle finger occupied. Especially the one Gardocki flipped to the Steelers' bench after Joey Porter lit him up during a punt return when he was playing for the Browns in 2000. A lot of people consider that moment to be the re-ignition point of the Cleveburgh rivalry."
FLEM (e): "Man, Joey Porter jacked you up in 2000."
GARD: "You only have to get hit once or twice to realize how little you are, compared to everyone else. I'm definitely the safety. I've got no problem sticking my nose in there to make a tackle, if I have to. I just hope I don't get my head knocked off and can actually get up afterward."
FLEM (i): "That's cool. I hate kickers who try to act all buff. A kicker acting too tough is almost as silly as a lightweight like Tony Stewart pretending to be a tough guy."
FLEM (e): "Uhh, Joey Porter?"
GARD: "Yeah, he knocked me silly. I saw stars. That was a pretty good shot. But I got hit in New England a few years ago, just totally blindsided; and that about knocked me out."
FLEM (e): "Like, you needed a teammate's help to remember which sideline to walk to?"
GARD: "Worse than that. I couldn't get up. I was half out of it when I looked up at the trainer and yelled at him, 'I can't breathe!' When you get hit by one of those guys, you begin to realize how truly insignificant you are."
FLEM (e): "Other than that, though, admit it: You got a pretty sweet gig, don't you?"
FLEM (i): "I'll say. The guy signed a five-year, $6.3 million contract in the off-season. I shoulda been a punter. Dangit."
GARD: "Yeah. I'd have to say, yeah. I've been very fortunate to be able to do this and play this game and do it for so long."
Even in adverse conditions, Gardocki hasn't had a problem.
FLEM (e): "That's what makes the streak so impressive. Most people play three years in this league. So it's amazing to put 14 years in, to begin with. And on top of that, 14 perfect years. My guess is you've had a lot of free time during your career."
FLEM (i): "You know what that means: naps galore. Lucky bastard."
FLEM (e): "No disrespect. That's just the nature of special teams. I know this because your bio says that you had the time, along with your wife, Sally, to develop an NFL board game with something like 1,200 trivia questions."
GARD: "She did that. She also wrote a book about being an NFL wife. Now we're involved in the Pat Tillman Foundation. She helped put together an event in April in Arizona called 'Run For Pat.' People run, walk, bike, anything between now and then, and you sponsor them for every mile they put in."
FLEM (i): "Now let's see people write in hate e-mails about this week's column. It's always about you, isn't it, Flem? Everything's always about you."
FLEM (e): "Wow. Very cool. Is there a website I can send people to for info?"
FLEM (i): "Oh yeah, all 27 of your readers. You're a real Samaritan."
GARD: "They can go to the Pat Tillman Foundation on the web, or nflwives.net and all the info on the event will be there; and anyone who wants to help or get signed up, that would be great. I'm sponsoring Sally two bucks for every mile she puts in."
FLEM (e): "What's her goal?"
GARD: "500 miles."
FLEM (e): "500 MILES! Come on man, are you just making this stuff up as you go along? What is it with you over-achieving Gardockis?"
FLEM (i): "Showoff."
FLEM (e): "Showoff."
GARD: "I know. I know."
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Contact him at Dave.Fleming@espn3.com.