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Long snappers: Looking at football upside down

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 31, 2013 at 2:41 am •  Published: January 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — They look at the world upside down between their legs.

The only time they get noticed is when they mess up.

Such is life for a long snapper.

In Sunday's Super Bowl, Brian Jennings of the San Francisco 49ers and Morgan Cox of the Baltimore Ravens will be snapping for punts, field goals and extra points.

They have the same goal: Don't do anything that draws a lick of attention.

"That's part of a long snapper's personality," Cox said. "We just want to stay in the background."

It may seem like a simple skill — hiking the ball between your legs — but it takes years of practice to be able to perform it with the consistency, accuracy and velocity required in the NFL.

They know one slight miscue could cost the game.

"You've got guys who've been out there banging their heads for 3½ hours," Jennings said. "You don't want to go out there and screw it up."

While snappers, like kickers and punters, are viewed as something of outcasts compared to the rest of the roster, there's a growing appreciation for what they do. Camps have sprung up around the country dedicated solely to the art of hiking the ball — 7 or 8 yards to a holder for field goals and PATs, 14 or 15 yards to a punter.

A player who has no chance of making it to the NFL based on arm strength or his 40 time can now carve out a niche on special teams.

Don't chuckle. Jennings has managed to stay in the league for 13 years — all with San Francisco — doing nothing but snapping the ball. Cox is finishing up his third year with the Ravens and he, too, hopes for a long career looking at the world from a different perspective.

"I snap the ball accurately for a living," the 36-year-old Jennings said. "I think that's awesome."

If there's a drawback, it's catching grief from their teammates about the massive amounts of time they spend standing around on the sideline. But that's all in good fun. Everyone knows the snapper has a vital role to play.

"Whenever somebody puts his hand on the football, his job is very, very important," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "One snap over the kicker's head, one snap that's wide right or a little low, can be the difference in a football game. People don't really notice you unless you do something bad at that position."

Jennings was a tight end in college at Arizona State, but he got into snapping while recovering from an injury. Bored and just goofing around one day at practice, he hiked a few balls. Turns out, he had a knack for it, delivering the ball with surprising speed.

"A couple of my teammates said, 'Hey, you're pretty good at that. Why don't you do that?'" he recalled. "So I started practicing snapping so I could help my team."

He did it so well that he was picked in the seventh round of the 2000 draft by the 49ers.

He's been in San Francisco ever since.

For Cox, snapping began when he was a fifth-grader playing youth football.

One day at practice, the coach asked if there were any volunteers for the thankless position. Cox raised his hand. His first attempt wasn't so good but his dad, who happened to be watching, encouraged young Morgan to give it another try. His do-over was much better, and he had a new position on the team in addition to being the center.

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