- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Norv Turner loses a game and fires the kicker.

That is one of the patterns of his seven seasons in Washington.

Another is losing a game that shouldn't have come down to a three-point attempt.

Jeff George took the blame in Arizona, and somebody named Kris Heppner took the fall.

Heppner was an easy target. Kickers usually are.

He was out of work, bow-hunting deer in Montana, when he received the distress signal from the bunker in Loudoun County.

He knew the deal. Kickers in Washington have the shelf life of bread. Here today, bow-hunting tomorrow.

Heppner can't complain. He's young. He picked up a couple of paychecks. He could resurface with another team, as kickers often do.

Mark Moseley was cut twice before he found a home in Washington. He was hardly perfect, although the passage of time dims the imperfections. He was the NFL's MVP in 1982 and the league's scoring leader the next year. He is one of the franchise's hallowed names of the past, and he owes part of it to a succession of coaches who did not blink after the first kick went awry.

Washington has become a graveyard for kickers, which hardly bodes well for the next person to accept the assignment from Turner.

Kicking, like putting a golf ball or shooting a basketball, is a distinct skill, as much mental as physical. It helps to be confident.

Of course, it is hard to be confident if you're wearing the burgundy and gold. You know you don't have the luxury of being human. You know if you shank one, you're out the door.

Heppner may be the next Moseley or a bum or somewhere between the two extremes, but you couldn't tell from his brief stay here. He was laboring under duress. He had no margin for error. He was the team's ninth kicker in seven seasons and the third this season,

After he missed a potential game-winning field goal in the desert, he probably started planning his next bow-hunting excursion in Montana. Day follows night, and a pink slip often follows a missed kick with Turner.

That's no way to function, and no way to reach the harmonious mental state that athletes so desperately seek.

If you're a kicker with the local football team, you live on the edge and take your place one step down from the water boy.

If anyone would be sympathetic to the all-or-nothing plight of a kicker, you might think it would be Turner. His all-or-nothing proposition is the won-lost record, and not to nitpick, his could be better.

His modest tenure has come under considerable scrutiny the last few seasons, and yet, for whatever reasons, he repeatedly has survived to coach another game.

He has been granted a latitude far greater than the kickers who have come and gone.

Turner's merry-go-round with kickers is sort of emblematic of his tenure. He either has had rotten luck with kickers or he is doing something wrong with them.

That something is possibly his reluctance to stick with a kicker, regardless of the inevitable bumps.

This may come as a shock to Turner, if not to the team's supporters, but kickers, even the best ones, sometimes miss a kick they are supposed to make.

Receivers sometimes drop passes, too, and running backs sometimes fumble the ball, and quarterbacks sometimes throw interceptions.

These developments are hard to accept, particularly if you're a coach whose future is in jeopardy, but they are part of the game, played as it is by humans.

As it turns out, Heppner was held to a higher standard than his former teammates, which is odd, considering the $100 million in salaries. Heppner was bargain-basement material, just a guy off the hunting range in Montana.

No, he didn't do his part in Arizona, but he had plenty of company. The embarrassment was a team effort, as it is said.

Yet here goes Turner again, auditioning kickers. Heppner's replacement is not apt to feel comfortable, given the circumstances. Each kick is certain to be made with more anxiety than necessary.

Such a mind-set would seem to be counterproductive to the correlation between confidence and success.

Then again, maybe confidence is an overrated element of sports.

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