Jeff Feagles Retires After 1,713 Punts
April 30, 2010
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There were times, during the lulls in practice, when Giants punter Jeff Feagles would practice his precision-style kicks by aiming balls into garbage cans sitting 40 yards away. And when it came time for the special-teams portion of practice, Coach Tom Coughlin would call for a drill that asked Feagles to pin the other team inside its own 5-yard line.
Jeff Feagles retired after 22 seasons and a league-record 352 consecutive games.
“Six years ago it was the 20,” Feagles said on Friday as he formally announced his retirement after a record-setting 22-year N.F.L. career. “Then it went to the 15, the 10, and last year it ended up at the 5.”
Feagles, 44, never led the league in punting average, and he was named to only two Pro Bowls. But he leaves a legacy as a maestro of directional punting — the rare ability to keep the ball away from dangerous returners and bury opposing offenses against their own goal-line.
He had a 41.6-yard career gross average and a 35.9-yard net average. Neither of those count the distance the ball traveled sideways, toward its intended target.
Feagles worried only about the spot at which the Giants defense took the field. He aimed his kicks to the sideline or hung them high enough for teammates to run under and catch — tricky propositions amid the notoriously swirling winds of Giants Stadium.
“With directional punting, I think I got ahead of the game, and was able to really define how to do that,” Feagles said during a news conference in the auditorium of the team’s headquarters. “I wasn’t the strongest or kicked it the furthest in later years, but I could put it exactly where I wanted to.”
Feagles retires as the N.F.L’s career leader in punts (1,713), punting yards (71,211, or more than 40 miles) and balls downed inside the 20-yard line (554).
He also played in 352 consecutive regular-season games, a league record. He is third all-time in N.F.L. games played behind the retired kickers Morten Andersen (382) and Gary Anderson (353).
Coughlin introduced Feagles at Friday’s news conference, striking a theme of professionalism and consistency.
“If people are paying you to go to work, you go to work,” Coughlin said. “And that’s what this guy did for 22 years.”
Feagles was not drafted after helpingthe University of Miami win the college national championship in the 1987 season.
He signed with the New England Patriots on May 1, 1988. He played in all 16 games in each of the 22 seasons since, including the past seven seasons with the Giants.
“One of the greatest Giants of all time,” Coughlin said.
Feagles had planned to play this season, too, and signed a contract with the Giants a month ago.
“My mind was telling me that I wanted to come back and do this,” Feagles said. “I think my mind will tell me that I always want to do this, because it’s a great game, the game of football. I’ve been doing it for half my life.”
His body had other notions as Feagles ramped up his workout routine. His back hurt and his knee swelled. He woke up one morning, made a pot of coffee and told his wife, Michelle, that he thought he was through.
Feagles took that message to Coughlin on April 19, a few days before the N.F.L. draft. Coughlin asked that Feagles ponder it for another day. He did.
“I’ve taken my last swing,” Feagles said. “That’s it.”
The Giants drafted East Carolina punter Matt Dodge in the seventh round. Dodge was 11 months old when Feagles first signed with the Patriots.
Feagles and his wife have four sons. The oldest, 19-year-old C. J., is a punter at the University of North Carolina and did not attend Friday’s announcement. The others sat in the front row near their mother and Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes and long-snapper Zak DeOssie.
Feagles was cut by the Patriots after two seasons. He then played with Philadelphia, Arizona and Seattle before joining the Giants in 2003.
On Friday, Feagles wore the Super Bowl ring he earned with the Giants at the end of the 2007 season. The next season might have been his best, as Feagles averaged 44.0 yards per punt and made the Pro Bowl, 13 years after his first Pro Bowl selection.
He took joy in trying to “defeat the wind” at Giants Stadium, about to be torn down as a new stadium opens next door. Feagles never revealed his secrets to solving the air currents, and admitted he often led opposing kickers astray during pregame chats.
“I used to tell them to look at the flags — that’s the way the wind’s blowing,” Feagles said, referring to the banners consistently flapping above the upper deck. “It’s the complete opposite.”
But Feagles seems most proud of his ability to send a ball where he aimed it, a forgotten art in a league where punting averages have boomed toward 50 yards in recent years. His greatest thrills, he said, came from burying teams deep inside their own territory, or fooling returners trying to guess where the ball was headed.
“I could really mess with those guys back there,” he said.
In some ways, his foray into directional kicking was a survival technique for someone who never had the league’s strongest leg. Philadelphia Coach Buddy Ryan once told Feagles that he would always have a job if he could routinely pin teams deep.
It was in Arizona in the mid-1990s that Feagles worked with the special-teams coach Al Roberts, who may have inadvertently helped extend the punter’s career by a decade or more.
“He said, ‘Listen, I think you can do this — let’s try to kick away from the returner,’ ” Feagles recalled with a smile. “I said, ‘Well, that sounds like a lot of fun.’ It took some time, and a lot of work. A lot of work. And it worked to my advantage over the years.”