"It was all that Dan Marino’s fault, everyone knows that. If he had held the ball laces out like he was supposed to, Ray would never have missed that kick."
So says Mrs. Finkle about her son, Ray, who missed that field goal that cost Marino’s Miami Dolphins a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. No, not in real life. In the 1994 Jim Carrey vehicle "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," of course.
"Laces out!" has become a catchphrase for the last 15 years, if not of movie buffs or Carreyholics everywhere, at least for a small subset of NFL players who gather, often by themselves, to practice their interrelated crafts: snap … hold … kick.
" You still hear ‘Laces out, Dan’ " on the practice field to this day," said James Dearth, the Jets’ venerable long-snapper. "It is kind of funny."
It’s also appropriate to talk about here on Special Teams Saturday on newyorkjets.com, only because it’s one of several elements of Steve Weatherford’s new duties as Jay Feely’s holder that has some fans worried about the tightness of the execution for Jets placements.
But there is no worry internally. All feel that Weatherford will handle the job flawlessly.
"I’ve been doing it for years," Weatherford told me after working with Feely and Dearth on easily more than 100 snaps during this week’s practices heading toward Sunday’s season opener at Houston. "It’s just a repetition thing. I know how to do it. It’s just a matter of getting it to where Jay feels comfortable."
"If it was a rookie I would’ve been much more concerned," said Feely, who counts Weatherford as his ninth holder this off-season, following the previous six punters (including Reggie Hodges, who held flawlessly for Feely last season) plus Brad Smith and Kellen Clemens. "But Steve’s a veteran. He’s held for Olindo Mare and John Carney, so he’s been with veteran guys that know exactly what they want. We quickly got on the same page."
ST coordinator Mike Westhoff said the holding part of the placekick operation is a concern and part of the Jets’ decision to sign Weatherford on Monday was about his holding skills. Westhoff also mentioned that in a "desperation situation," Clemens is a decent holder as well.
"But Steve seemed very good and Jay seemed very comfortable with him," the coach said, "so we feel he should be fine."
As for the physics of the snap and hold, we’ll shift into "Fox Sports Science" mode. The reason Marino cost Ray Finkle the Super Bowl and his sanity was because the laces were in, not out. And as Dan and Dearth would tell you, the positioning of the laces starts with the very underrated physical skill of the long snap.
"When I snap the ball, there’s a lot of rotation on it. I really don’t know how many times it spins," Dearth explained. "But let’s say it spins 10 times. When it gets to the holder, the laces should be up. Think of it like a clock. You try to have the ball reach the holder at 12 o’clock with each snap. From 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock, that’s OK. Four, 5, 6, 7, 8 — you don’t want that. I prefer to have it between 11 and 1 o’clock."
Dearth said he’s not 100 percent accurate in hitting that slice of time, but Weatherford said all of Friday’s snaps were right on the money.
Once the holder has the ball, the clockface goes from the air, perpendicular to the ground, to flat on the ground with 12 noon pointing toward the goalposts.
"The position of the laces is definitely going to bother you because it can alter the kick," Feely said. "My job is to make the kick no matter what, and his job is to get the right hold no matter what because that allows us to do our job a lot easier."
This is where the holder spinning the ball into place comes in. If he puts the ball down at 3 o’clock, the kick will pull right, at 9 o’clock, left. If they’re at 6 o’clock and the kicker hits the laces directly, the ball won’t travel as far. So what Weatherford must do with an errant snap is spin the ball into high noon before Feely’s foot makes contact.
But with all the experience on this operation, Weatherford has no qualms about how it’s going to go.
" ‘D’ does a great job on the snaps, an unbelievable job," the Jets new punter said. "All I’ve got to do is hit the spot. I don’t even have to turn the laces for Jay. Every once in a while playing up here in the East, playing in the elements, you’re going to have to do a little bit more."
From the sounds of it, getting to the November/December portion of the Jets’ schedule, when the Snowflakes start to fall, could be a snap for the aptly named Weatherford.
*Special Teams Saturday.
Tags: Dan Marino, Houston Texans, James Dearth, Jay Feely, Mike Westhoff, Steve Weatherford
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