By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Everyone is pissed at Billy Cundiff. On most days, no one really cares enough about him to develop any emotion whatsoever. But this isn't most days--the kicker is coming off his best game as a pro, one of the best games by any pro, really. Normally, that would afford him a bit of good will. Except that he blew it.
A few days ago, he tied an NFL record by booting seven field goals for the Dallas Cowboys, helping them to their first victory of the season--a dramatic Monday Night road win against the hated New York Giants. He was named the NFC offensive player of the week for that effort, and everyone, including the media vampires, was feeling awfully good about him. It seems as though every journo in the greater D-FW area had staked out his Valley Ranch locker the past few days, poised to interview him or tussle his hair and throw in an attaboy. It's quite a departure from the preseason, when we talked openly among ourselves about the odds of him losing the job to Ola Kimrin, or even from the Week 1 loss to Atlanta, in which he missed his only field-goal attempt and then had an extra point blocked, the first time the latter has happened to a Cowboys kicker since '89.
So we were all ready to forgive and forget, to dole out kudos and maybe even eat a little crow in light of his outstanding MNF performance. And then he punked us. Twice. Two days in a row, he didn't show for interviews, and by doing so, he also stood up Tony Dorsett, who was on hand to give him some award handed out weekly by Snickers. How can we kiss his skinny white ass if he doesn't present it to us? Too late, though. Now, whatever pleasantries awaited him have been replaced by rancor and the potential for bodily harm. No one has botched a press opportunity this badly since presidential candidate John Kerry went to Philadelphia over the summer and ordered his cheese steak with Swiss instead of Whiz. (He was lucky the natives didn't drag his carcass through the streets.)
"Fuck that little fucker," one scribe says of Cundiff. "We ought to take his legs out. Who does he think he is, anyway?"
Clearly, Cundiff doesn't care about the publicity, good, bad or none at all. Say what you will about him, but he's not dim. He knows all too well that we can (and will) turn on him, that, at any moment, we can transition from smiles to snarls and back again. For proof, he need only look a few lockers down. Quincy Carter keeps his things there. A few months ago we were calling for head coach Bill Parcells to beat him stupid(er) and leave him for dead in San Antonio; now he's our little snugglepuss. Or something. Maybe this is Cundiff's way of sticking it to us, of telling us he's on to our capricious ways and that he wants no part of it. Surprising. Who would have thought that a 23-year-old who still calls himself Billy, for chrissakes, could be so shrewd? (Whenever I hear "Billy," I think of Wesley Snipes' funny but condescending character from White Men Can't Jump saying: "Hello, Billy...can you count to 10, Billy?")
So we're pissed at him, but never let it be said that I let anger preclude me from doing my job. No, I'm a professional. However grudgingly, he still deserves to be lauded.
What he did the other night was nothing short of astonishing, given that only three other kickers in the history of the league have made seven field goals in one game. Couple that with the fact that he made just 12 of 19 field goals last year, and what you have is the outline for one of those Ripley's Believe it or Notshows. Making this story exceptionally bizarre were the long field goals he nailed--one from 49 and one from 52. A year ago, he hit only 50 percent from 40 to 49 yards, and he missed his only attempt at 50-plus. The 52-yarder was particularly important; it came at the end of regulation, pushing the Boys into overtime and giving them a chance to win when it appeared that they'd blown it in grand fashion.
"That was really a very clutch, very difficult kick under difficult circumstances," Parcells says. "That was certainly on par with some of the best field goals. I remember at midnight down in Washington in '89, I think it was, Raul Allegre kicked a 52-yarder to beat the Redskins in the opening game of the season--that was a kick like that. Matt Bahr had a 41-yarder to send San Francisco home there in 1990 in the NFC championship game. This kick here was on a par with that. The field was a bit wet, and he nailed it really well."
Parcells crediting a kicker with fine play? This is all kinds of weird. But if your head isn't spinning enough, this is sure to knock you out: Thanks in large part to Cundiff, heading into the bye week, your Dallas Cowboys--nearly the same bunch that took the field in last season's we-can't-score-to-save-our-lives embarrassment (they were next-to-last in points scored a year ago)--were tied for 12th in the league with 24 points per game. Now, who has the smelling salts?
"It's good that we can lean on Billy Cundiff," running back Troy Hambrick says, without adding: because Lord knows I'm not gonna put points up for us. "Sure, we want to score touchdowns, but he came through for us. He came through for us big. That's good for our confidence, to know that we're going to score points, even if we don't get in the end zone."
Ah, but it's early, sports fans. The bye week's hero might be the midseason whipping boy. He's cloaked in history now, wrapped in an NFL record and nearly untouchable, no matter how angry he's made the lot of us, but that hardly guarantees season-long deliverance. He's just one two-miss game away from being hounded and brutally criticized. Some advice: Enjoy it now, boyo, because we're waiting.
"To be honest with you," Cundiff told various journos following the Giants victory, "it doesn't really mean much to me right now. It's something in the future I can tell my kids."
Sure is. But, in the meantime, I think he really messed up here. What Carter has learned that Cundiff hasn't is that, while most of the media may be treacherous and churlish, we're also predisposed to violence. The quarterback fields our questions and makes himself available because he's well aware of how hard it would be to execute a five-step drop with a broken leg.
It would be harder still, I'm sure, to kick the ball.