Dozens of inconsequential bowl games were played in December, and my memories of them are as feeble my memories of how to resolve math equations involving more than addition and subtraction.
But I still can see Texas junior Michael Dickson deliver a precision-punting exhibition that made him MVP of the Longhorns’ victory over Missouri in the Texas Bowl. Mizzou gained 108 more yards and yet lost, 33-16, because Dickson kept pinning its offense in unfavorable field position.
Of Dickson’s 11 punts, 10 were downed inside the Missouri 15. Seven were downed inside the 10. Four were downed inside the 5.
None fell into the end zone for a touchback.
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As a Missouri grad who has come to revile Texas — it’s a long story, rooted in UT’s attempt to seize control of what used to be called the Big Eight Conference — watching a punter toying with the Tigers made me want to shout that word pronounced 569 times in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
When the Seahawks selected Dickson on Saturday, I learned the secret behind a punting touch as soft as that of a pool shark using combination shots to run the table.
Dickson grew up in Australia, where he competed in Aussie Rules football between the ages of eight and 18. But American football interested him, and after a four-month crash course in the basics, he showed enough skill on a YouTube video that Texas offered him a scholarship.
About that delicate touch?
“In Australia,” he told Seattle-area reporters Saturday via conference call, “you have a lot of different punts that you have to hit around the ball — where you would be kicking to a moving target. You have to have it out in front, like how a quarterback leads a receiver on a route.”
The Hawks’ ballyhooed acquisition of linebacker Shaquem Griffin deservedly dominated the news cycle from Day Three. But the Dickson draft choice also turned heads — and not just because it means Jon Ryan, who signed with Seattle in 2008 and is the longest tenured member of the Seahawks roster, likely will be employed elsewhere in 2018.
Punters typically aren’t drafted, and when they are, it’s in the sixth or seventh round. Hawks general manager John Schneider thought enough of Dickson to arrange a trade to move up them up seven spots in the fifth round.
“He is unique,” Schneider said. “He can do stuff with the ball we haven’t seen yet. We’re really intrigued to see how that translates. With punters and kickers, it’s about time and distance. But this guy does stuff with the ball that’s amazing.
“I’m not a punting expert,” continued Schneider, drawing laughs in a room not populated with ex-punters. Schneider may not be an authority on the technique of an obscure craft, but he understands freakish skill and its connection with the Australian version of football.
“They’re just so talented with the ball,” said Schneider, a former player-personnel assistant with the Packers. “We had a guy in Green Bay that would dropkick the football for 50 or 60 yards. He could get them from different angles when he was kicking field goals. It was really cool.”
Dickson can do the same thing.
“I saw him dropkick the ball from 60 yards on film,” said head coach Pete Carroll. “How does somebody do that?
“He brings to us techniques that we haven’t even seen people try. The ball moves in different directions. He can do a lot of stuff. It’s pretty exciting to see that we can grow and understand the game a little bit different in terms of the kicker.”
It’s also pretty exciting envisioning, say, a botched long snap to a punter who retrieves the ball and, in a highly charged emotional state bordering on panic, decides a 60-yard field goal attempted on a dropkick is preferable to a punt.
If Dickson converts a 60-yard dropkick on the run, I’ll start a grassroots campaign for the punter’s eventual induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with hopes of traveling to Ohio someday for his acceptance speech.
But if the plaque mentions anything about the Texas Longhorns, all bets are off.