Charger punter John Kidd moved from the pits to paradise, but that trip took him from a division champion to an also-ran.
Kidd forsook snowy Buffalo for sunny San Diego in the off-season. The downside is that he may have given up a trip to the Super Bowl to do it.
Kidd, 29, can't help but have mixed feelings as his seventh NFL season enters its final stages with Sunday's game in Denver.
When the Buffalo Bills made Kidd an restricted free agent in Plan B last winter, he had his choice of many teams. A six-year record of consistent excellence made him one of the more desirable players available.
Picking the Chargers turned out to be easy, not just because of the climate but because they made him the highest paid punter in the NFL at $270,000 a year. Since then, three punters have passed him in income, but who's complaining?
Besides, Kidd prefers to think he made the right move.
"I had reservations about leaving Buffalo," Kidd said. "I knew the Super Bowl was a possibility. The Bills had a lot of talent, all the ingredients in place to go a long way.
"Actually, there were a lot of reasons for staying. My wife was a TV reporter for the CBS station in Buffalo; we had just built a house; and I was doing ads and endorsements. I had a lot of things going for me.
"I decided to live with my decision, and now everybody is saying that the Bills are going to the Super Bowl. It's frustrating.
"But at the same time, we're not as far away as some people think. There's a lot of talent here, and in the next couple of years, we should be up there. I think the atmosphere here is ripe for winning."
Assuming that Kidd has to watch the playoffs on television--the Chargers' playoff hopes are hanging by the thinnest of threads--he can console himself with his fatter paychecks and his escape from the frigid Northeast.
"The weather here is so fantastic I can't believe it," he said. "In our job, we're outside three to four hours every day. Here, we might be wearing shorts. In Buffalo at this time of year, we would grab everything we had in our lockers and put it on, and sometimes even that wouldn't be enough."
The Bills have an indoor practice facility, but Kidd said, "We didn't use it very much. Only if there were 60-mile-an-hour winds or it was snowing so hard that they couldn't get the field cleared. That was maybe four or five days a year."
But is there a climate for winning in San Diego?
"There's no question that we can compete," Kidd said, "and I'm not counting us out this year, even though we're a longshot."
Kidd, armed with a degree in industrial engineering from Northwestern, has figured a scenario for the Chargers to gain a wild-card berth in the playoffs.
"We win our three games and finish 9-7," he said. "Seattle loses once and also goes 9-7, and we take the tiebreaker because of a better division record. Out of the AFC Central, two of the three teams that are 7-6--Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Houston--have to lose two out of three. The second-place team in the Central has to be 8-8."
What are the odds that all this will come to pass? Don't ask.
Beyond the question of whether he would have been better off to stay in Buffalo, Kidd is dissatisfied with his punting in his first season as a Charger--despite ranking third in the AFC in average net yardage at 35.8 yards and having a gross average of 39.2, which matches those of his last three seasons in Buffalo.
"It's been kind of a mediocre year for me," he said. "A punter can have a good year in Buffalo with a 39-yard average, but in San Diego, figuring at least eight games in perfect weather and some others in domes, I should be doing better."
But Kidd refuses to blame having to cope with tragedy. His father died of cancer recently.
"It's been a hard year for me," he said. "There have been a lot of things going on that weren't going on in the past. It's been very tough. But I really don't think that's had an effect on my punting. I just haven't lived up to my expectations."
As hard as Kidd is on himself, his work as a Charger has earned emphatic approval from Charger coaches. Besides punting, he holds for John Carney's kicks and serves as the team's emergency quarterback. Kidd, 6-feet-3 and 208 pounds, was recruited as a quarterback by Northwestern out of Findlay (Ohio) High School.
Henning, once a backup quarterback for the Chargers, said of Kidd, "He's the best emergency quarterback prospect I've ever seen. Usually you take a wide receiver or a running back for that job, but he's been a quarterback. He throws fairly well, and I think we could hold our own with him. Maybe he wouldn't make big plays, but I'd feel comfortable with him out there.
"He helps in so many ways, which gives us leverage. And his punting has been fine, very consistent. He's had only one bad punt all year, that eight-yarder against the Raiders. He's a big asset to our team."
Larry Pasquale, who coaches the Chargers' special teams, said, "John has come in and stabilized a problem. He's a quality-type person, and because he's a backup quarterback, the special teams now have a link with the offense. He has helped bridge a gap and made us a closer unit."
Pasquale also noted that Kidd enhanced his value by offering scouting reports on other teams' punters.
"He knows things about punters that normally go unnoticed," Pasquale said. "He tells us what problems they have, what tendencies they have--that sort of thing. He's a real student of the game."
Ted Tollner, Henning's chief assistant and quarterback coach, pointed out that Kidd has to get most of his preparation for emergency duty by attending quarterback meetings.
"He gets some scout work, but doesn't get to run our offense at all," Tollner said. "Still, he keeps up on it so religiously that I wouldn't have any qualms about having him finish a game if the first two guys (Billy Joe Tolliver and Mark Vlasic) got hurt."
As for Kidd's ability as a holder, one needs only to check Carney's remarkable record of 16 field goals in 17 attempts and 23 extra points without a miss.
"John is about as good a holder as they come," Carney said. "He held for Scott Norwood in Buffalo, and if you can hold in Buffalo, you can hold anywhere in the league. I'm sure he deserves a lot of credit for Norwood's success, and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for the season I'm having."