Times Staff Writer

Even though he’s a loving husband, Kendall Gammon occasionally has told his wife to take a hike.

But only the length of the hallway.

When Gammon was beginning his career as an NFL long snapper, he used to take his work home with him. That required his 5-foot-7, 125-pound wife, Leslie, to stand 15 yards down the corridor of their Pittsburgh apartment building and field footballs rocketing her way.

“It was catch it or perish,” recalled her husband, who now plays for Kansas City. “There were bruises on her legs, her hands were hurting. She was taking one for the team.”


Sacrifice is something NFL long snappers know well. Their job is to snap the ball for punts and kicks, a role so important that most of them aren’t afforded any opportunities to, say, catch a pass, lest they get hurt. Brian Jennings, so valued by the San Francisco 49ers that they gave him a six-year, $4.86-million deal with a $1.1-million signing bonus, said the job was “a gift and a curse.”

“It’s a gift because it’s good dough and you get to be part of the team,” he said. “It’s a curse because the coaching staff is always worried I’m going to get hurt. I grew up playing sports, being a star, winning games. Now, I’m on the shelf.”

On the shelf, that is, until some of the game’s most pressure-packed moments. A long snapper, often a converted tight end who might be 50 pounds lighter than an average offensive lineman, is required to bend over, put his head between his legs and fire the ball with pinpoint accuracy to a punter or holder. The snap takes about three-quarters of a second and, if done correctly, is hardly noticed by people watching the game. Long snappers -- or deep snappers, as they’re also called -- say that if no one knows your name, you’re doing your job.

While his teammates toil away at practice, the typical long snapper stands idly by and soaks it in. Many times, he’s an outsider looking in.

“There’s some jealousy when they see me sitting there,” Pittsburgh’s Mike Schneck said. “But when it comes to three seconds left and we need a game-winning field goal, they don’t want my job.”

No one understands the perils of the job better than Trey Junkin, who spent 19 seasons as an NFL long snapper, playing for Arizona, Buffalo, Washington, Oakland, Seattle and the New York Giants.


“Yeah, 19 years,” he said. “It sticks in my throat to say that. I wanted 20 so bad I could taste it.”

But it wasn’t to be for Junkin, maybe the greatest long snapper in history, who might be best remembered for his final snap -- the one that got away. On Jan. 5, 2003, after the Giants had brought him out of retirement for the playoffs, he botched the placement snap and deprived kicker Matt Bryant the opportunity for a 41-yard, game-winning field goal on the final play against the 49ers.

Holder Matt Allen scooped up the ball, rolled to his right and heaved a desperation pass toward a pack of players near the goal line. The ball fell to the turf and -- even though game officials were later chastised by the league for not calling pass interference on the broken play -- the 49ers escaped with a 39-38 victory.

Junkin, who went seasons at a time with nary a bad snap, was the goat. He has yet to get over the disappointment, and says he still has nightmares about the blunder about once a week.

“I relive it all the time,” he said. “Life goes on. As far as getting over it, that will be with me until the day I die.”

Back when he was playing, if he botched a snap, Junkin would put his pads and helmet back on long after the game had ended and his teammates had showered, dressed and left. There he’d be, alone in the locker room at 3 a.m., snapping ball after ball into a trash can 15 yards away.


“You’re talking to the wrong guy about not taking it personally,” said Junkin, special teams coach for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders.

Over the years, Junkin saw coaches and teammates take long-snapping more and more seriously. It went from an afterthought to a skill so prized that coaches no longer let players pull double duty and serve as snappers on the side.

The change began around the late 1980s, when the rules were modified in college and high school football. In the name of safety, defensive linemen were required to give snappers a moment to raise their heads after releasing the ball. But the rules weren’t changed in the NFL; defensive linemen could still pounce on the snapper the moment the ball was moved.

“By changing the rules in college, they extended my career and the career of every other deep snapper already in the league,” Junkin said. “Because you had deep snappers coming into the league who weren’t used to getting hit.... Scouts used to give me a hard time at training camp. They’d say, ‘I’ve got the best deep snapper to come out of college ever.’ He’d look like the Second Coming, out there snapping.”

Junkin never worried much. He knew what was coming.

“The first scrimmage, he’d get hit in the head,” he said. “I don’t care about that first snap; it’s gonna be good. The next snap? Once he gets smoked in the head, that ball’s going in the dirt. He’d get it right in the bean and that’s the last good snap you’d see out of him.”

It takes guts to stay focused on making a good snap when a 300-plus-pound defender is hovering over your head, ready to squash you like a bug.


“It is, without a doubt, one of the best carnival rides you’ve ever been on,” Junkin said. “There’s a lot of nasty things that go on in there. They’re not the only ones throwing the punches. I’ve been known to reply.... Everybody thinks they can [be a long snapper] until they get in the game and all of a sudden they have to do it. We’ve got a lot of one-snap wonders out there.”

There’s also a rather large subculture of players who want to learn the position, which is one of the reasons Kevin Gold started in 2000. Gold, a labor lawyer in Harrisburg, Pa., moonlights as an NFL players’ agent whose client list consists of three long snappers: Green Bay’s Rob Davis, Indianapolis’ Justin Snow and Houston’s Bryan Pittman. Gold’s business started when Davis finished school at nearby Shippensburg University and hired him as his representative. That led to a couple of more clients and the website, which tracks the long-snapper happenings around the NCAA and NFL, and offers snapping tips from the pros.

“The goal was to take the mask off some of the most anonymous players in the league and prove that they’re players too,” said Gold, who started the site with Davis.

Although long snappers usually aren’t paid more than the league minimum, that can mean an annual salary of $500,000 or more, depending on their years in the league. To some people, that’s mind-boggling.

“I was in Australia, and I tried to describe my job to people there,” San Diego’s David Binn said. “They thought it was the funniest thing in the world that I was making a half-million a year just for throwing the ball between my legs.”

Oh, but the job is much harder than it sounds, especially in windy, wet or cold weather. Because the league uses special footballs for the kicking game, fresh-out-of-the-box ones called K-balls, it’s sometimes difficult for snappers to get a firm grip.


“The K-ball is waxy and oily,” Jennings said. “If it rains, the water on the ball starts beading.... The hardest part of my job is gripping the ball.”

If it’s hard for holders and punters, imagine how tough it is for wives and girlfriends. Arizona’s Nathan Hodel has a solution for that.

“It can get pretty lonely out there, snapping into a net,” Hodel said. “So my wife uses a softball glove to catch them.”

Now that’s love.