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Ask Sam Farmer: How do NFL punters boot high spirals?

The 49ers’ Mitch Wishnowsky punts the ball during a preseason game against the Chiefs on Aug. 24, 2019.
49ers rookie Mitch Wishnowsky won the Ray Guy Award while at Utah, presented to college football’s best punter.
(Peter G. Aiken / Getty Images)

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to: sam.farmer@latimes.com

Since the days of Ray Guy, I have loved watching a high spiraling punt. How do those punters do it?

Mark Russell, Taft

Farmer: It is amazing, the foot control of those players, the way they’re able to bend punts to their will, put wicked backspin on the ball, boot it into the tightest of coffin corners.

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For your question, I turned to Mitch Wishnowsky of the San Francisco 49ers, the Australian-born punter selected in the fourth round of the draft last spring. He has amazing command of the football, and won the Ray Guy Award while at Utah, presented to college football’s best punter.

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“To actually spiral the ball, basically all you need to do is hit the very center of the ball,” Wishnowsky said. “If you drop it nose down, it alters the way it comes off your foot. But if you drop it completely flat and hit the very middle of the ball with your foot, it’s going to spiral. You’d think you hit the side and kind of slice it, but you don’t. You hit it smack bang in the middle and it will naturally spin. I don’t really understand the physics of it.”

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There is no flagpole big enough for the American flags that cover the football field during the national anthem. Where do they store those? Do teams own them?

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Frank Merchat, Carlsbad

Farmer: I was in Cleveland a few weeks back and noticed the Browns store their flag in the field-level concourse, near the locker rooms, on a series of hooks on the wall. But that’s a flag that covers only about a quarter of the field, so I did some asking around on those giant full-field ones.

Some teams, the Rams among them, rent their giant flag for special occasions. Others, such as the Minnesota Vikings, actually own theirs and assemble it about four times per season. I say “assemble” because their flag comes in six huge sections that are held together by hidden Velcro seams.

It is stored in six separate carts, similar to large laundry bins, and probably would require a box truck to move it to another locale.

Those flags weigh about 1,100 pounds and, according to a company that makes them, cost about $42,000 to buy and $6,000 to rent.

NFL Films did a feature on those 300-foot, full-field flags, noting that each stripe is 11 feet wide and each star is 7 feet tall. There are handles sewn along the edges, and teams use about 150 volunteers to properly display the flag — and respectfully gather it — before games.


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