GLENDALE, Ariz. — Old quarterbacks never die, they just grow up to be long snappers.
In the case of the Patriots Lonie Paxton and Giants Zak DeOssie, Super Bowl long snappers.
Talk about having the life. Paxton, now in his eighth year in New England, pulls in $720,000 plus bonuses and playoff money for firing a football 14 yards between his legs to a waiting punter.
DeOssie, a rookie, made $727,000 this year in salary and signing bonus in addition to his playoff money.
“It’s a blessing to be able to contribute like this and be paid like this for it,” admits Paxton, a 29-year-old Southern California native. “People say it’s an easy job and they laugh, ‘That’s all you do long snap?’ You know what, if they’re in that position in a tight game, 35 degrees, 30 mph winds, all those conditions — that’s not an easy job. Remember, the difference between the NFL’s best snapper and worst snapper is only your last (snap).”
North Andover’s DeOssie echoed that sentiment.
“You don’t want anyone calling your name as a long snapper. That means I did something wrong,” said DeOssie. “It’s a high-pressure situation. The thing is, you go out and you’ve done a million snaps in a lifetime. You don’t think about anything else but the punter, his hands, and getting it back to him.”
The roads they took to Super Bowl XLII couldn’t be more divergent. They have, however, been intertwined.
And it’s more than each starting their football careers as high school quarterbacks.
Both hit the Bryant College campus in Rhode Island in the late summer of 2000, Paxton as a free-agent rookie out of Sacramento State and DeOssie, a 15-year-old rookie ball boy attending Phillips Andover.
Immediately, the two hit it off — Paxton, the wild child from the West Coast who was into surfing, skiing and wild times, and DeOssie, the quiet, unassuming prep schooler.
“We worked a lot together after practice,” said Paxton. “He was a ball boy for special teams, always catching punts, and helping out shagging balls. It was nice to see and have a little buddy there in 2000. I was a rookie, he was a younger kid in his first year as a ball boy. We were both in it together. We had that whole training camp to get to know each other and get through the same kind of stuff.”
Paxton put his “little buddy” through the paces.
Both athletes are self-taught, having perfected the art of long snapping on their own.
“Everyone through their football career tries to long snap,” said DeOssie. “The first snap you ever do determines whether or not you’ll be able to do it — how you feel about it. Some people have a knack for it. I watched my old man (his father, Steve, was a long-time NFL long snapper and linebacker) do it. I knew the importance of it, so I just learned how to do it on my own.”
Paxton first was enthralled with the chore as a youngster, attending Los Angeles Rams home games with his dad.
“By a random occurrence, we’d be out there early, and the early groups were always the special teams,” said Paxton. “I was kind of amazed at the whole thing. When it came time to messing around with the football, I just said why not try giving it a shot. It just progressed from there.
“Most of the time, it was just trial and error. I actually did it one-handed through my sophomore year in high school. Then I saw that the pros used two, and I adjusted.”
Come Sunday evening, both guys will look to again play anonymous yet vital roles — not including the expected bone-crunching DeOssie stick in kick coverage.
It’s a position Paxton has been in many times before. Think about all those crucial Adam Vinatieri kicks — the Snow Bowl in ‘01, the game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI, eight other game-winners in all — Paxton has been perfect on every one.
His consistency has been uncanny.
“We’re members of an elite fraternity,” said DeOssie. “Every time I see him, it’s a nice little reunion.”
Former QBs snap to attention
Like Zak DeOssie, who was one of the most prolific passers in Phillips Academy history (he threw 26 TDs passes in 2001-02) before switching to linebacker at Brown University, New England long snapper Lonie Paxton began his career at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., as a quarterback.
“I played quarterback as a freshman, but in the second game I fumbled a snap,” said Paxton. “I went to dive on the football and broke my center’s ankle on the play. So they made me the center.”
“I still remember my coach John Stillwell telling me, ‘You’re never going to play quarterback, and you’re never going to be fullback, so start working on the offensive line.’”
Stillwell was right. Paxton went on to earn a scholarship to Sacramento State as a lineman, and eventually got a shot at the pros because of his long-snapping prowess.
Hector Longo writes for The Eagle Tribune in North Andover, Mass. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org