Shelley kicks 'Bama past LSU for BCS title
NEW ORLEANS — One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.
Anybody younger than 50 recognizes that jingle from "Sesame Street," but in football, the thing that's not like the others is the field goal kicker: that little guy with the clean uniform, the one who sits off by himself when he's not booting balls into a net; the one with all the superstitions and good luck charms; the one the coach barely mentions; the one who can go three months without full contact, but who gets all the glory after kicking the game-winner.
Very few people even know his name unless he misses three or four in a crucial game. Then they know him enough to vilify him like he's an ax murderer.
They certainly know his name in Alabama now. For Crimson Tide fans, their little guy made history Monday night. And they will remember him and what he did for quite some time.
In one of the great redemption stories of the year, Jeremy Shelley, a former snowboarder and motocross racer who still looks like he would be at home shredding powder with Shaun White, kicked a BCS record five field goals to give Alabama its 14th national championship title.
All five of the kicks felt especially sweet since Shelley and his kicking partner Cade Foster missed four field goals in the Tide's only loss of the year on November 5: the first meeting with LSU. In that one, Foster missed three, including one in overtime that sealed Alabama's fate, while Shelley had one blocked.
Fan reaction was exactly what you would expect. Foster had to shut down his Facebook and Twitter accounts to stop the hate mail. One person even wrote, "If you tried to hang yourself you couldn't kick the chair."
"It was pretty bad, but there was a lot of good stuff, too, a lot of people who sent notes of support saying that they had faith in me," Shelley said. "And my teammates all supported me and Cade. They believed in us. That was the most important part."
Words of faith and encouragement are crucial to a kicker. That's why, after Shelley's second field goal attempt in the championship game was blocked, Nick Saban pulled him aside and gave him what he needed.
"He said he had faith in me and that he knew that I had that range," Shelley said. "He told me to just relax and don't try to kill the ball."
As simple as those words were, they were perfect: soothing and repetitious. Kicking is all about repetition. Saban knows that as well as anyone. That's why he used those words in that order.
"He said the exact same thing when we played LSU last time when I had one blocked," Shelley said. "It really helped me both times."
Don't try to figure out a kicker. It's like figuring out an artist or a poet or the guy who jumps off the Eiffel Tower holding his parachute in his hand. They're just different.
"You know, I've been visualizing about this for the last week," Shelley said. "That helped me see it once I stepped out on the field, you know, like it wasn't the first time."
In addition to the block, Shelley pushed another kick wide right, and he missed an extra point. That made him five of seven in field goals and zero for one in PATs, a strange combination for a record-setting night.
"I've never tried seven in a game before," he said. "I've never even tried five. Four is the most I've ever tried, and that was in high school. I'm a little sore. It was a busy night."
As for the burden being lifted from that earlier loss to LSU, Shelley, like all kickers, had long ago put the past behind him. "Every play is a new play with a life and history of its own," he said.
Of course, he's still that thing that's not like the others. In the locker room after the championship, the numbers on his jersey were still pearly white, and his hair was barely ruffled. Even Saban had trouble heaping the same level of praise on Shelley that he lavished on A.J. McCarron, Trent Richardson and Courtney Upshaw.
"Jeremy did a great job in the game," Saban said. "We have a lot of confidence in Jeremy. He doesn't have great range, but when we get it down there by the 25-yard line he does a pretty good job for the most part. We got one blocked and he pushed one to the right a little bit. But we're just going to keep on keeping on and keep giving him opportunities."
That's all Shelley or any other kicker ever wants.
"Everybody's always asked me about pressure of hitting game-winners," Shelley said. "I've always said that you never know when the game-winner's going to come. It could be in the first three minutes of the game. You think you're going to kick the game-winner as a dream, but looking back on it, hitting five field goals . . . I still can't believe it."