A split-second before Andrew Franks was about to make the longest and most important field goal of his career, a thought crossed his mind that had little to do with hitting the sweet spot or aiming between the uprights.
No, the thing Franks was thinking was an expletive.
As he drew his leg back to hit his 55-yard try against Buffalo, Franks looked down at the ball holder Matt Darr had aligned for him and immediately knew something was amiss. The ball wasn’t one of the designated ‘K’ balls specifically prepared for kickers during NFL games, but rather a rougher, newer-feeling ball used by quarterbacks.
Players know the difference, kickers certainly know the difference and officials know the difference, but the problem was the final seconds were ticking away and the Dolphins were out of timeouts.
It was either kick the wrong ball or lose.
“It’s one of those things where you just see it, it’s like, ‘Awesome!’ ” Franks facetiously said Thursday. “The odds were already not in our favor. This is getting better and better. At this point, you’re just like, ‘All right. Let’s just hit a clean ball and see what happens.’ You never know how those things are going to fly.”
Franks has hit quarterback balls in practice. But in a game?
“First time for everything,” he said.
Quarterbacks prefer their footballs to have a rougher feel for a better grip. Kickers like a smoother surface for distance and accuracy, so those balls are roughed up for a few minutes before each kickoff by equipment personnel.
“It really is different,” said Darren Rizzi, the special teams coordinator and assistant head coach. “I know it may sound kind of crazy to the normal fan, but the ‘K’ ball and the quarterback ball, if I brought the two of them up here, you could distinctly tell the difference.”
That wasn’t the only element piling onto the degree of difficulty of Franks’ kick, which forced overtime and led to the 34-31 victory. The Dolphins were out of timeouts, so they had to rush the field-goal unit onto the field. The Dolphins practice that in their “Geronimo” drill on Saturdays.
“Sometimes the players look at me like I’m crazy,” Rizzi said.
Rizzi called it “the biggest play of the game” and a confidence-builder for Franks, adding that every kicker needs such confidence boosts. Although Franks had never made one that far in a game, Rizzi said leg strength is one of his best attributes.
Still, Rizzi added, “I think all of us, if we sat here a week ago and said a 55-yarder in Buffalo in December with six seconds left, what are the percentages of making that kick for any kicker? Not Andrew Franks, but league-wide, that’s a big spot, a big kick and a tough, tough kick. So credit to him.”
In the end, both Franks and his coach could smile about the situation.
For his part, Franks doubts he’s going to switch to kicking quarterback balls fulltime.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, but you never know,” he joked. “Maybe that’s the key — the key to success right there. Who knows?”
And Rizzi caught himself just in time as he was getting into the technical aspects of the K ball. This is, after all, the week the Dolphins are playing the Patriots of Deflategate fame.
“It can be a little slicker,” he was saying about the quarterback balls. “I don’t even want to get into the PSI thing. I’m not touching that one.”
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