We interrupt our Week 14 festivities for a serious talk with one of the NFL’s greatest kickers. I was fortunate enough to meet up with John Carney this week and here’s the how it went down…
How does an NFL legend, a Pro Bowl kicker with an NFL career spanning four decades, spend his retirement days? Why, working out, talking about and thinking about the kicking game, of course.
When John Carney, the former Charger, Saint, Bengal, you name it, greets me at his training gym, Carney Training Facility in North County San Diego, he is ready to talk football. He is still in fighting shape at 51 and I can immediately tell he is a passionate leader. Brimming with motivational sayings, from those printed on the chalkboard walls of the gym to those he espouses to the two young men training with him, Carney also speaks often of his strong spiritual foundation. He is clearly following his dream by helping kickers of all ages hone their craft.
The CTF, as it’s called, is a large warehouse filled with photos of he and his friends in their NFL kicking days. There, Carney is focused on training players for college and NFL kicking and punting roles, but his work expands much farther than that.
He runs four high school camps per year – the Carney Kicking Challenge – and runs a summer clinic for current and former NFL kickers such as Nate Kaeding and Steve Weatherford. This is his favorite time of the year, as his band of brothers has so many shared experiences from their time in the NFL, and they all support each other throughout the season.
In addition, he is running an open gym and boot camp for locals who want to up their fitness game by training with an NFL legend.
And Carney’s biggest venture to date is a training DVD that focuses on all aspects of the kicking game, including conditioning. It’s currently rated five stars on Amazon and allows kickers of all ages and stages to learn from the best.
With all of these exciting things happening, you’d think he’d have almost forgotten about his NFL days. You’d be wrong. He has every reason to brag – he’s scored more than 2000 points with 82.4% accuracy and was named to the Pro Bowl twice – but instead recounts details of big games with methodical detail as if analyzing his performance anew each time. It is pretty amazing listening to him discuss wind conditions from playoff games years ago, and speak of the many great teams and players he has worked with.
Carney doesn’t hesitate when asked about the kick he would like to have back. It’s the extra point at Jacksonville, one he missed as a Saint and one that made him a scapegoat for the team missing the playoffs. However, he discussed the fact that the story’s been spun over the years, and the team had already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before the kick was even made. However, that missed kick was a watershed moment for him, one that motivated him to come back stronger than ever and play seven more seasons, making the 2008 Pro Bowl as one of the oldest players ever to head to Hawaii.
As Carney discusses his game through the years, from his college days at Notre Dame to the NFL, it’s clear that his memory is photographic when it comes to his time on the field. He seems to remember every kick, every miss (there weren’t many) and every critical play that led to him getting his chance to make a difference. One of his most memorable moments was the 2005 game where he kicked a game-winning field goal against the Carolina Panthers following Hurricane Katrina, a win that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and helped to heal an ailing city.
Other memorable stories included a game winning field goal for the then 0-12 Chargers, where the team was so thrilled to not make the winless history books that the locker room “felt like we had won the championship” and the time he watched Scott Norwood’s famous “wide right” field goal try during the 1991 Super Bowl, knowing right when he saw the lace placement on the snap that the kick would miss.
And what about new memories for the next generation of kickers? Carney will certainly be instrumental in helping to shape them. With around 10% fewer kids playing tackle football each year, it’s common sense that worried moms would push their kids into becoming kickers or punters. With Carney’s DVD, they can start early.
However, Carney knows that parents can’t force their kids into a position. “Kids never want to do the thing that their parents want them to do,” he says with a laugh. Instead, they can look up to the great NFL kickers like Carney as an example of what’s possible.
The biggest myth about kickers? That they are not athletic. This may have been true years ago, when foreign born soccer players filled out the kicking ranks and didn’t focus on conditioning, but nowadays, says Carney, kickers are full blown athletes who have not only the physical skills but the mental toughness to prepare for high pressure situations. Good kickers, he says, develop methods to think themselves through situations, and avoid distractions. He gave the example of Adam Vinaiteri, the Colts kicker who is currently the oldest player in the NFL at 42. Vinaiteri has found ways to take himself out of the NFL grind in the offseason, taking up hobbies like hunting and giving his mind and body a break.
At the end of my lively and enjoyable conversation with John Carney, I knew that my perception of kickers was forever changed. A true athlete, motivator and leader, Carney seems just the right person to lead the next generation of special teams players to glory both on the field and throughout their lives.
By the way, you can order your “Kick, Punt and Train Like a Pro” DVD at Carneycoaching.com. It’s $79.00 but you can receive $30 off with coupon code “carneycoaching” (expires 12/20).