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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hartley…Sends Himself to the Waiver Wire!

The New Orleans Saints parted ways with placekicker Garrett Hartley. He was waived in his sixth year with the team. Hartley joined the team in 2008 as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma University.

2009 was a L..O..N..G time ago! 1

Few kickers can expect shoe endorsement deals, offers to pitch sports drinks, or posters featuring them in Under Armour apparel. But die hard NFL fans know who their key contributors are. This goes double for Saints fan old enough to remember Morten Andersen. 

Andersen played for the Saints for 13 years between 1982 and 1994. Andersen, a semi-finalist for enshrinement in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 and a Class of 2014 finalist, was often the difference between the Saints winning and losing during his tenure in New Orleans.  Saints fans from his era and earlier have a keen appreciation of the importance of this often overlooked position.

Morten Andersen is a tough act to follow. 2

Garrett Hartley endeared himself to Saints fans quickly. Hartley was perfect on field goal attempts in 2008. He converted on his first 16 field goal attempts as a pro, his first 21 consecutive field goal attempts of 57 yards or less to start his career, and, including the playoffs, 27 out of his first 29 attempts (93%) in his first two seasons in the NFL.

He made himself a permanent fixture in New Orleans Saints lore with his perfect performances in his three games in the 2009 NFL playoffs, including Super Bowl XLIV. Hartley nailed a 40-yard in overtime of the 2009 NFC Championship Game to send the Saints to the Super Bowl, a play recognized by this blog as the most meaningful special teams play in franchise history.

Hartley was just getting started. He converted a Super Bowl record three field goals of 40 yards or more, keeping the Saints within striking distance as they engineered a comeback that tied for the greatest in Super Bowl history (Washington Redskins – Super Bowl XXII). Hartley’s contributions made the difference in bringing home New Orleans’ only World Championship in a major league sport.

Hartley was a featured guest at the Party with the Lombardi. 3

The strength of Hartley’s leg was undeniable. His reliability on so-called “chip shot” field goals was uncomfortably questionable. In a completely counter-intuitive pattern, from 2010 going forward, Hartley made 86% of his field goal attempts of more than 50 yards. Prior to this season, Hartley made 82% of his attempts from 40 yards or greater. His career average on all attempts is 81%. If you took and passed high school calculus, I need not explain further.

For the non-math nerds out there, it meant he had ice in his veins for the tough kicks and made coaches and fans what to scream and smack their heads for kicks that are “easy” by NFL standards. In the 2010 season opener, Hartley missed on two kicks, including a 32-yard attempt. Saints head coach Sean Payton was forced to pick up his red telephone in 2010 when Hartley missed a 29-yard potential game-winning chip shot in overtime at home against the Atlanta Falcons (just minutes after tying the score in the final seconds to send the game into the extra frame). “Pressure”? No problem. “Easy kick”? Hold on to your rabbit’s foot!

NOLA, we have a problem! 4

Sean Payton recognized the unique talent he had in Hartley. Most NFL kickers would be released or on notice after such a costly and unacceptable debacle. But again, 86% from beyond 50 yards…five for five in the playoffs…Super Bowl…it isn’t difficult to understand why Payton was not going to give up on this kid. Payton summoned the Fleur-de-Lis reserves, bringing in 46-year-old longtime Saint John Carney to work with Hartley and to fill in for a couple of games. Hartley returned and had a productive remainder of the 2010 season.

After missing the entire 2011 season with an injury suffered in preseason, Hartley was serviceable in 2012, perfect on extra-points and kicks under 30 yards and 5 of 7 from 40 yards and beyond. In 2013, the wheels came off.

Payton was forced to pick up his red telephone again after a horrendous three game stretch in which Hartley missed four out of six field goal attempts, including two attempts under 40 yards. Five kickers (including Hartley’s eventual replacement, veteran Shayne Graham) were brought into Saints camp to workout – a clear message that Hartley was on thin ice.


Al Pacino had a line in the football themed, dramatic movie, Any Given Sunday (1999) that stuck with me: “If you’re going to fuck up, fuck up BIG!” Hartley’s last game as a Saint brought that quote to mind.

Hartley missed two short field goals: a 36-yard attempt that was blocked not because of a missed blocking assignment, but because Hartley’s kick was on an unnecessarily low trajectory typically seen when the line of scrimmage is at the 35-yard-line or farther from the end zone. His second miss, and final kick as a Saint, would be great slapstick comedy had it not cost his team a chance to remain in the game.

Hartley duck-hooked a 26-yard chip shot that may have hit the Side Judge for all I know. The kick should have put the Saints within a touchdown of tying the St. Louis Rams, with one Saints timeout left and nearly two minutes remaining in the game, after trailing by 24 points in the 4th quarter. His career with the Saints went with the Saints hopes in that game: gone.

Everyone planning on playing next week: take you hands off of your hips. 5

While the end of Hartley’s career in New Orleans was bitter for all parties involved – fans, coaches, and (obviously) Hartley himself, he should be remembered as one of the greatest contributors in the history of Saints football – a Saints Hall of Famer. The Saints only had to reach the 35 yard line to have a good chance to add points to the scoreboard during his career in the Big Easy. Perhaps they should have stopped at the 35 at times!

In spite of this disastrous season, in which Hartley was at the bottom of the NFL for field goal accuracy at 73%, Hartley still added to his resume two game winning field goals (Week 2 vs Buccaneers, Week 10 vs 49ers) and a 55-yarder against the New York Jets that brought the Saints to within six points of the Jets’ lead. Still, unlike fishing, when you can throw the little ones back in the water, reliability for the “little ones” of field goal attempts is critical. It is analogous to the golf adage, “Drive for show; putt for dough.” The Saints could no longer afford to blow their dough on Hartley.

Regardless, Hartley’s position in Saints immortality is completely solidified. Four swings of his leg on field goals beyond 40 yards in the 2009 NFL Playoffs helped deliver a Super Bowl title to the Big Easy. The joy he helped bring to a fan base less than five years removed from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, which suffered as football fans for generations, will never be forgotten.

Forever frozen in time....
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