Booming success came naturally for Landeta

John Steadman

January 23, 1991|By John Steadman

TAMPA, Fla. -- Enumerating the mechanical factors that go into punting a football -- meaning angle of the drop, thrust with the kicking leg and how high and far it spirals -- can lead to a case of paralysis by analysis. But not for Sean Landeta, the verbose specialist of the New York Giants, who follows a simplistic method that he is pleased to say is self-taught.

That makes Landeta, the leading punter in the National Football League with an average of 44.1 yards this year, an absolute natural. He does it his way and never had a lesson -- although he gets paid to instruct at kicking clinics around the country.

"All I concentrate on doing is catch the snap from center and then kick the hell out of it," which makes it all sound so routine. But did you ever try to punt a football?

Many want to do it but too few can. How did Landeta start? Where did the thought originate? "I went to Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County and played one year of soccer, but I would go to an occasional Colts game and liked watching the kickers."

The Colts had David Lee, a first-rate punter, and Landeta studied his technique from a seat in the stands. Then, as he explains, "I learned by doing." Now, for the fifth time in a nine-year pro career, he's in a title game -- three with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the defunct U.S. Football League and now his second Super Bowl as a Giant.

Being able to punt meant he kicked his way to scholarship help at Towson State University after only one year of football at Loch Raven. "I've been lucky because coaches never tried to change me around. I had Ben Petrilli at Loch Raven, Phil Albert at Towson, Jim Mora with the Stars and Bill Parcells with the Giants. They left me alone."

In what amounted to an amiable, informative pre-Super Bowl kicking lecture, Landeta said the sweet spot for getting a punt to travel is when the ball is met by the part of the instep where the shoelaces are located.

Trying to isolate on the mechanics after an occasional punt goes awry isn't a part of Sean's scheme. "When I hit a bad kick, I don't search for answers. I just tell myself I messed up. Why try to make it complex when it isn't?"

The only thing concerning him about kicking against the Buffalo Bills Sunday is the rush. Landeta knows from experience the Bills pressure punters, so that means he has to get the ball off faster.

It forces him to punt with two steps, not his normal three. "In our first four games this year," he remembers, "I made the same adjustment. It's not a worry. Just kick the hell out of the ball, that's all."

Landeta is a Super Bowl kicker because he doesn't get his team in trouble. In nine years, in two different leagues, only one punt has been blocked -- against the New Orleans Saints in 1987. He remembers it in detail. "Yeah, they came from the left side. There was a mistake by our blockers."

Landeta, unlike most modern athletes, cares enough about what he does to have in-depth knowledge of the game's elite kickers. On dates with some of the best looking models in America, he whispers such soft-toned information in their divine ears as . . .

"Do you know Sammy Baugh had the greatest average of all-time, 45.1, but had 16 blocked in his career? And did you ever hear of Glenn Dobbs, who had a 47-yard average in the All-America Conference before he went to Canada? Horace Gillom was another great punter, the first to stand 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage."

Landeta kicks 60 or 70 times a day in training camp but in May and June, as he gets his leg in shape for a six-month grind, he'll punt 40 or 50 balls during a four-day-a-week schedule. "Numbers are all that matter to a punter. And I like that. In sports, you hear athletes saying they got a bad deal from a coach or general manager.

"But with a kicker, the averages tell the story. I hope I don't have to be on the field against Buffalo because it generally means if you don't have to kick the offense is scoring points."

Sean Landeta reduces the entire process, kicking and winning, to basic concepts. He doesn't want thinking to get in the way of performance.

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