What the World League of American Football was supposed to do, offer players a chance to further their professional ambitions, has fulfilled its objective. Subject: Kirk Maggio, punter for the Birmingham Fire, who continues to prove himself on the field and in the record book.
Maggio can kick the daylights out of a football. At UCLA, in 1989, he was second in the nation, by a mere fraction of a point, and was picked as the punter on The Sporting News All-American team. The Green Bay Packers drafted him on the 12th round, staged an intra-squad game where he averaged 53.5 yards per kick, and, for reasons known only to themselves, dispatched Maggio to the waiver list.
That's where the WLAF found him in its formative year. Now Maggio, only 23 and available for the signing, craves another chance in the National Football League. Punters, unlike no other position player, are easy to evaluate. How high and far can they move the ball?
Maggio, a Calvert Hall athlete, was headed for Maryland until UCLA watched him in a kicking camp operated by Dr. Raymond Pelfrey, a onetime Dallas Texan, Baltimore Colt, New York Giant and Packer. Suddenly, Maggio was enrolled in graphic arts at UCLA and ultimately emerged as one of the nation's foremost college kickers, averaging 45.3 yards per attempt.
"I think Kirk Maggio has the talent to kick in the NFL," insists Pelfrey. "It's just a question of getting an opportunity with the right team. He's a bright young man with a great attitude. I know teams are inquiring about him. He kicked in college for an impressive 45.3 and at Birmingham he was 41.9, which is first-rate production."
In the WLAF, Maggio's overall mark was barely behind the leader, Montreal's Chris Mohr but, more importantly, led the way in putting the ball inside the 20-yard line (19 times in 61 tries). His net punting average also was the best, 36 yards, which meant he had enough of a trajectory for the coverage to assert itself.
The springtime football concept, the world league, paid Kirk a base salary of $15,000 but he doubled the figure. He made $10,000 for leading the league in net punting and getting the ball to stop inside the 20. Plus he added $2,500 for selection as second team All-WLAF and another $2,500 for being on a playoff team.
"Birmingham and the new league was a great experience," he says. "The coaches were outstanding and the fans responded with immense enthusiasm. I liked everything about it. From a punter's viewpoint, it's no different kicking here than in the NFL. The fields are the same everywhere. Game situations, whether you 'pooch' or go for distance, are identical. I hope this time I have a chance to get a true test in the NFL. That's all any player asks."
Maggio's father, Andrew, a Baltimore-area insurance executive, is his most loyal follower. He made it to every game, including Barcelona, Frankfurt and Montreal. Another member of the Kirk Maggio Fan Club is the coach he played for in Birmingham, one Chan Gailey.
"First of all, he's a good athlete. He's not just a guy who stands there and kicks. He understands the game," Gailey says. "He's not just kicking for average. He knows it needs to be inside the 20 and realizes he has to get hang time as well as distance. He's aware of when you've got to get it out of there in a hurry, like when you're punting from inside your own 3."
Sean Landeta, the New York Giants' All-Pro Super Bowl punter, kicks with Maggio during the offseason, when they decide their legs need work. "I know what it takes to punt in the NFL and, believe me, Kirk is a tremendous talent," Landeta says. "When the Packers let him go I knew it was a mistake. His performance in the world league proves the case that this is one of those players who slipped through the cracks. Sure, he can kick in our league. Why not?"
Maggio's wait for an NFL call shouldn't take long. Attorney Anthony Agnone of Baltimore represents him in contract negotiations. What they agree on as a preference is a team to sign with that is in need of a kicker. The WLAF became a showplace -- where a reject had a chance to demonstrate his skill. A second chance will be his.