Chris Kluwe, Former Weekly Cover Boy, One Step Closer to Being the Oakland Raiders' Punter; Matt Leinart Shuffles Off to Buffalo
So flipping the channels Friday evening, I stopped on my beloved Raiders, noticed the score was 17-0 in the first quarter and assumed it must've been a repeat of a game from last season. Nope, the Silver and Yeech were just on their way to a 34-26 exhibition thumping by Da Bearz.
One thing that did momentarily pull me out of a funk: the sight of long flowing black hair out of the back of one Raider's helmets, partly obscuring the last name "Kluwe," as in Chris Kluwe, our Nov. 1, 2012, cover boy.
Such alterno-press attention for an NFL punter was warranted because of Kluwe's national reputation for marriage equality, something that saw him honored in April alone at the annual PFLAG National Straight for Equality Awards in New York City and the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County (The Center OC) Torchbearer Awards in Santa Ana.
The pride of Los Alamitos High School is also a geek god for his ownership of a tabletop gaming store in Costa Mesa, membership in a top-ranked World of Warcraft guild, authorship of his own sci-fi trilogy, mastery of the highest levels of Guitar Hero and inspiration for characters in both X-Com: Enemy Unknown and Shadowrun Returns. All of that "may make him the geekiest man in pro sports," Wired just observed.
If you check our archives, you can read more about some of Kluwe's unusual exploits as well as the dignified way he took the news that he would no longer be a Viking after eight seasons. His arrival in Oakland is for pretty much the same reason as his departure from the Twin Cities: an NFL team (Raiders/Vikings) looking to slash its payroll decided not to re-sign a veteran punter (Shane Lechler/Kluwe).
But going into Friday's pre-season game against the Bears, Kluwe was fighting for the job with Marquette King, who is entering his second season in the league. Kluwe has the veteran experience, but King has impressed with booming punts, including one against the Cowboys that tied up a returner who indicated fair catch but still fumbled the ball back to Oakland.
In training camp, class act Kluwe took it upon himself to mentor King, despite the possibility of mentoring himself right out of a job. The very verbal Kluwe explained to Bay Area reporters that his philosophy since joining the Vikings (on waivers) was not to compete for a job on one team but for all 32 NFL teams. Specifically, whether he or King winds up a Raider, the other of them could still land a spot on another squad desperately in need of a punter.
When it came to Friday's game, Raiders Coach Dennis Allen said during his Saturday evening conference call with reporters that neither Kluwe nor King punted well against the Bears. But after Allen had told the same sports journos going into the game that King had closed the gap with Kluwe, the coach is now acknowledging Kluwe may have the edge for the job permanently.
"The first punt [by King], I would have rather had a touch back on the first punt. He kind of mishit the other one. I don't think either one of the punters punted the ball all that great. I think Chris is a little bit ahead of Marquette right now, as a holder. I think that's going to have something to do with the decision that we make. I think it's still a good competition that we have going there and I anticipate the same plan going into this last week of the preseason: let these guys alternate and see who comes out on top."
Kluwe has been prone to wearing Google goggles on the practice field so fans can share the P.O.V. of an NFL punter:
You can see how relaxed he is working as a holder for place kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who had another veteran teeing it up for him for years in Lechler:
Kluwe has another thing going for him when it comes to long-time Raider fans (I'm talking those of us who were rooting for the team before it came to L.A.) Last season, when all NFL players wore patches on their jerseys to celebrate the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 50th anniversary, Kluwe added a yellow sticky note that read, "Vote Ray Guy."
That's a reference to the legendary Raider punter who may be the best to have every played that position. But despite being eligible for 23 years, Guy has never won a vote into the Hall of Fame.
The stunt cost Kluwe a $5,250 fine from the league, but it may have paid off in the end. The NFL senior committee just elected Guy one of two players eligible for the 2014 Hall of Fame class.
In other Orange County-tinged NFL news, Matt Leinart officially became a Buffalo Bill Monday, signing with the team in desperate need of a quarterback as its top two battle injuries.
Leinart, who is 30 (my how time flies), starred at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and USC, of course, before a pretty uneven NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans and, for the previous two seasons, the Raiders. In 33 NFL games (18 starts), the crafty lefty has thrown for 4,065 yards, 15 touchdowns, 21 interceptions and a 70.2 rating.
If Leinart catches fire up in Buffalo (a big if), he could one day wind up quarterbacking in Los Angeles again as the Bills are rumored to be on the short list of teams that could relocate in SoCal. So fight on, Matt!