Rayner sets kickoff hang time record (unofficial)

Greg C.

Jun 1, 2005
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Marquette, Michigan
Interesting little article here by Dr. Z from the Sports Illustrated web site. Interesting enough for bye week, anyway.

Numbers game:
Rayner's record kickoff a chronic counter's dream
Posted: Thursday October 12, 2006 9:52AM; Updated: Thursday October 12, 2006 10:21AM

The date was Sept. 17, 2006. The Packers were playing the Saints in Lambeau Field, and with 4:18 left Green Bay scored a touchdown to cut the Saints' lead to seven points.

"Too much time left for an onside kick," Terry Donahue said on FOX.

It didn't mean much to me at the time, but the fact that Packers coach Mike McCarthy agreed with that observation was responsible for an NFL record being set -- a landmark record, a blockbuster, one that might never be topped.

Dave Rayner got set to kick off for Green Bay. He is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, 23 years old. Born in Rochester, Mich., on Oct. 26, 1982, a Scorpio. Perhaps that latter designation has something to do with the feat he accomplished on Sept. 17, because they say Scorpios occasionally are prone to unusual achievements. As an Oxford, Mich., high school senior he was named to the Detroit News Dream Team, and I'm sure that was a happier time for him than this last offseason was. After handling Indianapolis Colts kickoffs for 14 games, he was cut, re-signed and then cut for keeps when Adam Vinatieri was signed.

He was an out-of-work rookie, but the Packers liked his leg strength, so they decided they could keep an extra man on the roster and allow themselves the luxury of a kickoff specialist. As it turned out, he became the field goal man, too.

Rayner kicked off to the Saints. Foot met ball. "It was the sweetest hit I've ever made in my life," he told me a few days later.

The ball rose like a Tiger Woods four-iron. It kept climbing, finally landing deep in the end zone for a touchback.

"Really crushed that one," Ron Pitts said on TV.

I looked at my stopwatch. Yes, I time kickoff hang times. I time punts, too, and national anthems and anything else worth timing. And count anything worth counting. Rayner's number had to be off. Damn stopwatch. Always breaking down. The watch said that he had hung his kickoff 5.12 seconds. Can't be right. A punt with that kind of hang time is a boomer. You might see one out of 20 with a hang like that. And punts stay in the air almost a full second longer than kickoffs do.

The highest hang time I'd ever recorded was 4.64 by Tampa Bay's Michael Husted against the Bears in 1993 in the old Tampa Stadium. Husted was an underrated powerhouse kicker. His monster kickoff came a week before he set a club record with a 57-yard field goal against the Raiders. It was also the longest in the NFL that season.

I was at that Bucs-Bears game when Husted boomed that kickoff. In the locker room afterward I congratulated him on it.

"Yeah, and you know what one coach told me?" he said. "He told me he didn't want me hanging 'em too high because then our coverage would overrun it. Like it's a bad thing if our cover guys get there and hang around the returner while he's catching the ball."

He shook his head. "Freakin' coaches," he said.

Rayner's 5.12 had to be a mistake. I mean, Husted's 4.64 was way out in front of anything else I'd ever seen. Rayner would be comparable to, say, a runner gaining 400 yards in a game, or a golfer shooting a 55. I had the Packers-Saints game on tape, so I waited for the next timeout and then timed the kickoff again, and again and again. The highest I got was 5.15, the lowest 5.10. The average was 5.12, so that became my official number

I got a little shaky at this point and had trouble charting the rest of the Packers-Saints. I felt the way I did when the Fenway Park organist, John Kiley, set the record for the fastest national anthem I'd ever heard, with a nifty 51 seconds flat. Or at Honolulu's Aloha Airport when the Wiki Wiki buses weren't running and I realized, as I walked out to my gate, that this would be a record for most steps from front door to gate, in any airport in the world. And it was ... 1,385 steps. Or during the movie Vera Cruz with Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper, which had already set the record for most single shots fired in a film (1,103) and was on its way to something really spectacular when they ran in a damn gatling gun, thereby ending the tally (only single shots count).

A few days later I called the Packers, first to speak to Mike Stock, the special-teams coach, to confirm the record, since these guys time everything that goes in the air, and then to talk to Rayner himself. I introduced myself to Coach Stock. He was curious about why I wanted to talk to him.

"Did Rayner really hang his last kickoff in 5.12?" I asked him.

"Yeah, that's about right," he said. I mean, why wasn't he shouting, dancing, banging the desk?

"Have you ever seen one hang that long?" I asked him.

"Can't say that I have," he said.

Stock is one of the NFL's real veteran coaches. He's been coaching at all levels, including the USFL, for 42 years, handling every offensive position, plus special teams. That's a lot of hang times he's recorded. I could picture Stock looking at an earthquake and saying, "Kinda interesting."

"Have you ever gotten anything close to Rayner's hang time?" I asked him.

"Nope." Then he reflected for a moment. "I'd have to say it was rather unusual."

By God, somebody's got to share my excitement. I got hold of Rayner. A very pleasant, modest young man, as most kickers are.

"Sweet," he said. "It just felt so sweet. I knew I hit it as pure as I ever hit one in my life. But five seconds? That's kind of freaky, isn't it? I mean the most I'd ever hung one was maybe 4.3 in college, at Michigan State, but that was with the higher tees.

"I kind of hit the ball right in the middle. On a kickoff it usually goes up and then comes back a little. This one just kept going."

I asked him about the weather. The game report called the day "warm and breezy." The temperature was 78 degrees, the humidity 59 percent, with a 12-mph wind helping Rayner. I once heard that footballs hang longer in muggy, humid weather, but they stay up there pretty long in Denver, too, don't they? I also heard that a following wind wasn't supposed to be good for hang time because it pushed the ball down, whereas kicking into the wind, while providing less distance, kept it up there longer. I asked Rayner about all of this and he wasn't sure which way it was supposed to be.

I chalked it up to one of those idiot things you hear and just accept, without any proof. It was like one of the dopier things Howard Cosell used to say on Monday Night Football, about how a returner always breaks a long one when he fumbles the kick because the coverage team lets up, or some nonsense like that.

I asked Rayner if anyone told him how high his absolutely monstrous hang time had been. "Not until you just did," he said.

I told him I didn't think this record ever would be broken, because after 40 years of timing these things, I'd never seen anything close to it. I also told him that I couldn't believe how matter-of-fact everyone was about it.

"Oh, they're not matter-of-fact when I don't hit one all that well," he said. "They'll let me know about it."

Then he thought it over for a while. How many times does some New Jersey lunatic call you to tell you you've just done something that might stand up forever?

"Man, if I could just mirror that kickoff," he said, "I'd have a good long time in this league."

So there it is, one great day in the life of a numbers freak. Naturally I wouldn't call anyone in the Elias Bureau, which keeps stats for the league, because they would never understand this kind of record, which actually is the best of all kinds. It's obscure, something few people care about. Or maybe someone does? Anyone out there interested in my record for largest roster of names during the end of movie credits, or how many licks our tabby, Little Jake, took to finish off a piece of cantaloupe, which is her favorite fruit (she's the only cat I've ever heard of who likes fruit, which in itself might be a record)?

No one interested? I thought so. Which makes it even better yet.

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