In 1980, the Saints lost their season opener at home to San Francisco 26-23 with rookie kicker and number one draft choice Russell Erxleben missing two of three field goals from 30 and 34 yards. The second kick would have sent the game into overtime.
I remember interviewing Erxleben the next day and asked him how he had slept. “It was a long night,” he said. “And I saw every minute of it.”
After missing three of four between 30 and 39 yards that season, Erxleben was replaced by Benny Ricardo.
Two years later, Erxleben had attempted one more field goal as a Saint in 1982 – a miss from 25 yards. Shattered emotionally, he was soon gone forever.
In 1982 the Saints had another rookie kicker. Like Erxleben, he had some injury issues and a strong, but inconsistent leg. He made just two of five attempts that year, but the Saints stuck with Morten Andersen.
I wonder how well both Hartley and Sean Payton slept last night. As Hartley tossed, Payton probably turned over in his mind, “What do I have here?” The next Russell Erxleben or the next Morten Andersen?
It’s never easy dealing with kickers and Payton has already admitted to one of his few mistakes as the Saints head coach – replacing the accurate, but limited range John Carney after 2006 with Olindo Mare, who was replaced by Martin Grammatica in 2007, who was replaced by Taylor Melhaff in 2008, who was replaced by Garrett Hartley.
And now the turnstile at the position could spin again with Carney and Melhaff both reportedly waiting in line to get back in the big show.
Kicking is a lonely job. It might be the only position on the team where you’re ‘coached’ by someone who has never done it. Last year, after Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yarder in the waning seconds of regulation in the 15th game against Tampa Bay in an eventual overtime loss, I wonder how much of John Carney’s wise consul, as the Saints kicking consultant meant to Hartley’s resurgence?
He never missed again in the regular season or post season.
He’s missing now. Maybe he’s missing John Carney as a resource, not a rival. Make the wrong decision at the position and Sean Payton goes down an all-too-familiar path. Make the right one and that path probably leads to the playoffs and beyond.
Tough call. Very tough call.