David Akers made 39 postseason field goals, including a record 19 in a row, in his marvelous 16-year NFL career, but it's the misses that haunt him to this very day, more than two seasons after his final kick.
"I'd like to think that, over the years, I've tried to remember the positive playoff kicks that I made" said Akers, who kicked for the Eagles from 1999 through 2010, "but I still have the Packers playoff game (2010 season, 21-16 loss at Lincoln Financial Field) that comes up in my nightmares (Akers missed field goal attempts of 41 and 34 yards). Those weren't kicks that came at the end of the game, but they really were costly. That 34-yarder was really inexcusable. You've got to make the kick."
Akers, then, understands the pain that Minnesota placekicker Blair Walsh is experiencing after Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal on Sunday in the Vikings' 10-9 loss to Seattle in an NFC Wild Card playoff game. Walsh, who made 34-of-39 field goals during the regular season, had connected on attempts from 22 yards, 43 yards and 47 yards prior to his miss.
But with 22 seconds remaining in Sunday's fourth quarter, Walsh trotted out for a kick that would have given the Vikings a lead in the frigid minus-6-degree temperatures. Everything pointed to him making the kick, including a career in which he had made 33-of-34 kicks inside 30 yards.
Kevin McDermott snapped the football and holder Jeff Locke got the ball down, albeit with the laces pointed at Walsh (6 o'clock on a clock) rather than at the preferred 12 o'clock. And unlike in the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the fact that the laces weren't out should not have been a determining factor.
"We've all made the game-winning kicks and we've all missed them," Eagles placekicker Cody Parkey said on Monday at the NovaCare Complex. "If you kick long enough, you're going to experience both. We all felt bad for him and it's a kick he would like to have back. He knows he should still have made that kick. It was 27 yards out, and even with the laces pointed at him, it's a kick he should make.
"He was three for three and he has a kick from 27 yards and he's maybe thinking, 'They gave me a cupcake field goal to win the game. I'll be a hero.' I don't want to say that he eased off, but he didn't finish the kick. He kind of fell off the kick a little bit. You have to act like it's a 50-yard field goal there and lock in and kick through the ball."
Walsh's missed chip shot was one of the many talking points from a crazy Wild Card weekend, and excellence on special teams was one of the takeaways. Kansas City stung Houston with a game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown, Minnesota opened the scoring against Seattle after the Seahawks botched a punt and Walsh badly hooked the easy kick that would have likely given Minnesota its first playoff victory since the Vikings defeated Dallas 34-3 on January 17, 2010 in the NFC Divisional Round.
It should have been an easy kick, despite the painfully cold temperatures. But nothing, as we know, is a given in this league.
"For Blair, nobody, unfortunately, will remember the three field goals that he made before that. They were tough kicks," said Akers, who is living in the Nashville area with his family. "The weather conditions were extreme. But I don't make a big deal about the laces being pointed inward – when the laces are pointed at six (on a clock), it doesn't really affect the flight of the ball, it affects the power on the ball – other than it impacts communication and timing. The kicker thinks, 'Is the holder going to spin the ball here? Should I go ahead and go through my motion?'
"My heart goes out to Blair. I've been in that situation. He was professional about it after the kick and I give him great kudos for that."
The playoff loss to Green Bay, the final postseason appearance for head coach Andy Reid with the Eagles, was the last game Akers played here. He holds virtually every Eagles kicking record and has played the most games in franchise history (188) with the most points scored (1,323). Akers signed with San Francisco after the Eagles released him prior to the 2011 season and made 44-of-52 field goals with the 49ers in 2011. He played with the 49ers in 2012 and then finished his NFL career with Detroit in 2013, at the age of 39.
Akers' 19 consecutive postseason field goals made with the Eagles from 2000-04, 2006 and 2008, is an NFL record. His advice for Walsh, and for anyone in that situation, is to move forward with confidence.
"I was a little different with that, in my crazy mindset," Akers said. "Whether it was the first extra point or the last kick of the game, I felt every kick meant the difference in a game. I was a nervous wreck as a kicker. I had an endorsement deal with Pepto-Bismol (a medication used to calm an upset stomach) because that's just the way I was. When you look at those situations for the playoffs, you understand what the moment means for your team, your organization and the city and the fans, everything you worked for all year long. You're feeling the heartbeat, that's for sure.
"You don't ever forget it. But you have to move forward and build upon it and go to the next game. For me, I missed those kicks against Green Bay and that game happened to be my last one in an Eagles uniform. I didn't want to leave the team, but that's the way it went. That's the business. My next kick came in a different uniform and I kicked a 59-yard field goal. You don't forget. But you keep working at it and try to keep getting better and you move on."
Parkey knows Walsh from their days growing up in Florida and competing against each other in kicking competitions. Later, Parkey kicked for Florida and Walsh kicked for Georgia and the two were SEC rivals. When the time is right, Parkey will reach out to his friend.
"I'll probably give him a few days to see how things settle down," Parkey said. "I know that if it happened to me, I wouldn't want 200 people texting me saying, 'It's all right, it's all right.' He'll move on. He's a great kicker. He's still got a lot of confidence. In a couple of weeks, he'll be back to normal."