There was one standout player on the field during last night’s game between the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams. Was it Jared Goff? Absolutely not. Khalil Mack? He wishes. Aaron Donald? Don’t make me laugh. The stud I am talking about is, of course, Rams punter Johnny Hekker.
Hekker, already considered the best punter in the league, and perhaps the best ever, used the national television spotlight to remind everyone just how good he is at 1) kicking the absolute hell out of the football and 2) making the football land exactly where he wanted it to. Hekker almost singlehandedly kept the Bears pinned to their own goal line throughout the Rams’ 24-10 victory. He punted the ball five times, with an average distance of 44 yards, and all five of those punts were downed inside the Bears’ 10-yard line. His best punt of the night was a 63-yarder that checked up beautifully and was downed at the Bears’ 6-yard line:
The Bears had Hekker (and, well, fine, their own offensive ineptitude) to thank for the fact that they didn’t run a play in the Rams’ red zone until late in the third quarter. According to USA Today, the average Bears’ drive following a Hekker punt lasted just 4.8 plays, and all of them ended with the Rams getting the ball back with excellent field position. Los Angeles scored 17 points on those ensuing possessions. So, yes, you can actually call Hekker the game’s MVP, which is probably why Rams head coach Sean McVay gave his punter the game ball.
But enough about Hekker’s stats and the concrete ways in which he affected the game—let’s just take a moment to appreciate how cool it is when he booms that pigskin into the high heavens. At their most basic, sports are a display of physical feats that impress us because we know how few people in the world can achieve those feats. That’s true of punting—no, you could not walk onto an NFL team and be serviceable punter—but there are so few ways to make the rote act of surrendering the ball back to the other team an interesting part of the game. That Hekker routinely manages to do this, by using an unorthodox style, walloping the ball great distances, and nailing his targeted landing zones, speaks to his greatness more than any statistic can. He’s the best at what he does, and his abilities are so far beyond the competition that it’s impossible for him not to stand out even in an NFL game populated by some of the largest, fastest, and most impressive athletes in the world.
It’s not impossible to imagine a kid watching last night’s game and going to bed thinking that they’d like to be a punter when they grow up. That’s the power of Johnny Hekker and his mighty leg.