Suisham's Toehold

By Mike Wise
Thursday, September 13, 2007

When the ball sailed through the goal posts on Sunday, just right of the middle, and the Redskins had won, Shaun Suisham had a thought:

"I could do this for a living."

Well, okay, the first thought was: "Oh my God! I just won a football game for the first time in my life! I can't believe it!"

But after that.

"There are a lot of guys out there who can kick a football," said Suisham, an affable kid from southern Ontario who sent the Dolphins packing in overtime. "Now that I'm in, I gotta hold on. I don't want to let it slip out of my hands."

Suisham (pronounced SWEE-zuhm) is a window into the prove-it-or-lose-it world of the Redskins. Clinton Portis needs to show he's healthy and hungry. A humiliated defense from a year ago needs to show it hasn't been defanged. Jason Campbell needs to show a relative pup can lead. Joe Gibbs and some of his staff of codgers need to prove they can coach in a kiddie-corps, video-obsessed league.

Suisham needs to prove something, too, that he can stay employed in a profession known for its job insecurity, that he can stick with an organization used to playing cut-and-paste with the kicking game.

Gibbs's second era has not produced any heir to Mark Moseley, who kicked for 13 years in Washington, from 1974 to '86.

It's telling that in 2006 -- the year free agent fortunes were spent on Brandon Lloyd, Antwaan Randle El, Todd Collins, Andre Carter, Christian Fauria and, yes, Adam Archuleta -- little or no thought was given to wooing Adam Vinatieri or Mike Vanderjagt.

Some pin that on Gibbs's loyalty to John Hall. In 2003 Hall was the last kicker to play in all 16 games for the Redskins. But injuries robbed him of his consistency, so Ola Kimrin, Nick Novak and others were brought in to fill the void. To date, no one has. Suisham is the eighth kicker to work with long snapper Ethan Albright in seven years.

Suisham knows the opportunity is there to create a niche. Now, if he can just leave last week behind and focus on Philadelphia on Monday night. Signed by the Redskins after he was released by Dallas last fall, he was 4 for 4 against the Eagles in the teams' last meeting in December. He wants you to know he played at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night two seasons ago with the Cowboys. He points out that he also played there with Bowling Green three years ago against Temple. "We scored 70 -- I kicked 10 extra points," he said, proudly.

Hey, you hold on to what you can in this line of work.

More than any other profession in the NFL, kicking is a shark-tank business. No one is evaluated on his body of work. Your misses have more to do with your employment than your makes. Remember Vanderjagt, the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history? He's at home in Florida after flaming out in Dallas, awaiting another call for yet another tryout. He would take Suisham's job in a minute if it were offered. In fact, he already did.

Vanderjagt, also from Canada, contributed to Suisham's departure from his first pro team. Vanderjagt's agent persuaded Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to pony up a nice contract in 2006, when Bill Parcells was starting to show trust in Suisham, then just a year out of college. Which is what any good agent is supposed to do, right? Except the guy also represents Suisham.

Other than his accuracy, Vanderjagt is best known for criticizing Peyton Manning's ability to inspire a team. Manning referred to Vanderjagt after the comments as "our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off."

Suisham is not close to Vanderjagt, but he harbors no grudge about Dallas, either.

"Yeah, that was a little weird but everyone knew Mike was going to end up in Dallas," Suisham said, calling it "business."

"Every kicker I've met, and everybody I've come across, we're kind of in it together," Suisham said. "Sometimes you have to rely on people to make a mistake for your own opportunity. You never want to see somebody do poorly, but sometimes you need someone to do poorly to get an opportunity. So it's kind of a weird thing.

"Like, when I didn't have a job, I found myself rooting for guys but at the same time hoping someone would screw up or get hurt. And that's terrible. That's terrible. But that's how you get your opportunity."

Suisham has this I-can't-believe-I'm-here genuineness. Twenty-five years old, with brownish-blond locks and a muscular torso, he looks as if he could be playing on the Capitals' second line.

Being Canadian, he wanted to play hockey as a kid. But he ended up as a self-taught kicker who almost accidentally ended up on the rosters of two Hall of Fame coaches.

"To say that I was working toward this five years ago, eight years ago when I was high school, or even a few years ago in college would be a lie," he said. "I was maybe thinking about the CFL. I never watched the NFL until I played in it. It's been a crazy path."

Suisham remembered his indoctrination to America's most popular sport -- a packed Missouri stadium his freshman season at Bowling Green. "I think it holds 50,000," he said. His first field goal attempt came from the left hash mark, a 43-yard try. "It came up short and right," he said. "I remember everything about that game. I was scared to death."

Six years later, he nailed his first opportunity for a game-winning field goal. Cornerback Fred Smoot has already given Suisham a nickname: Shazam.

"That one kind of makes me feel good, because he says it with so much enthusiasm," Suisham said.

Afraid of neither a big crowd nor a big moment, the player who won the opener on Sunday paused and smiled.

"To be here now, in front of 90,000 people, and to not be scared or nervous, but to just be excited . . . you can't get that feeling doing anything else.

"To be in a situation now where I'm excited and really enjoy actually being on a field is really special. I'm in a really good spot now."

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