“Whenever he misses, the entire stadium goes, ‘Ohhhh,’ ” the elder Small said. “And you can hear every single one in the stadium do that. And kind of the crickets chirp, and no one looks your way.”
He did not miss Saturday, but he might have, even from 28 yards, with two seconds left against No. 1 Alabama, a situation that might lead some to bring along a shovel with which to bury themselves. And somebody certainly did look his way: Texas A&M videographer and student Cam Worthy, who smartly shot footage of the Small family during the entire wait, snap, hold and kick.
As Texas A&M lined up and Alabama lined up and the scoreboards showed 38-38 and a loud stadium quieted, Worthy trained the camera to a place cameras seldom go to provide a window masses seldom see. There in varying stages of torment stood a bunch of branches on the family tree of Seth Small. In the faces of his newlywed wife, Rachel, and his long-trembling mother, Jennie Ann, anybody with a smartphone could witness the routine throes of those who know and love a kicker.
That video has gone countrywide and maybe even to other lands in which people might say, My God, that country is weird.
“I cannot believe, what’s it, 6, 7 million views, something like that?” Ricardo Small said, soon adding, “I think one of the reasons why it’s been viewed so much is that it’s very relatable.”
Parents do know the wonder and horror of watching their offspring play sports; it’s just that few parents know the wonder and horror of watching their offspring play American football place kicker in front of 106,815.
Think of whoever loves the long-great Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers and the budding Evan McPherson of the Cincinnati Bengals, two kickers who have made it big and made it surely yet couldn’t quite make it five times between them in the late going Sunday. (Crosby finally did, and from 49 yards, a marvel of righting a wayward mental ship.) Think of the Blankenship family, watching Rodrigo and his injured hip miss serially Monday night in Baltimore, a case of pain and pain.
The Smalls feel kicker sympathy deep in their bones at such sights, even if they have had a ball. In four seasons at Texas A&M, their firstborn from the Houston suburb of Katy has gone 60 for 76 (field goals, 11 of 12 this year) and 144 for 145 (extra points). They even have stood in Tuscaloosa (2018) in a second quarter of a typical road beating at Alabama when the crowd got revved up to menace a freshman who stood out there and banged in a 52-yard field goal, and wasn’t that both a kick and a kick?
“Here’s my little-fish kid, goes out there and plays, we get walloped,” Dad said. “But I remember the entire stadium just kind of shut up. How much greater can it be?”
Oh, it can be greater as recent evidence shouts, but they certainly won’t breach their humility, because an American football place kicker parent (AFPKP) always knows some wretched haunt lurks up ahead. All have had their hints at it.
At a spring game at Katy High in Seth Small’s junior year, Seth “absolutely shanked” a punt, Ricardo said, and so, “You hear the entire side of the stadium just groan,” because Texans do groan at spring-football shanked punts. “I think that stuck with us for a while, and we were like, ‘Oh, goodness,’ if this is how it starts. And you kind of go down that wrongful side of the road [of thinking].”
An AFPKP must learn to redirect the brain.
“As a parent it’s so fun to have people say something nice about your kid,” Ricardo Small said, so at times he has gone burrowing into the savage domain of message boards, finding them “98 percent fantastic” and “2 percent not,” and he has reasoned: “You try to eliminate the two. You have to practice it. You have to learn to do it.”
He and they know the “2” can drive the “98” toward clamor, that some evildoers have made death threats against visiting teams that have required police presence outside certain Texas A&M rooms and that a kicker might go into public memory forever for a single miss, as with Scott Norwood and Super Bowl XXV and nobody ever bothering to note the kick came from a hard 47 yards.
“It’s almost human nature to think about — and focus on — things that go wrong,” Ricardo Small said, “but you have to make a conscious choice to focus on what’s right.”
So the Smalls steel themselves.
They have their religious faith, as in pre-kick moments when Ricardo holds up five fingers meaning, “To God be the glory,” or four meaning, “Thy will be done.”
They have their empathy, as when Ricardo Small recently found the father of quarterback Zach Calzada near a concrete stadium portal in Arlington, Tex., after a loss to Arkansas. “I said, ‘Tico, how’re you doing?’
“He was having a little bit of a moment. I told him, ‘Nobody understands the pressures for a quarterback’s parents except maybe to a degree the kicker’s parents.’ ”
They have a ritual because, even if Ricardo tries to assure Jennie Ann, who gave a no-thank-you to commenting here, that what they wear and where they sit don’t matter, he does adhere to her request that he always sit to her right. It’s quite some path for a father who left Mexico City at 18 to enroll at Baylor and felt amazed by the huge grocery stores and whose son is fluent in knowledge of El Tri, the Mexican national soccer team, as reported lately by Jose de Jesus Ortiz in Our Esquina, a Latino sports website.
So Dad sometimes catches himself muttering pre-kick, “Good snap, good hold, good kick.” He learns of the outcome only by watching Seth, which requires intricate knowledge given the kicker keeps the reactions pretty much the same, including pointing skyward. It all went dreamily last Saturday night even in the run-up, with the kickers warming up within talking distance of the Smalls’ seats and Ricardo saying to Seth in the third quarter and in the fourth, “You know what’s coming, right?” With two seconds on the clock, Ricardo felt calm (unlike with the preceding extra point), even as Rachel and Jennie Ann clearly didn’t.
“Seth told me after the game, ‘I wish I’d hit the ball better,’ ” Ricardo Small said. “I said, ‘Did the ball go through the uprights?’ ” The ball did knuckle a little oddly, vaguely reminiscent of Crosby’s 51-yard game-winner up in that fur-flying Green Bay-Dallas playoff game of January 2017. “Sometimes the ball is way past the goal posts when it does something weird,” Dad said, and who in the world knows such a detail other than an AFPKP?
“You say that I hit it,” Seth Small said to a reporter afterward, “but it was not just me. It was the defense getting a stop, the offense moving the ball down the field and then Connor Choate snapping the ball, Nik Constantinou my holder and then all the guys blocking on the line. It’s not just me. I just get to do my little fraction of it.”
That’s nice, but in the cliffhanging world of the AFPKP, the frothing public always needs reminding.