David Akers’s Farewell Billboard on I-95
Kickers don’t get much respect in football. That’s one of the unwritten rules of the game. NFL highlights are the stuff of skull-rattling hits and 50-yard bombs, touchdown shuffles and collisions that make car wrecks look serene. Kickers prance in from the sidelines a few times each game. The only contact they make is usually with the football itself, unless someone takes out their leg or levels them on a return. In a game ruled by high-wire end-zone acrobats and barbarians down low in the trenches, kickers are porcelain dolls. In this town, you don’t praise dudes who use their feet as a weapon—you put a bounty on them.
David Akers is a different breed. Lost in all the hype over the Eagles and their free-agent shopping spree—hopefully Andy Reid made his players pledge “I will not tweet the words ‘Dream Team’ ever again”—is a move that, in any other season, would still be ruffling plenty of fan feathers. For the first time in 12 years, there’s a new leg responsible for converting extra points and field goals. Akers, the longest-tenured athlete in town, is now a San Francisco 49er. When the Birds picked Alex Henery in the fourth round of this year’s draft, the writing was on the wall. Akers was on his way out. Even after the playoff loss to the Packers, Akers spoke as if he’d played his last game in green. His grim forecast made sense—he missed two field goals that may have sent the eventual Super Bowl champs home in defeat. In an unusual moment of candor/finger-pointing, Reid admitted as much to the press.
What made those two botched kicks even more excruciating is that throughout his tenure here, Akers has been the backbone of the team. Thirty-four and 41 yarders? You knew he was money—until that day in January when he wasn’t. The true testament to what Akers meant to Eagles fans is what happened in the aftermath of that loss. No petitions to find another kicker. Few cries that Akers was washed up. When word got out that two days before that Packers game, his six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a cyst on her ovary, even the often heartless sports-talk radio callers sounded sympathetic. Akers had earned a mulligan after years of being someone the team could always lean on to slice through the swirling winds at the Meadowlands, or hustle downfield to lay out a block. Remember the game in 2006 when he mixed it up with the Giants sideline? This isn’t Bill Gramatica tearing his ACL while jumping around and celebrating. Akers is everything Philadelphia loves in its athletes—tough as those old-time leather helmets, blue-collar work ethic, and probably harder on himself than season-ticket holders or the media could ever be.
Akers also happens to be a stand-up guy who always made time for fundraising, charities like his Kicks For Kids initiative, and for his fans. If anyone needed more proof of what he’s made of, take a trip along I-95 and look skyward, to the billboard with his parting message: “Thanks Philly for blessing me for 12 years and for your support on and off the field.” Football is a sport, but first and foremost, it’s a business (see: 2011 lockout). The Eagles decided it was time for new blood in the kicking game. It hurt to watch Brian Dawkins leave, too, but truth be told, his best days are behind him, and there’s not much that “Weapon X” could have done to help last year’s marshmallow defense. Maybe they’ve made the right call on Akers. But listen to the crowd on October 2nd, when Akers returns to the Linc as a Niner. You’ll hear the respect that he’s earned as a kicker, as a football player, and as a man.