NFL teams don't carry backup long-snappers. The rosters aren't big enough. If an injury happens during a game to the normal snapper, there's an emergency plan, and the team hopes to get through the game unscathed and then solve the problem later.
That's how Travis Goethel went from an unknown backup linebacker on the Raiders to a sympathetic punch line on "Monday Night Football."
When regular long snapper Jon Condo, who has been to the Pro Bowl twice for his ability to throw a spiral through his legs, was hit in the back of the head and unable to continue in the game, Goethel was the next man up to snap to punter Shane Lechler. ESPN noted on the broadcast that he hadn't snapped since high school, yet here he was trying to figure it out on national television.
Goethel's first snap bounced a couple of times on its way back to Lechler. Later, he rolled a ground ball back to Oakland's punter. Lechler was tackled on both flubbed snaps, losing 8 yards on the first one and 7 on the second. In between those botched snaps, Lechler got a punt blocked when he appeared to line up a little closer to the line of scrimmage than normal to help out the fill-in snapper. Lechler hadn't had a punt blocked since 2006.
"[Head coach Dennis Allen] asked if I knew how to long snap, and I was the only one at camp that stood out," Goethel said. "That's kind of how I got put in there."
Considering that Lechler is a record-setting punter, those three mistakes might have cost Oakland 150 or more yards in field position. There wasn't a black hole big enough for Goethel to hide in when the Chargers held on for a 22-14 victory, a game that might have been a lot closer without the three major special teams mistakes.
"He's worked on snapping the ball," Allen said. "Actually, he's done a nice job in practice. It's obviously a lot different when you get in a game-like situation. He was put in a tough situation and it hurt us."
Making the story weirder was an article by the satire newspaper The Onion from a couple years ago in which it joked that Goethel was drafted to start the beginning of the season "at realtor," but at least that "was far better than being asked to switch to car dealer, casino greeter, or long snapper."
Goethel -- who played in eight games as a rookie in 2010 and spent all last season on injured reserve -- was asked to snap in a pinch and became an unfortunate goat, considering he was performing an unfamiliar task that isn't on his normal job description. His night of infamy should make teams appreciate their normal long snappers a little more, and might make other NFL players think twice about volunteering for emergency long snapping duty.
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