With all the major problems facing the Vikings – quarterback play, offensive line, defense, lack of wide receiver talent – naturally the focus of conversation right now is the punting of Chris Kluwe. Of course. Because when a 5-2 team gets absolutely crushed at home by a 2-4 team, it’s all the punter’s fault.
Well to be fair, Kluwe did play a fairly significant role in the defeat last Thursday. His bad punts early in the first half contributed to Tampa Bay dominating field position and running out to a 13-0 lead. And Kluwe, being a stand-up guy, has no problem owning up to his part in the debacle. “The main problem is the fact you can’t have a 20-yard punt in the first quarter on a long field against a team and give them momentum like that,” Kluwe said to the media on Wednesday. “That can’t happen in the NFL, because what it does it that gives Tampa Bay a chance to drive down and score and that puts us in a tough position.”
For whatever reason Kluwe’s kicks have been off for much of the season and that showed up again vs. the Buccaneers. It hurt worse against Tampa just because of the nature of the contest and how much the Vikings offense struggled. Of course Kluwe is doing everything within his power to rectify whatever is wrong with his game. But that isn’t enough for some people. Some out there believe Kluwe’s head is in the wrong place and that’s affecting his performance. Specifically, these critics are pointing to Kluwe’s outspoken social activism – mostly on behalf of the gay marriage cause – as evidence that he doesn’t care enough about his craft.
Kluwe has an answer for these critics. And truth be told I don’t think the haters are going to be placated very much. In fact they might be even more riled up. When asked about the people who give him grief for not paying enough attention to his punting duties, Kluwe said, “Generally I just ignore them. I read all of them, but I don’t really think about them. The funny thing is if you look at that argument, the basic foundation of that argument, it’s that, ‘Why don’t you worry more about a children’s game than basic human rights?‘ And yeah, I’m going to generally go with the basic human rights on that issue.”
The “children’s game” remark is the part that will undoubtedly get a lot of people angry. In some people’s minds that characterization of football as something meaningless and childish will only reinforce the notion that Kluwe doesn’t take his job seriously enough and doesn’t care enough about winning. Which of course is absurd. If you’ve paid attention to Kluwe at all over the years you know he doesn’t subscribe to the usual rah-rah bullcrap about sports. He has an intelligent, adult perspective about the whole thing. He’s paid money to punt and he works as hard as he needs to at his craft. But he’s a man of varied interests and he’s not going to put football so high on his priority list that it takes away from the other things he cares about.
Kluwe’s position is clear. He wants to be a good punter but he’s not going to drive himself nuts worrying about it. And if people don’t like that, it’s their tough luck. But what do the Vikings think of Kluwe’s struggles? They’re clearly concerned, and this explains their decision to try out punter Brian Stahovich on Tuesday. Any team would do that in light of the way things have gone. Kluwe understands that. But that doesn’t mean the Vikings are looking to usher the controversial Kluwe out the door. On the contrary, Leslie Frazier believes Kluwe will clean things up. And no, Frazier doesn’t buy the argument that Kluwe is distracted by his non-football activities.
“Chris is a pro. He’s been able to deal with so many things in his career. He’s able to focus in these situations and focus on the task at hand and has been a very good punter, which he is,” Frazier said. “I don’t think anything off the field is distracting him. He knows how to focus on his job, and I fully expect him to have a big game for us on Sunday.”
And that’s the key of course. If Kluwe performs well against Seattle Sunday, most of this goes away. Kluwe will be important to the Vikings’ effort against the Seahawks. Seattle has a good defense and run game and want to control field position just as the Vikings do. So good solid punting and all-around special teams play will be paramount. I have no doubt that Kluwe will be up to the task. And if he’s not, there will be more heat from fans, and maybe he’ll even end up being cut. But if he is cut, it won’t be because he cares about causes or plays video games or has a rock band. It will simply be because he wasn’t good enough at his job. That’s how it goes.
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