Punters don't get a lot of respect - even the best ones. But even though the eyes aren't usually on them, they can be the difference between winning and losing a game.
Former Pitt punter Andy Lee's helped win his fair share of games over the years with the 49ers. Now he'll have the chance to win his biggest one yet - the Super Bowl.
Lee's been a heck of a player in the NFL. Whenever there's discussion about former Pitt players now in the pros, the most popular names are usually Lesean McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, and Darrelle Revis. But while Lee might not be on the field as much as them, he's had just as much success at his position. Lee is widely regarded as one of the league's best punters and is a four-time All-Pro (including making the team this year). Along with the other three, Pitt has some of the best players in the league at four different positions.
But Lee isn't just an All-Pro punter - he's a record setting one. He holds the 49ers record for most yards in a season, most career punts, and most career punting yards. And in 2011, he broke the NFL record averaging 44 net yards per punt. In addition, he's twice boomed punts over 80 yards in his career, among the highest in league history. Both of those punts are the longest in the NFL over the past decade. What's more is that at 30, Lee should have a long career ahead of him since many punters can play into their 40s.
To get to the Super Bowl, the 49ers had to rally against the Atlanta Falcons. Lee definitely played a part in the win, averaging a whopping 50+ yards per punt. He also made a clutch play late in the game, connecting on a 42-yarder. While a fairly modest punt, he got enough air under it that a defender held the return man, Harry Douglas, to a negative yardage return.
Lee's having a great year and his long snapper thinks it may be his best one due to an injury he's had to deal with:
"I think this is arguably his best year because he was battling a hand injury," said Jennings, referring to the broken thumb Lee suffered in Week 1. "He was able to keep his performance where it was supposed to be… It was a very impressive year working with Andy."
The focus won't be on Lee this week ... or next week. But by the time the game rolls around, he'll make an impact. He even still has time to represent Pitt - how can you not like that?