Wilkins keeps getting his kicks for the Rams
By Bill Coats
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Oct. 02 2004

Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins is returning to the scene of the crime.

On Dec. 27, 1998, after a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steve Bono to
running back Amp Lee, Wilkins' extra-point try sailed wide left.

It happened in the fourth quarter of the Rams' 38-19 loss to the ***** in San
Francisco.

Since then, Wilkins has been perfect: He will carry a streak of 247 successful
PAT tries into Sunday night's game.

Don't tell Wilkins, though. When asked if he realized how many extra points
he'd made in a row, he said: "Nope. Don't want to know."

Chris Massey, the Rams' long snapper, said: "We try not to think about any
streaks. Every time somebody starts talking about it, something happens and
kind of jinxes everything."

It's not really a superstition thing, Wilkins said. He simply prefers to
concentrate on upcoming challenges rather than past accomplishments.

"You've got to approach every kick the same," he said. "You can't ever just
think that it's good. As soon as you do that, you're in trouble."

Wilkins, 32, has a similar philosophy when considering his NFL-leading 163
points last season and the growing list of franchise records he holds.

"When I'm done playing, I'll sit back and think about them," he said. "Right
now, I'm just going to get that next kick and keep it going."

A long way to go

His next made PAT still will leave Wilkins 123 short of the NFL record of 371
in a row, set by Denver's Jason Elam from 1993 to 2002. But consider that when
Wilkins misfired in '98, he had connected on his previous 100. But for that one
miscue, he'd be at 348 and counting.

Interestingly, Wilkins' last miss came in San Francisco, where he spent two
years early in his career. He still holds the ***** record for field goals in a
season, with 30 in 1996. Returning to the Bay Area will "always have a little
sentimental value to it, just because that's kind of where I got my start,"
Wilkins said.

Wilkins has been the Rams' regular kicker since arriving in 1997 as a free
agent. He said he has never performed better than he has recently.

He reached 1,001 career points with a 53-yard field goal and two PATs in last
Sunday's overtime loss to New Orleans.

"There are times when you're kicking really good, and I've had that over the
last couple of years," said Wilkins, who is in his 11th NFL season. "Definitely
my confidence level this year and last year is at an all-time high."

And confidence, he said, is important to a kicker.

"I compare it to golf, when you step up on the tee and you know you're going to
hit the fairway," he said. "Basically, you just hope it keeps going through the
uprights and the confidence keeps building."

Field goal frenzy

Wilkins has been near-perfect on field goals, too, since the 2002 season. He
made 44 of 48 last year and is five for five this season. He has made his last
six tries from 50 yards or longer.

Couple that 92.4 percent success rate with his PAT streak and it's easy to
understand why Wilkins is one of the Rams' five captains and why his teammates
dubbed him with a nickname that he doesn't particularly like.

"We tease him all the time and call him 'Money,'" coach Mike Martz said. "But
that's what he's been. He's just terrific."

Last-minute Wilkins field goals decided three games last season, when the Rams
went 12-4 and won the NFC West title: His 28-yarder beat the ***** 27-24 in
overtime in San Francisco; his 31-yarder toppled the Bears 23-21 in Chicago;
and his 24-yarder forced overtime and then his 49-yarder beat the Cardinals
30-27 in Arizona.

The fact that kickers have topped the league in scoring in 14 of the last 20
seasons has amplified their value and helped them gain better acceptance among
their bigger, stronger teammates. No longer are kickers looked down upon as
single-skill freaks.

"It's definitely changed," said Willkins, who is 6 feet 2 and 205 pounds. "More
kickers and punters nowadays are better athletes and they're in better
condition. The bottom line is, yeah, we're not out there every day hitting and
banging heads like they are. So there's always going to be that little bit of
animosity. ... But if you look at all the games on a weekend, usually two or
three of them come down to field goals."

Wilkins played soccer through the seventh grade in his hometown of Youngstown,
Ohio.

"I missed sign-ups the next year and never played again," he said. "But that's
where I learned how to kick."

He was an all-state kicker at Austin Fitch High, where he also played
quarterback and free safety. At Youngstown State, he punted, too. The Eagles
signed him as an undrafted rookie in 1994, then he moved on to the ***** the
next year as a free agent.

Wide receiver Dane Looker is in his second season as Wilkins' holder.

"I don't know if most people understand how hard it is to be a snapper and
holder," Wilkins said. "We all have to be on the same page. There's three of
us, and we all have to work together. (It) makes my job a lot easier when all I
have to worry about is kicking the ball."