Transcript of Episode 7, Nov. 6, 2017
GAME SOUND: Allen will place the ball at the 31, making this a 41-yard try.
TREY JUNKIN: My fault. I feel like I messed up 53, 55 guys and a coaching staff’s chance at the Super Bowl ring.”
KING KAUFMAN: Trey Junkin played 281 games in the NFL. For precisely one of them, he played for the New York Giants. But if you’ve never met Trey Junkin, and you know who he is, I bet I know something about you. I bet you’re a New York Giants fan.
It’s January 4th, 2003 and the Giants are at Candlestick Park in San Francisco for an NFC Wild Card playoff game against the 49ers. They’re down by one but they’re in position for a game-winning field goal with 6 seconds to play. The TV camera looks through Junkin’s legs from behind as he crouches over the ball, ready to snap it. He’s been doing this, long-snapping on kicks, longer than anyone, ever. He says he can count on his fingers the bad snaps he’s made.
GAME SOUND: Bad snap!
KAUFMAN: This is one of them. The ball skitters along the ground. The play turns into chaos. In the next few seconds, multiple Giants, 49ers and officials screw up. The refs get it so wrong that the next day, in a move that’s rare for the time, the NFL apologizes to the Giants. The game shouldn’t have ended the way it did — with the Giants as losers.
JUNKIN: Bad snap. My fault. That 3.5 seconds? That’s me. I own it. It’s mine.
KAUFMAN: Junkin’s career as a New York Giant was over. It had lasted five days.
A decade and a half later you can say his name to Giants fans and a lot of ’em will know it. I asked New York friends what Trey Junkin meant to them. One texted back, way too quickly to have googled the date: “1/4/03. Worst day ever as a sports fan.”
On 1/4/03, Trey Junkin is sitting on the Giants team bus after the loss, waiting to leave Candlestick Park. 49ers fans are throwing full cans of beer at the bus.
JUNKIN: And I’m sitting here thinking “Is there any way I could go outside and try and catch one of those beers. I could really use a cold beer right now.” [Laughs]
KAUFMAN: You sign with the hottest team in football. They need to kick a field goal to get within two wins of the Super Bowl, and your bad snap ruins that attempt and ends not only the season but your career, one of the longest in NFL history. For two decades, you’re a well-respected, mostly anonymous perfectionist working in the game’s trenches. And then one bad play — your last one. That’s your legacy. That’s who you are for the rest of your life.
KAUFMAN: I’m King Kaufman, and this is Can’t Win 4 Losing. A podcast about losing. On this episode: How to make an entire fan base hate you forever in less than five seconds. Buckle your chinstrap. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Can’t Win 4 Losing.
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KAUFMAN: In the summer of 2002 Trey Junkin went to his 20th NFL training camp. He was trying to catch on with the Dallas Cowboys. But they cut him. It looked like the end of a career that, at the time, was the fifth longest in NFL history. When I mention this to him, he says it kinda pisses him off.
JUNKIN: I say this to people all the time, they never understand why. Because 20 sounds so much better than 19 [Laughs].
KAUFMAN: Twenty seasons?
JUNKIN: Twenty years. I would love to have said that.
KAUFMAN: We’re talking on a rainy spring day in the home gym he’s built in a barn outside his house in Winnfield, Louisiana. He still looks strong, and he works out a few local kids here, but he says he doesn’t use the gear much himself anymore. His body’s too sore and broken down after all those years of football.
In the fall of 2002 he was 41, and he was sore then too, with a bum knee among many other ailments. But he stayed in shape, and he waited for the phone to ring. Somebody’d need a long snapper, and he figured he could tough it out one more season.
JUNKIN: And I was mentally prepared to do that, suffer through that pain every day, so that I could get that 20th season in because I’m a greedy asshole.
KAUFMAN: But nobody called. So in November he officially retired. And in December …
JUNKIN: here comes my eldest son. And he goes, “Hey, you got a phone call.” So I was like “OK.” And he goes “No, the Giants are on the phone.” And I was like “Bullshit.”
KAUFMAN: No, dad, really. It was Ernie Accorsi, the general manager of the New York Giants. Their deep snapper’d gotten hurt.
JUNKIN: He goes, “Think you got another game in you?” I went, “I just sent my retirement papers in.” He goes “Well, we want you to come play. Our deep snapper just went down.” I was like, “Tell you what. Give me a phone number, I’ll call you back in 30 minutes.”
I looked at my wife and I was like “Sit down.”
KAUFMAN: Junkin got a pen and paper and wrote out the 12 teams that were in the playoffs.
JUNKIN: We went through every team, and the Giants had the best roster and the best chance of getting a Super Bowl ring. And I’ve already said I’m a greedy asshole. And I was like “I don’t have a Super Bowl ring.” I really wanted a Super Bowl ring. In fact, I probably would have got the tattoo of it on the side of my face or something.
KAUFMAN: He went down to the high school, put his shoulder pads and helmet on, and snapped to his son. Perfect.
JUNKIN: And I’d made this deal with my wife. I said if I can’t run under a 4.5 40, I’m not gonna play football anymore. It means I’m too slow to play. I can’t run with the kids anymore. So I get out there and I said OK.
I ran 4.49, 4.5 flat. And I went back and I told my wife. I don’t know that I can run. And she was looking at me, goes “Really? All you gotta do is get to the sidelines.” [Laughs] I said “I have to be able to cover a punt, you know.” She was like “Seriously? That’s just stupid. Just snap the ball. That’s what they’re paying you for.”
I called him back up, I said “Yeah, I can do it.”
KAUFMAN: Why would the Giants want a guy who couldn’t even run down the field? Because long snapping is a specialty, and Junkin was a specialist. In fact, he was one of the first. Coming out of Louisana Tech, he’d been drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Bills as a linebacker, but at the scouting combine, just to help out, he’d volunteered to do a few long snaps in drills.
JUNKIN: So we go to Buffalo and [chuckles] they put up a list of special teams, and I’m the starting deep snapper. And I’m like [laughs] I haven’t snapped in a football game since I was like 12. But that was the hook. That’s how I stayed in the league as long as I did.
KAUFMAN: And that’s pretty much the story of Trey Junkin. After brief stops in Buffalo and Washington, he had long stretches with the Raiders, Seahawks and Cardinals. He played a little tight end. He caught 17 passes along the way, seven of them for touchdowns. But really, he was a long snapper. He took his craft seriously. Everything there is to know about snapping a football, he knew it.
JUNKIN: I can’t sell anything. I’m a horrible salesman. I can’t really do anything else. So I wanted to know everything there was to know about football. Not just the X’s and O’s. I actually knew how much a chartered airplane cost.
KAUFMAN: He took it to extremes that got the attention of his coaches. Not necessarily good attention.
JUNKIN: Dave McGinnes once said, when he was the head coach for the Cardinals, “Trey, you’re the strangest person I’ve ever met.”
I loved the whole thing. I loved the lifting, I loved the running, I loved practice. I loved training camp. Everything about it I loved. And it’s kind of funny because thinking back on it, I loved everything about it, except the games. [Laughs]
KAUFMAN: Why didn’t you like the games?
JUNKIN: I tried to make every snap that I took a game snap, mentally. But then you get to the actual game, and everything that’s going on in the game and surrounding the game, the stress level, just everything that goes into it. Yeah, this is what you’re getting paid for, but the fun part is everything getting to there. For me, the game was literally an exercise in “Crap, let’s get this over with. How much time on the clock? Really? Come on, come on, come on, come on.
KAUFMAN: So that bad snap at the end of the playoff game on January 4th, 2003? Maybe you’re thinking the pressure was too much. He just choked. But I don’t know. You don’t stick around for 19 years, plus one last playoff game, if you choke under pressure. There must be more to the story.
Here’s the first part: When the Giants called, they wanted Junkin to come in and be a long snapper. That means punts. Not short snaps, meaning field goals and extra points.
But at Junkin’s first practice, head coach Jim Fassel has a request for him after the field goal team misses some kicks.
JUNKIN: “I know you didn’t sign up for this. Go in there and snap. Let’s just see.” Snaps were perfect. Laces. Everything. So, I’m like, OK, he made a few kicks. We ended the practice well. I’m still not doing it. That guy’s doing it!
KAUFMAN: Here’s the next part of the story: Where’s the film?
JUNKIN: Generally the night before the game, you watch film of the team you’re fixing to play. We didn’t see anything on the 49ers in the special teams meeting. I’m a film fanatic. I’m the guy that goes home and watches it, to the point where the wife literally is turning the TV off and going “Pay. Attention. To me. You have kids.”
KAUFMAN: Film or no, head coach Fassel stopped Junkin outside the room and asked him to snap on placekicks.
JUNKIN: “Coach, I have not practiced with these guys. I don’t know who they are. And that triangle — snapper, holder, kicker — that’s a big deal. There’s a million things that can go wrong. And there’s only one thing that can go right.” [Laughs].
But there’s a ton of things that can go wrong. And that includes who the guy sitting next to you. Is the guard going to lean on you? Are you used to the guard leaning on you?
KAUFMAN: The next day at Candlestick Park, Junkin gave Fassell one more chance to change his mind.
JUNKIN: I asked him before the game, I said “Jim, you sure you want me to do this?” I go “There’s a lot of shit going on, and this guy’s been doing it. He’s used to these people. Why don’t you let him do it?”
And he’s like “No, I feel more comfortable with you doing it. Just mentally, I think you’re the guy.” I was like “OK. I’ll do it.”
So we get out there for the first damn extra point, and I’m like, I got people leaning on me. I’m totally out of my element. I’m like holy crap, I just hope the ball gets somewhere back there. You know? And it did.
KAUFMAN: Junkin snaps without incident on four punts by Matt Allen and five extra points and a chip-shot field goal by Matt Bryant. The Giants build a 38-14 lead with four and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.
And then the 49ers mount a furious comeback, led by quarterback Jeff Garcia and receiver Terrell Owens. With a little over three minutes to go the score was 38-33 Giants. Matt Bryant lines up for a 42-yeard-field goal to extend the lead, with Matt Allen, the punter, holding.
JUNKIN: I’m used to snapping in a line. Straight back. In pregame warmup, in all the snaps, everything was straight back.
KAUFMAN: Now, for one of the biggest kicks of his career, Junkin looks between his legs and …
JUNKIN: Well, where are you? You’re not behind me.
KAUFMAN: The Candlestick Park field was notoriously bad, one of the worst in the NFL. Now, three hours of January football’s been played on it. The kicker, Bryant, had scooched over a little in search of a decent patch of turf to kick from.
JUNKIN: The official can put the ball anywhere he wants to. I can line up next to the ball, and I’ll grab the ball and put it here. Nobody has ever said a word. They never even get it.
So if you don’t like the spot that’s right behind that, and you want to be over here. Tell me. I will get the ball and put it over here for you. Didn’t happen. All of a sudden he’s just not back there. I’m like oh shit. Now I’m trying to snap at an angle, and I got some guy leaning on me, in that direction. So now I’m trying to fit it around my leg.
GAME SOUND: Second worst percentage in the league from this distance, this range. Forty-two yard try.
JUNKIN: Ball came out funny, of my hands, because I was trying to aim it and not snap it. And so the ball floated back there and he missed the kick.
GAME SOUND: Awful! Yanked wide left. Bad snap.
JUNKIN: My fault. I should be able to react to any of that, no problem.
KAUFMAN: When we come back: The game’s on the line … Problem. The Trey Junkin story continues after a short break.
* * *
KAUFMAN: After Trey Junkin’s bad snap that led to a missed field goal, the 49ers take over on their 32, trailing 38-33. They race 68 yards in less than two minutes. Touchdown. Garcia to Tai Streets. The two-point conversion fails and it’s 39-38 49ers with a minute and five seconds to go.
After a squib kick the Giants start near midfield. Two completions from Kerry Collins to Ron Dixon and a third to Amani Toomer take them to the 49ers 23. They call timeout with 6 seconds to go. The kicking team trots on to the field. A 41-yard field goal by Matt Bryant would win it. Matt Allen the holder. Trey Junkin the snapper. The camera peers between his legs. He reaches down and cradles the ball.
JUNKIN: Why you flew from San Francisco to talk to me about this, that I’ve talked to hundreds of people about: I had a shitty snap. It was a bad snap. It was my fault. I was not thinking about snapping the ball, I was thinking about “Just ease it back there.”
GAME SOUND: Trey Junkin snapping it. Bad snap!
KAUFMAN: The ball skitters along the ground.
JUNKIN: “Just ease it back there.”
Dumbass. You’re not supposed to be thinking about anything. You’re supposed to be thinking about “Set.” Not even “Set.” “Sss. Sss.” That’s the only thing in your head. And I’m thinking about “Ease it back there.” And it’s my fault. I let go of the ball, it was my fault. That point 8 seconds — actually it’s not even .8. It’s literally .35? Maybe? Seconds? Of that whole game.
GAME SOUND: Allen couldn’t get it down and now he fires …
KAUFMAN: The holder, Matt Allen, scoops the ball up. He could spike it or sprint outside the tackle and throw it away. It’s third down, so the Giants would have another play. They can line up for another kick.
JUNKIN: Everything after that? It’s not my fault.
KAUFMAN: Allen does sprint toward the sidelines, yelling “Fire, fire, fire.” He’s always said the Giants practiced the so-called fire drill for that very situation. He throws a wobbly pass downfield for lineman Rich Seubert, who’s around the 5 yard line. With the ball still in the air, 49ers linebacker Chike Okeafor drags him down. Pass interference.
GAME SOUND: They’re going to get pass interference on that play!
KAUFMAN: Penalty flags fly. Okeafor sags on the grass, a guilty man. But the officials say the penalty is on the Giants: ineligible man downfield. If Seubert is ineligible, he can’t be interfered with. The game is over. The 49ers have completed one of the great comebacks in NFL history.
Seubert had checked in and lined up as an eligible receiver. It was pass interference. Other Giants were downfield illegally, so it should have been offsetting penalties. Replay third down. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would later say it was the worst officiating blunder of his tenure. Junkin faced the reporters, told them it was his fault. He said “I’d give anything in the world, except my family right now to still be retired.”
After he faced reporters he faced his phone. First, his wife.
JUNKIN: She’s crying. “Are you gonna be OK? Are you gonna be home?” I said “Look dear, I’m gonna be fine. Everything’s gonna be OK. I’ll be home in a couple days.”
So Steven Anderson calls me, behavioral psychologist, friend of the family, and he started going over the grieving process. [Laughs] And I’m like, “Steven. Nobody died, OK?”
KAUFMAN: Junkin went back to New York with the team and said the same thing to reporters there. He says two of his most famous teammates, defensive end Michael Strahan and tight end Jeremy Shockey, thought he was a fool for subjecting himself up to the New York media pack.
JUNKIN: And Strahan was like, I don’t know if he’ll say it now but at the time he said “Hey, you weren’t on the field with the defense when we gave up 24 points in the second half.” And Shockey goes “Yeah, and you damn sure weren’t on the field when I couldn’t catch a pass and we couldn’t get a first down.”
And I was like “Guys, it’s not about you. You guys did what you did at the game. That’s what you do. I did what I did.” I’m not gonna hide, I’m not gonna point fingers. I’m not gonna — as some of the members of the Giants did, I’m not gonna throw people under the bus, I’m not gonna name names. Everybody played the game, everybody was there.
KAUFMAN: Back home a few days later, Junkin had one more thing to do before his career was really over.
JUNKIN: Put my pads on, got my football, got my helmet, went out to the high school, snapped 40 footballs. 40 perfect footballs. Short snaps. Moved out to 15. Snapped one football, 15 yards. Boom, hit the pole.
Last snap I snapped was perfect, with a shoulder pads and helmet. I was done playing. I have other things that I have to do, like try and stay healthy enough to soak the NFL for enough retirement money to make ’em pay for it, you know?
KAUFMAN: Does it piss you off that that’s how your career ended, that it ended on such a nightmare of a play?
JUNKIN: The simple answer is yes. The real answer is no. Believe it or not, there’s a whole lot more to me than playing football. And I was never what you would say is “Oh, I’m a football player. That’s what I am.” Football was a job. It’s not who I am.
KAUFMAN: So who is he? A retired football player. A family man. He says he’s had some poetry published. He’s done a little coaching, a year in Canada, helping out with his son’s high school team, mentoring a local kid he says is going to be the best long snapper in the country.
We talked for several hours on that rainy day, and a lot of what he talked about was health.
JUNKIN: I can’t go to the chiropractor anymore because they won’t touch me because if you look at an X-ray of my neck, the bone adhesions, the bone spurs …
[See below for a transcript of Junkin’s words, which run in the background in the episode.]
KAUFMAN: His own, when I asked him about it. Aside from these physical symptoms, he says he has memory problems stemming from multiple concussions, most of them undiagnosed. He usually didn’t even miss a play.
But he gets really heated when he talks about the health and welfare of his former NFL teammates and foes. So many are dead or hurting, struggling with dementia. He’s angry at the NFL for not taking care of them. “Don’t get me started,” he’ll say. And then he’ll start.
As I was about to get in my car I told him I’d be in touch when there was something to listen to. He said I’d have to remind him who I was. Within a week or two, he’d have no memory of me.
JUNKIN: You know, just all kinds of things. But the reality of it is, having known this, I would still do it again in the blink of an eye.
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Trey Junkin talking about his health (Note, the tape is lightly edited):
I can’t go to the chiropractor anymore because they won’t touch me because if you look at an X-ray of my neck, the bone adhesions, the bone spurs, it goes straight up and down. There’s supposed to be a curve to your neck naturally. There is none. The discs are starting to degenerate in the base of my neck, at the base of my spine. Five knee surgeries on my left knee … The knee should be replaced. Pulled a plantar fascia in my left foot my last year, and that’s literally, that and the left knee, kill me. Had Mumford’s on both shoulders so the shoulder, the arm doesn’t sit in the socket correctly. [Mumford Procedure is a type of surgery.] … Four on the right, three on the left. Four on the right elbow, three on the left elbow. The left elbow needs another surgery. Had a misdiagnosis of a sprained ankle which actually was a broken leg, above my right ankle. You know, just all kinds of things. But the reality of it is, having known this, I would still do it again in the blink of an eye.
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KAUFMAN: Can’t Win 4 Losing is written, edited and produced by me, King Kaufman, with mastering and production help from Geoffrey Redick. Our logo was designed by Chris Morris. Visit him at ChrisMorrisIllustration.com.
To go behind the scenes on Can’t Win for Losing, to see photos and get more information on the stories and music in the podcast, go to our website, CantWinPodcast.com.
Special thanks for this episode to Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News.
Our opening theme is Big Swing Band by Audionautix at Audionautix.com. The closing theme is “Can’t Win For Losing” by Johnny Rawls, courtesy of Deep South Soul Records. Go to Johnny RawlsBlues.com to buy all of his music and find out when he’s going to be playing near you — chances are he will be.
Other music in this episode included “In the West” by Kevin MacLeod at Incompetech.com. And “Room With a View” by Jahzaar, that’s Javier Suarez. He’s at BetterWithMusic.com. We used both under Creative Commons licenses.
Subscribe to the show and write a review if you would, it helps us a lot. Follow us on Facebook at Can’t Win 4 Losing — that’s the number 4. Can’t Win 4 Losing. On Twitter and Instagram at CantWinPodcast. If you’ve got a story about losing in your own life, call us up and tell it to us. We’ll give you fifty bucks if we use it on the show. 510-646-1082.
This episode of Can’t Win 4 Losing is dedicated to Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss.
BRUCE STRAUSS: If I cracked a guy with my best overhand right square in the chin, and all he does is grins, well then I start looking for that soft spot on the canvas, you know?