EAST RUTHERFORD - He never missed a game in a 22-year career. He was a Super Bowl winner and a two-time Pro Bowler who obliterated the former lifetime records in his discipline. He played for five teams and eight head coaches and through three NFL commissioners and five presidential administrations.
Today, Jeff Feagles announced that he's leaving the league he graced for more than two decades and the game in which he became the most dependable and productive punter in history. Feagles, who spent the last seven years with the Giants, formally announced his retirement at a news conference in the Timex Performance Center.
"I've taken my last swing," said Feagles, who was the NFL's oldest active player at 44. "Today is the start of a new chapter of my life – a chapter that will bring happiness and also opportunity – an opportunity to spend time with (wife) Michelle and the boys (his four sons, the three youngest who attended the news conference), a chance to coach and attend my sons' games and activities. One lesson that I have learned from playing football in the National Football League is that it takes a toll on your body. And eventually it tells you that you can't do it any more. And that day is today."
The Giants knew this day would come, but it still wasn't easy saying goodbye to a player who is universally admired in the organization, from the equipment, video and medical staffs to the front office to the coaches and the players. Feagles' news conference was attended by team president John Mara, general manager Jerry Reese, head coach Tom Coughlin, teammates Lawrence Tynes and Zak DeOssie and more than a dozen other members of the organization.
"This is a day in which we recognize, in my opinion, one of the greatest Giants of all time," said Coughlin, who preceded Feagles at the podium. "It is a happy day because I think everybody in the organization is happy for Jeff and his family. It is a sad day because I walked around this morning and I listened to a lot of people in our organization. And their thoughts were that Jeff would be here forever. I think that is the way, honestly, we all feel."
Feagles didn't play forever, but he stayed in uniform longer than almost everyone who has ever suited up in the NFL. He is one of just four players in history to play at least one game in each of 22 seasons, joining George Blanda (26 seasons), Morten Andersen (25) and Gary Anderson (23).
Of course, Feagles never played just one game in a season. Remarkably, he played in every one of his team's games in those 22 seasons, including a record 352 in a row in the regular season (plus 11 postseason games). "It is an incredible, incredible accomplishment," Coughlin said. The second-longest consecutive games streak, also active at the end of the 2009 season, is Brett Favre's 287 in a row. Feagles moved into first place on the NFL's career list when he played his 283rd consecutive game and broke Jim Marshall's mark on Nov. 27, 2005 at Seattle. His 352 games played is the third-highest total in history, behind Andersen (381) and Anderson (353).
Feagles also owns the NFL records for most punts: (1,713, or 312 more than No. 2 Sean Landeta), most punt yards (71,211, or 10,504 more than Landeta) and most punts inside the 20 (554, or 173 more than Landeta).
But Feagles, who was also one of the greatest holders in history, revolutionized punting far beyond the numbers. He is widely regarded as the greatest directional punter who ever played. Early in his career, he began to develop and refine a strategy to kick the ball away from the league's ever-growing legion of dangerous punt returners. Feagles became a master at punting the ball toward the sideline or out of bounds, and especially of dropping it in the opposing team's territory.
"It is not easy, because when I first started to come into the NFL there was really no directional punting," Feagles said. "It took me a good six or seven years to learn how to do it – and that is in games. And going out there and trying to put the ball where you want to under extreme circumstances with 10 or 11 guys coming at you. At one time or another there might have been two or three guys in the league that could return punts. Now they are lining up every weekend with guys that can do it. So I think with directional punting I got ahead of the game and was able to really define how to do that. I wasn't the strongest and couldn't kick it the furthest in later years, but I could put it exactly where I wanted to. And from a coaching point of view, that is what Coach Coughlin wants and any special team coach wants to do."
Nothing pleased Coughlin more than seeing Feagles force an opposing offense to take possession on the doorstep of its end zone.
"I will forever in my mind have a vision of Jeff Feagles, who is an incredibly talented directional punter," Coughlin said. "My vision of Jeff lofting the ball down into the corner of the field, inside the five-yard line and David Tyree catching the ball before it goes out of bounds or before it goes into the end zone.
"You have to understand the kind of punting game that we want, the kind of football that we play, in order to understand the contribution that Jeff has made. We really believe here that if we take the kickoff and put the ball at the 30-yard line and make one or maybe two first downs and then perhaps if we have to punt the ball, out comes Jeff Feagles, who has a tremendous ability to directionally punt. It is an art which is fast fading in our game. People are more concerned with driving the ball than they are with placing the ball. We are never concerned here with gross (yardage), only with net. And we always felt like we could count on Jeff to put the ball inside the 10, perhaps inside the five, and force the other guy to drive the ball from deep in his end zone, where there was only a four percent chance of him scoring at all. And that is the kind of punter that he has been, and the kind of example that he has been for all of us, and the legacy that he leaves here as a New York Giant."
Feagles began his career as an undrafted rookie free agent with the New England Patriots in 1988. For the record, his first punt was against the Jets in Foxboro Stadium. It traveled 36 yards. "I was scared to death," Feagles said a couple of years ago. "For two or three years you're scared to death."
But thanks to his tremendous work ethic and uncanny ability, Feagles stayed around and put up prolific numbers. After two years in New England, he played four years for the Philadelphia Eagles. That was followed by four years with his hometown Arizona Cardinals, for whom he made the Pro Bowl in 1995. Feagles then moved to Seattle for five years. With the Seahawks, he played one of the finest games of his career - against the Giants. On Sept. 22, 2002, he punted six times for a 47.8-yard average and dropped three kicks inside the 20-yard line, including two inside the 10.
"So lo and behold, the next year I was a New York Giant," Feagles said.
In seven years here Feagles totaled 513 punts, 21,161 yards and a franchise-record 178 punts inside the 20. He helped the team win Super Bowl XLII in 2007 and the following season, Feagles and placekicker John Carney were the two oldest players ever selected to the Pro Bowl. Feagles was universally admired and respected by his teammates, who voted to make him team captain each of the last three seasons.
"Feags has been one of the greatest teammates you could ask for," quarterback Eli Manning said. "He's a guy who's great to be around. He's been in the league forever. He's a true professional about his business, about having fun and keeping the locker room loose. He's been a great roommate at training camp and my locker mate here (at the Timex Performance Center)."
"When it comes to Jeff, the first thing that comes to my mind is that he had fun playing the game," kicker Lawrence Tynes said. "He relaxed me on game day by the way he approached it. His work ethic was second to none. His attention to detail, his routine, never changed in the three years I was with him, which is something that I have tried to model my game after. He said, 'If you don't have routine, then you don't have anything.' Routine is something that I really think about.
"Jeff is probably the best holder I've had. I can't imagine how many snaps he has caught for field goals in 22 years, so he is one of the best, definitely. And he is the best directional punter of all time in my opinion. I played with Dustin Colquitt in Kansas City, who is a bomber, a really good punter. But I think the things that Jeff could do with the football on the plus side of the field were incredible – the way he pinned opponents and the way he angled the ball – which is kind of a lost art now among the punters."
Coughlin joined the Giants in 2004 and immediately began to admire Feagles for his work ethic and professionalism.
"I look at Jeff and I think of the privilege that I have had to be with him for these six short years," Coughlin said. "I think of an individual that is totally reliable, totally dependable, totally honest, completely trustworthy and has all of the necessary ingredients for success. As simple and basic as it is to say that, it makes you really wonder why everyone doesn't think and act the way he does. He has a tremendous, tremendous attitude and he is a great example for all young players because of his positive approach to the game. He is very smart at understanding the game. He is very smart at understanding what it takes to be a team, to be a member of a team. He has been elected captain here because of who he is and what he represents. He has been an extremely successful leader and we are going to miss him."
Coughlin joins Raymond Berry, Buddy Ryan (with both Philadelphia and Arizona), Rich Kotite, Vince Tobin, Dennis Erickson, Mike Holmgren and Jim Fassel as the head coaches under whom Feagles played. Feagles began his career when Pete Rozelle was NFL Commissioner, he played through Paul Tagliabue's entire 17-year reign and is retiring with Roger Goodell at the head of the league. Five men occupied the White House during his time in uniform: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
For several months it seemed the NFL's Iron Man would add to his legacy and maybe even play in another president's administration. After the conclusion of the 2009 season – when Feagles punted 64 times for a 36.0-yard net average – he worked out aggressively to see how his balky knee would respond. Last month, he was confident enough to sign a new contract. But as he began working in the team's offseason program and increased the intensity of his workouts, Feagles could sense his body was not reacting as it needed to for him to continue playing.
"Michelle and I have talked about this for a while," Feagles said. "We will have coffee in the morning before the kids get up and talk about the day, talk about the month, the future and what have you. A week ago Monday I got out of bed and the Good Lord above sent me a sign that day and said, 'You're done, you're finished.' I just didn't feel good. My back was hurting, my knee was starting to swell up again. I just said to myself, 'I can't do this anymore.' That's when I decided to start the coffee pot.
"It was quick. I reacted on it the way I should. I came down to talk to Tom that afternoon. He asked me for one more favor and asked me, 'Would you sleep on it?' I said yes and went back and really thought about what I was doing. I just felt it was time."
So the Giants are now looking at seventh-round draft choice Matt Dodge and former Australian Rules Footballer Jy Bond in the current rookie minicamp. Feagles, who has spent half of his life in the NFL, moves on to the next phase. Perhaps he's not through setting precedents. No punter as ever been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"There is a kicker (Jan Stenerud) in the Hall of Fame," Feagles said. "There should be a punter in the Hall of Fame."
The teammates and coaches who were enriched by his presence for 22 years will tell you that punter should be Jeff Feagles.
QUOTES ABOUT JEFF FEAGLES
Eli Manning joined the Giants in 2004. He wanted to wear jersey No. 10, which was then Feagles' number. The two worked out a deal in which Manning paid for a Florida vacation for the Feagles family in exchange for No. 10.
"Jeff has pulled one over on me. He was my roommate at training camp. I thought we were all set again this year and he's leaving me. Feags has been one of the greatest teammates you could ask for. He's a guy who's great to be around. He's been in the league forever. He's a true professional about his business, about having fun and keeping the locker room loose. He's been a great roommate at training camp and my locker mate here (at the Timex Performance Center).
"He took every day seriously and he took his profession very seriously with the way he was in the locker room and around the players. When you're a punter, you're on your own schedule a little bit at practice and training camp. But he was always around and wanted to be seen and wanted to be a part of the team. That was important, because he's a great person who was fun to be around. He got physically and mentally prepared for every practice and every game to do his job at a high level.
"It's hard to imagine what he's done, never missing a game in 22 years. To be able to play 22, let alone not miss a game because of something - a hit, an injury - is pretty incredible. It shows the person he is, the dedication and commitment to doing his job at a high level and being there for the team and doing whatever it takes.
"We were kind of connected from the day I was drafted, because I had to steal his number and get number 10 from him. We've had a good run together. I'm sorry to see him retire, but he had a great career and he's ending on a high note. We're going to miss him around here."
John Carney, whose 21-year career includes the 2008 season with the Giants. Carney and Feagles were Pro Bowlers in 2008.
"I am really sad that Jeff is retiring. He is an amazing guy. The NFL is losing the last of a dying breed, a truly skilled punter who can change the course of the game, who can dictate field position and take a returner completely out of the game, which Jeff has done for 22 years and has done extremely well for the New York Giants. I was very blessed – privileged - to play with him and to watch him at his craft for the entire 2008 season. It's amazing what he can do in the course of a game. He can change the whole complexion of field position and the return game.
"Jeff is also arguably one of the best holders in the game, which is a skill that sometimes goes unnoticed. But you can go through Jeff's career and he has been responsible for many, many great field goal seasons, because Jeff was the one holding the ball for those kickers. And in all my years I believe he is one of the best holders out there. He had the ability to catch a snap that was off target and get it down quickly and get the proper lean, in the proper spot. And he did that very quickly and developed a lot of confidence with the kicker, because of his skill and his ability to do that on a day-to-day basis.
"I'm sure the other teams in the NFC East are excited to see him go, because he has controlled field position and taken the returners out of the game for years and years. So they will be happy to send him off into retirement. When we were at the Pro Bowl and Jeff was punting for the Philadelphia coaching staff, they were very clear on how much he frustrated them over the years and how excited they were to have him punting for them that day. He had some beautiful punts at the Pro Bowl. Andy Reid was doing jumping jacks on the sideline because he was so excited to have Jeff doing that for him.
"Jeff is an amazing guy and he's had a phenomenal career. I'm really sad to see him ride off into the sunset. But he has certainly earned it and he has had an amazing, amazing run. Jeff is a great friend, great family man and a great competitor. He had a phenomenal career and I'm sad to see him depart the NFL. But he gets to depart on his own decision. And I wish him the best of luck and look forward to his son, C.J., and the Feagles name reentering the NFL within the next four years. So the NFL will only have to hold out for four years before another Feagles is back among the ranks."
Lawrence Tynes has been a Giants placekicker since 2007. Feagles has held for every one of his 51 field goals and 88 extra points as a Giant.
"When it comes to Jeff, the first thing that comes to my mind is that he had fun playing the game. He relaxed me on game day by the way he approached it. His work ethic was second to none. His attention to detail, his routine, never changed in the three years I was with him, which is something that I have tried to model my game after. He said, 'If you don't have routine, then you don't have anything.' Routine is something that I really think about. Joe Nedney two years ago said the same thing. He had the best time playing with Jeff. He really relaxed him and taught him how to have fun while playing. It is a very mental position, but you kind of relax and still play it as a game; take it seriously but still have fun with it. And that is what Jeff did.
"Jeff is probably the best I've had. I had a really good one in college, Matt Allen (who held for the Giants in 2002). But Jeff – I can't imagine how many snaps he has caught for field goals in 22 years, so he is one of the best, definitely."
"He is the best directional punter of all time in my opinion. I played with Dustin Colquitt in Kansas City, who is a bomber, a really good punter. But I think the things that Jeff could do with the football on the plus side of the field were incredible – the way he pinned opponents and the way he angled the ball – which is kind of a lost art now among the punters.
"Jeff and I quickly became friends when I arrived here. We spent some time on the golf course, which we have done a couple of times this offseason already. I'm still going to keep in touch with Jeff. He lives right down the road. Hopefully we'll get some golf in. The one thing I haven't done yet is beat on the golf course yet. We all know how good he is. But I'm going to miss him for sure. He is the ultimate teammate, a great leader and someone to model yourself after."
Ryan Kuehl was a long snapper who joined the Giants with Feagles in 2003. He remained with the Giants through the 2007 season.
"Feags is one of those guys that is almost iconic in the sense that when you play with that guy, you learn so much about how to prepare both mentally and physically. The confidence level he had, his preparation and his reliability were unmatched. And you really saw that with the team, because it's rare when a specialist takes on a leadership role because of his excellence. But the other star players - whether it was Michael (Strahan) or Tiki (Barber) or Eli (Manning) or anybody - understood the importance of having him back there. He was a weapon. The offense knew if they could get the ball to the 50 or the plus-40 that we were going to have a real good shot of the defense starting inside the opponents' 10-yard line. That kind of weapon - when people recognize that and you see that in the locker room - the amount of respect he got, it was just uncommon for specialists to have that. And it is a tribute to him and his excellence and his character.
"(When I joined the Giants) Jeff was one of the few guys who was older than I was. We have similar interests, we have similar home lives. We were brought in when things weren't as good on special teams. Under Tom (Coughlin) an emphasis was placed on special teams and they improved. And I think Jeff should take an awful lot of credit for that. The coaches deserved a lot credit, the other players that have been there a long time, obviously, too. But Jeff really turned us into a weapon and not just biding time or hoping to get the ball here or there. I think we strategized at times for Jeff to punt the ball inside the 5-yard line. And he did it enough that everyone had confidence that he would do it most of the time.
"The closest punter I could compare him to in terms of excellence and longevity is Chris Gardocki, who I played with in Cleveland. And Chris' thing was getting it off fast. He never had a punt blocked in 15-16 years. So that was his deal. They all have sort of their thing. And Feags was obviously the directional and inside-the-20 stuff. We would go to the stadium and practice on Fridays. We would start putting that ball down at the 40 and start practicing and I'm telling you, he could damn near call the yard line where he could punt that thing out. Once he figured out the wind a little bit, was out there for few minutes, he'd say, 'Three, two, four.' And I would snap it back to him and he would hit it out at the two or the three. It was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen, someone who has that kind of control and feel for that kind of thing. And obviously in the field of play his ability to hit it 40 or 45 yards out of bounds, eliminate the return game – a lot of punters could do that but they are going to shank every other one or every third one for a 15-yard punt. And that is why they can't do it all of the time, because the coaches are worried that they are going to shank one. Feags never worried about it. He would just do it. We would do it all of the time. That is why all of our tackle numbers were so damn low, because half of the time we would run about 15 yards once that ball would sail out of bounds 40 yards down the field.
"I couldn't have asked to play with a better guy. Playing in New York with Jeff was just a true honor for me."