"I think I just lost us the game."
Those were the words over the telephone from Brad Wing, the current punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers punter and former LSU star, shortly after his team's 27-24 defeat at lowly Tampa Bay in late September. The guy listening to Wing's misery on the other end could certainly relate.
"I've been in that same situation," said Donnie Jones, current Philadelphia Eagles punter and fellow former LSU punter. "And, it's no fun."
The Bucs' game-winning touchdown was greatly aided by Wing's 29-yard shanked punt in the final moments of the fourth quarter, which put Tampa at the Pittsburgh 46-yard line. Five plays later, Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon hit Vincent Jackson with a 5-yard touchdown strike and game-winning score with just :12 left.
"That was not a good punt at all in a very crucial moment of the game. That's no secret to anyone," Wing recalled.
But Jones quickly proved to be a great therapist in this situation and immediately shared his own unfortunate mishap from just the previous week. The Eagles led the Washington Redskins 37-34 late in the fourth quarter, when Jones initially drilled a 59-yard punt from his own 10-yard line with no return. However, when forced to kick again because of a holding penalty, Jones' second effort travelled just 31 yards and placed the Redskins at the Eagles' 41-yard line. Philadelphia made a defensive stand to preserve the win, but Jones certainly hadn't performed at his ideal level.
"You're going to have some ups and downs. You just have to stay on an even keel. You can't gloat after a great game and you can't hang your head low after a bad one," Jones explained.
"I think it is important as a specialist to not define your body of work off of one punt, kick or snap. You really cannot afford to spend too much time thinking about a past punt, even if it's a good one. The most important thing is to move on to the next snap. Even though I was disappointed and frustrated with that punt, I moved on from it quickly," Wing said.
The constructive conversation was one of the latest shared between the two former Tigers, who have a nice bond despite the fact they're 10 years apart in age.
"He's young. He's got his look, all young and hip. I'm generic. I'd like some of that hair he's got," Jones quipped.
"Donnie's a great guy, a real funny guy. We call each other frequently. We both follow each other. He's like a mentor figure to me because he has a lot of experience," Wing shared.
However, at the beginning of their relationship, it was certainly Jones who asked Wing for the first big favor. Before his 2012 season with the Houston Texans, Jones wanted to add the quickly popular "Aussie Punt" to his arsenal.
"It's a punt you use at midfield or closer. You drop the football with the nose down, you hit it and it flies like a kickoff. You get better control of the ball and it doesn't travel as far," Jones explained.
So, who better to teach Jones this new trick than the Australian himself, Wing? Well, upon Jones' arrival and request at the LSU football complex, another suggestion was quickly made.
"How about my dad? He can teach it to you better than me," Wing told Jones.
David Wing punted in the preseason for the Detroit Lions in the late 80s, but failed to make the team. He did, however, see real action with the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe. The elder Wing quickly worked with Jones for a few hours and passed along his knowledge of the craft. Then, dad cracked a little joke.
"You know after this year, Brad's going to be your competition," David Wing said.
And, wouldn't you know it. Wing went pro after his junior season at LSU and was soon signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent. Sure enough, there stood the battle tested Jones waiting for the young rookie in training camp.
"I wish dad wouldn't have taught him that kick," Wing laughed.
Wing admitted he was no match for the seasoned and stoic Jones during competition. He was no match at all.
"I immediately thought to myself, 'This was a bad idea,'" Wing said.
"Brad didn't punt well in the preseason," Jones concurred.
While a solid 2013 NFL season lay ahead for Donnie Jones, Brad Wing was quickly off the professional radar and out of football.
"He was always back here working out and doing his thing," said Jamie Keehn, LSU junior punter and fellow Aussie. "He was just waiting for his opportunity. He had to wait those 12 months. But he's come up and taken it the best he can."
And Jones shared that admiration in Wing's determination.
"Without a doubt, everyone learns. He leaves school early and doesn't get a job. He persevered, worked hard and made the most of his opportunity," Jones said.
Wing is now proud to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and is averaging a solid 44.1 yards per punt this season. His 39.5 net average is tied for a respectful 16th best in the NFL.
"I am very grateful to be in the position I currently am in. I love football just as much as the fans do. I know there are a countless number of people who would love to be in my position, so I think it is important to appreciate that and never take any of it for granted," exclaimed a happy Wing.
Jones, on the other hand, is in his 11th professional season. He's punted for the Seahawks, Dolphins, Rams, Texans and now Eagles. So far this year, he has placed 16 of his punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, good for third best in the entire league.
That little "Aussie Punt" certainly has been a nice addition, hasn't it?
"I owe a lot to them. I tell that to Brad all the time. I was hit and miss before (on pinning opponents deep). I have so much more consistency now from when they first taught me in 2012," Jones responded.
The two can also share wonderful memories from terrific careers at LSU. Jones punted with the Tigers from 2000-2003 and is the school's all-time leader in punts and punt yardage. His 86-yard rocket during "The Bluegrass Miracle" in 2002 is also an LSU record.
"I give Devery (Henderson) and Marcus (Randall) a hard time, ‘You guys won an ESPY and no one remembers my 80-yard punt!'" Jones laughed about the “Hail Mary” combination.
Jones was also sent onto the field for the final play of LSU's 21-14 BCS National Championship win over Oklahoma in 2003 with just :09 left.
"That was a crazy deal. We thought the game was over. I was hanging out with (PGA star) David Toms on the sideline. Then, all of the sudden, I'm sent out to punt. You don't see a game end on a punt very often, especially in a national championship," Jones recalled.
But through all that, Jones knows he was never the "rock star" Wing became while punting at LSU during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Fans couldn't get enough of the Australian accent, as Baton Rouge media members joked that no punter in the history of the game had been interviewed more than Wing. Of course, he was also equipped with a powerhouse leg, averaging 44.6 yards per punt during his Tiger career, tops in school history. His 73-yard bomb from the Tigers' own 5-yard line against Alabama in Tuscaloosa during 2011's "Game of the Century" was a huge play and field-flipper in the fourth quarter, as LSU won the defensive slugfest 9-6 in overtime.
Wing said LSU, Tiger Stadium in particular, is still deep in his heart.
"Without a doubt, Tiger stadium on a Saturday night. There is nowhere like that place on a fall night. Every single home game was a great experience! Shout out to the student section, too, for always being in full effect. Best in the nation, hands down," Wing said about what he misses the most.
Perhaps standing above all memories at LSU for Wing was his 52-yard touchdown run against Florida in Death Valley during the 2011 season, which, unfortunately, quickly came off the board. Wing ever-so-slightly struck a celebration pose before reaching the end zone on the fake punt, drawing a flag and wiping out the score in the 41-11 shellacking of the Gators.
"Yes, it seems to be how most people remember and knows me. Even some guys in the locker room in Pittsburgh knew me from that play," Wing admitted.
Jones, on the other hand, has experienced no such excitement.
"I have two fakes in my NFL career and I'm 0-2. In 2008, I threw a pass and it got knocked down. In 2011, I ran for it and got stopped short," Jones cracked.
However, he did punt in Tiger Stadium once for the visiting team. During the 2005 NFL season, the New Orleans Saints were forced to play a series of home games in Baton Rouge in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And there was Jones punting for the Miami Dolphins and first year head coach Nick Saban against the Black and Gold.
"Unfortunate circumstances created that opportunity. But it was a pretty cool, yet, somewhat bizarre experience," Jones recalled.
The Pennsylvania pro punters also had thoughts on their current fan bases.
"The people in Philadelphia hands down are the best fans in the NFL. I've been everywhere and it's my No. 1. Not even close," Jones declared passionately.
"I have been very lucky to play for two teams with such great fan bases (LSU & Pittsburgh). I would say that the two fan bases are very similar in the amount of passion they display on game day. I feel very blessed and honored to represent both organizations," Wing stated.
What are the odds two guys from Baton Rouge high schools (Jones went to Catholic High, while Wing punted one year at Parkview Baptist), who both played for LSU, could end up starting punters for the Eagles and Steelers?
"I've got to imagine very, very slim," Wing answered.
"Slim chance, man. It's tough to make it in this league," Jones replied.
"It's a small world, when it comes down to it really. You never know what's going to happen and where people are going to end up - coincidence or whatever people would call it. Both guys have worked very hard to get where they are. They are in good positions and both punting well for their teams, respectively," Kheen, who hopes to be LSU's next punter in two years, added.
Donnie Jones' 5-2 Eagles travel to Houston to take on the Texans this weekend, while Brad Wing's 5-3 Steelers play host to arch rival Baltimore on Sunday Night Football.
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