Saverio Rocca – Australian Born American Football Punter
When you think of punters as the term applies to the United States National Football League, the image that comes to mind is generally that of a specialist who does not have the size and physical skills to play at any of the other positions.
Punters are seldom involved in any contact, and on those rare occasions when they might be called upon to assist in stopping a punt return, it appears that they are mostly hoping to slow the returner down so that other teammates can make the tackle, whilst at the same time trying mightily to avoid contact and injury.
And who can blame them? They have one of the best jobs in sports. Practice consists of kicking footballs off to one side of the field where the real action is taking place. In game situations, if they are playing for a decent team, they might not get on the field at all, or sparingly.
The most complex task of many punters is holding the ball for the placekicker on field goal attempts, and the most critical aspect of that task is the ability to count to 11 to make sure his team has the proper number of players on the field.
Four Million Big Ones
For this, they are paid handsomely. Top punters earn almost $4 million USD per year, with the average coming in at almost $3 million USD. If for the sake of argument, you use $4 million, and use the punts-per-game average of 6.81 that was the statistic for the 2014 Oakland Raiders, it works out to very close to 109 punts per season.
We think you know where this is going. $4 Million divided by 109 equals $36,697.25 per punt! Sign us up.
If you are still shaking your head over this figure, The Green Bay Packers averaged 3.06 punts per game in 2014, so if their punter was paid $4 million, each punt would earn him $81,632.65! Even for the punter on the team with the most punts per game, the weekly work load in terms of time would equate to about three minutes.
When you consider that, according to the fairly reliable sources of afl.com.au, that in the 2013 AFL season only five players earned above $1 million AUD for what objectively could be described as far more effort than what is expended by the typical NFL punter, the disparity in salaries is almost heart rending.
By now, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the Australian Football League.
Quite simply, it is because our subject today concerns the current number 13 placeholder on the AFL All-Time Goal Kicking list who went from prodigious footy scorer to enjoy a successful career as a punter in the National Football League: Saverio Giovanni “Sav” Rocca.
Rocca went to work in the NFL after his last AFL season in 2006, but we do not intend to devote much attention to that phase of his life.
Collingwood And North Melbourne
We will focus instead on the nine seasons he spent with Collingwood FC and the six with the Kangaroos.
The first thing, from a statistical perspective, that attracts attention regarding Sav Rocca’s career is that he is far down the current list, at 171st in terms of games played, with 257, yet managed to climb much higher, all the way to 13th, on the goal scorers list. Equally impressive is that he did this despite having only one season, 1995, where with 93, he threatened the century mark for goals.
This leads directly into a comment about his durability. He had eight seasons where he played in 20 or more games. Only his last season in 2006 saw him in fewer than 10, and his inaugural year of 1992 found him in ten exactly. Collingwood won eight times against two losses with Rocca on the ground that first year. Rocca’s ability to answer the bell consistently would have been a valuable asset to his coaches.
The next statistic the catches the attention is related to that 8-2 record from Rocca’s first season. The two teams for which he played, the Collingwood Magpies and the North Melbourne Kangaroos, never won more than 11 games with Rocca on the ground.
Rocca began his athletic career by winning championships at the junior level in the shot put and discus. Not many NFL punters will list either of those events on their resumes’.
He switched paths whilst still young, playing footy in the Diamond Valley Football League, where he quickly demonstrated substantial kicking potential. He was drafted by Collingwood in 1991, playing full-forward and providing glimpses of the talent that would lead to his becoming a key player for the Magpies when he debuted in 1992.
As soon as 1993, spectators started to notice him, especially when he produced two-ten goal performances in a three week span on his way to notching 73 for the season. That dropped off to 49 in the following season, but he had his best year in 1995, with 93. He was awarded the Anzac Medal for the match betwixt Collingwood and Essendon as best on ground in the initial Anzac Day game.
Despite remaining more than adequately productive over the next several seasons, Collingwood delisted him in 1999, and it could be said that he was the scapegoat for a disappointing side that never got far up the ladder.
The North Melbourne Football Club seized the opportunity Saverio Rocca presented in the 2000 draft. He continued to be a strong kick for the Roos for two seasons, but then went into a slow decline that saw him being dropped to North Ballarat. He did manage to hang on long enough with the Kangaroos to play 101 games and give his sons the benefit of the father-son rule, but he was already looking to jump to the NFL as a punter.
After a round 22 match in which he played his final AFL game and kicked three goals against his old team, the Magpies, he went to Philadelphia the following week to trial as a punter with the NFL Eagles. He would play four seasons in that capacity, and then move on to play three more with the Washington Redskins.
His career statistics for both teams included 517 punts for a total distance in excess of 20 thousand metres, with a very respectable 39.22 metre average. He was routinely known to be able to produce kicks on the oval of 60 metres, and it would seem as though his leg had fallen off when you look at his NFL average, but without going into an elaborate description of how punt yardages are calculated in the NFL, suffice it to say that most of his punts traveled well over 39 metres.
At 1.96 m in height and 120 kg, Sav Rocca was not the prototypical NFL punter. For that matter, neither was he the prototypical Italian. Switching from the AFL to the NFL is not unprecedented, but it is not common, either.
Sal Rocca could have called it a day when the Kangaroos demoted him in 2006, but he unselfishly soldiered on for the benefit of his sons. We hope he made the best of the two-year contract he signed with the Redskins in 2013 that promised to pay him $1.12 million per year, or for another perspective, Gary Ablett money.