Loeffler to set snappers' longevity record

Cullen Loeffler (Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY)

Cullen Loeffler came into the league when Morten Andersen and Darren Bennett were the beneficiary of his snaps. Now Loeffler is the veteran of the specialists and on the brink of surpassing Mike Morris' record. Loeffler talked about the position, his staying power and his years in Minnesota.

On Monday, when long snapper Cullen Loeffler takes the field for an extra point, punt or field goal attempt, he will put his name in the all-time Vikings record books for longevity. For a franchise that has posted some gaudy numbers in terms of time of service – the first stat charted in the league's official record books –Loeffler will find his name atop the franchise's list for his position when he appears in his 145th game as a long snapper.

He breaks the longstanding record of mercurial long-snapper Mike Morris, who listed as his hobbies in his media guide biography as hunting rattlesnakes and collecting black T-shirts. Morris had been a well-traveled long snapper by the time he arrived in Minnesota and played the final 144 games of his career.

"In my wildest dreams I couldn't have seen being here for a decade," Loeffler said. "I was an underdog to even make the roster because most undrafted rookies don't make a team and the Vikings already had a good long snapper in Brody Heffner-Liddiard. I just wanted to get that first game and get the chance to show what I could do. Then it was the second game. It seems like a long time ago, but the time has flown by. It's hard to believe it has been 10 years, especially 10 years with the same team. Most players don't get that opportunity."

If not for the wrath of college coaching legend Mack Brown, Loeffler would likely have been long-since removed from playing football. When Loeffler was a junior at the University of Texas, the Longhorns got upset early in the season, due in large part to a collapse of its special teams. Brown didn't lose many games back in those days and didn't take kindly to upsets from upstart teams from other conferences.

How did Brown react? He moved Loeffler from tight end to long snapper to prevent future opponents from breaking down the middle of the line to get penetration to the punter. A long-snapping star was born.

"I owe a lot to Mack Brown, because he's the reason I became a long snapper," Loeffler said. "We had some issues that season on special teams. We played North Carolina State early in the season and had three punts blocked. Two of those got taken back for touchdowns and they were coming up the middle to get the blocks. We were a top-10 rated team at the time and ended up losing that game by three points. He said I should move into that spot. I was hesitant at first because I thought it would take away from me getting time at tight end, but, looking back on it, I couldn't be happier with that decision."

When Loeffler came to the Vikings, he was an admitted long shot to make the final roster, but, when he did, his first season in the NFL was spent picking the brains of two of the league's most venerable dinosaurs who had been around seemingly forever. The experience of learning from two masters of their craft set the tone for Loeffler's approach to the game and how to be a professional.

"My first year I was here was such a great learning experience because I learned from a couple of incredible veterans – Morten Andersen was our kicker and Darren Bennett was our punter," Loeffler said. "Morten was here my rookie year and, interestingly, his rookie season was the year I was born. I was fortunate because I had two great veterans helping me as a rookie. I attribute a lot of my longevity to them because they both played for a long time at a high level and taught me the things I needed to know."

Getting the job was one thing. Keeping the job was another. Hundreds of NFL players have put together long careers by bouncing from one team to another as a special teamer or positional backup. The NFL has 100 quarterbacks currently on 53-man rosters and practice squads, but long snappers are an endangered species.

"We're a pretty tight fraternity," Loeffler said. "There's only one of us on each team. It's not like other positions. You have one starting quarterback, but almost every team has three of them. There are only 32 long snappers in the NFL, so getting a job is hard and keeping it is your focus because you never know when they're going to bring in someone else to compete with you."

Some contend Loeffler has one of the greatest jobs in football. He's only on the field for a dozen or so plays and gets paid pretty well to do it – more than $1 million a year. But, it's a specific art form that has to be identical time after time after time. If a long snapper one-hops two or three snaps during the season, he's likely gone the next year. That's pressure even though it may not appear to be from the outside.

"It's a specialty that you have to perfect," Loeffler said. "There is a sense or urgency because if you have a couple of bad snaps, you're job is on the line. There's more competition than there are available spots, so you have to stay on top of your game. It may seem easy, but you have to drive the ball back and put it in the same spot every time. If you don't have that consistency, you don't last long."

On a special teams unit that has changed rapidly – the team got rid of longtime kicker Ryan Longwell in 2012 and punter Chris Kluwe this year. The tables have turned for Loeffler. Now he's the teacher imparting little things that he's learned over the years to second-year kicker Blair Walsh and rookie punter Jeff Locke. His career has come full circle and now he's the teacher.

"Whenever I've had questions, I always turn to Cullen," Walsh said. "The three of us are often doing our work separate from the rest of the team, so we spend a lot of time together. Cullen has made our transition from college to the NFL easy because that's just the kind of person he is. He makes you feel comfortable and is always willing to put in the extra time if we need to work on little things in our game. That's been very helpful to both of us."

There likely isn't going to be a big announcement on the ESPN broadcast Monday night that Loeffler has put his name among the pantheon of the ironmen that preceded him in Vikings franchise history, but that's fine with Loeffler. He doesn't want the attention.

"In my job, if you get your name mentioned, more times than not you did something wrong that got you noticed," Loeffler said. "I just want to keep doing my job the way I've done it for the last 10 years. If that means not getting my name mentioned, that's just fine with me."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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