This Sunday marks the day of Super Bowl 50, and, as with every year, the two weeks leading up to it have seen a nonstop barrage of media coverage. Whether it's about how the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers match up overall, which players on both sides are the X factors, how much the event costs the host city, the kind of technology used to broadcast it on TV, the (many) parts of the game that have nothing to do with football, or something else, the news cycle is dominated by Super Bowl fever. What most readers don't usually come across unless they're diehard followers of one of the participating teams (disclaimer: I fall in that category for the Denver Broncos) is anything about the little-known specialists on both sides.
These players would rather continue flying under the radar, because as long-snappers, for instance, their names typically only come up in conversation if they've screwed up big time. That might seem like somewhat of a thankless job, but these guys know what they signed up for and their play can make the all the difference in a tight game. Any professional athlete would tell you they want to contribute to a win, otherwise they wouldn't be a professional.
Anyway, since this is the Super Bowl, we must leave no stone unturned in the final week before a seven-month NFL drought. So let's take a closer look at Aaron Brewer of the Broncos and J.J. Jansen of the Panthers, the long-snappers for the final two teams standing. In case you didn't know, they're the guys who snap the ball to the punter or are the holder for a kicker, usually on fourth down.
Brewer wears No. 46 for the Broncos and never believed he could make a career as a long-snapper until Christian Yount, a guy who lived near his hometown of Fullerton, Calif., got a full ride to UCLA as one. When Brewer found out, he contacted Yount's coach and worked with him for his last two years of college. Then he got a full ride to San Diego State. As he was almost ready to graduate college, the Broncos came to check out Ronnie Hillman, the current Denver starter at running back, and ended up taking a look at Brewer, too.
"The Broncos were the only ones to talk to me. Then they brought me to training camp," Brewer told The Denver Post. "It was crazy."
"Nobody knows I play football. I like it like that," he also mentioned. And Joe DeCamillis, the Broncos' special teams coach, agreed. "We'd like to keep it that way," he said.
Fox Sports recently pointed out that Jansen is one of two specialists the Panthers should turn to with any tax questions, because he graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame with an accounting degree. Similar to Brewer, he'd probably have something unrelated to football like that be what he's known for. It's not like either is on the team because they're good at tackling or extremely physical. They have a specialized task, they want to do it so well that no one notices, and that's about it, besides maybe setting a pick or two.
"My job on a punt is to free up the guards, free up our personal protector," Jansen told Sports Illustrated. "I want to put them in good positions, so I want to set picks, I want to get them free."
The good news for Jansen and Brewer is that they don't get pummeled like they used to because as of 2013, it's illegal to set someone up directly over the snapper on kicks. "I hurt less after games," Jansen said bluntly when asked about it. That's probably because a 300-pound dude isn't barreling straight into him anymore.
Whatever happens in Super Bowl 50, for both Brewer and Jansen's sake, hopefully their names aren't mentioned by the broadcasters once. They want to stay under the radar, put their heads down, and chuck the ball like it's supposed to be chucked.