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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 12:50 GMT
Kicking up an NFL storm
By Alex Trickett

Warren Sapp (left) and Jonny Wilkinson
Sapp (left) may have something to say about Wilko's considered pose
While most were mesmerized by Jonny Wilkinson's Herculean drop goal in the World Cup final, one pair of eyes probably showed more interest in the England fly-half's handling of routine place kicks.

Those eyes, belonging to an NFL scout from the San Diego Chargers, were on a mission to Australia to see if our Jonny could cut it as a kicker in the USA.

To judge by Wilkinson's heroics throughout the tournament, the verdict was likely an unqualified yes.

All 32 NFL teams will now know about him and it may be only a matter of time before serious offers for his services come in.

Rugby union fans need not despair, however.

There is very little chance of Wilkinson changing sports in the foreseeable future.

But he did tell this website: "I keep an eye on what is going on in the NFL, and I know some rugby players have looked at making the swap. It's quite an exciting prospect."

England coach Clive Woodward cites American football icon Vince Lombardi among his influences and captain Martin Johnson is a self-confessed NFL fanatic.

What price Wilkinson one day getting his kicks on the other side of the Atlantic?


Pros and cons:

I didn't seem to get better - that was to do with lack of involvement
Gavin Hastings
Former NFL Europe kicker

Money talks in America, where top kickers can expect to earn 2-3m per year, a figure that dwarfs Wilkinson's 250,000 salary at Newcastle Falcons.

That differential might be offset in part by sponsorship.

Wilkinson can expect a huge windfall following the World Cup and might become less attractive to UK-based companies if he moved to the USA.

Being a shy sort, he might enjoy slipping out of the public spotlight in the NFL, where kickers are never afforded the hero status of quarterbacks.

On the flip side, however, boredom could set in.

Former Scotland skipper Gavin Hastings, who won a World Bowl as kicker for NFL Europe outfit Scottish Claymores, found it hard to stay motivated in the stop-start role.

"At the start it was enough, struggling to come to terms with not being involved and then all of a sudden having to come to do the business," he told the BBC Sport website.

"But it became quite difficult and I didn't seem to get better. That was to do with lack of involvement in the game."


How would he do?

I think he has shown with his work ethic in rugby that he could make the leap
Neil Reynolds
NFL Europe

In American football, a kicker's only duties are to slot the "point-after" conversions that follow touchdowns and to attempt straight ahead field goals - no angled kicks or bonecrushing tackles would be required.

NFL Europe spokesman Neil Reynolds has few doubts that Wilkinson could make an impact.

"There is a transition that would need to be made, but I think he has shown with his work ethic in rugby that he could make the leap," he said.

And Hastings concurs: "He would have no technical problems given his intensity, focus and approach."

Unlike in rugby, Wilkinson would have no time for his trademark pre-kick wiggle in the NFL.

But Hastings plays down the threat of charging blockers.

"There's no extra pressure 99% of the time. And if there is, it's not down to the kicker, but the blockers ahead of him."


Will it happen?

Wilkinson must be very happy with his lot at present, and the wave of post-World Cup excitement will make him a rich man.

But turn the clock forward several years.

Who would not consider swapping the lumps and bumps of a rainy day in Newcastle for the high-life in sunny San Diego?


SEE ALSO
Wilkinson 'keen' on NFL move
27 Feb 03  |  Rugby Union
Woodward's all-American hero
25 Nov 03  |  England


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