Akers looking for a Super ending to a rough season

Posted: February 01, 2013

NEW ORLEANS - The last Super Bowl that David Akers played in, his evening ended in desperation, Akers blooping an onside kick that was easily recovered by the Patriots' Christian Fauria late on a breezy night in Jacksonville, after the Eagles took way too long to score a crucial touchdown.

Akers, one of five San Francisco 49ers who has played in a Super Bowl, professes not to remember much of that. He certainly doesn't want to chew it over. Asked about that game ending in controversy, he smiles. "You mean, Spygate?" he says.

Different years, different controversies. Akers was not a big part of the buildup to Super Bowl XXXIX - there was a wide receiver trying to play on a surgically repaired ankle who commanded a great deal of attention back then, if memory serves. But at Super Bowl XLVII, Akers, now 38, is front and center, after enduring an erratic year in which he was nearly replaced for the playoffs by Billy Cundiff, and then kept the spotlight on himself by clanking a 38-yard field goal off an upright in the NFC title game in Atlanta.

"How many times are you going to see media surrounding a kicker?" Akers asked, when someone wondered if he sensed that his shaky late-season performance put him under scrutiny here. "Six inches one way, 3 inches last week, a foot here - it's been one of those seasons where, if I had an answer for you, I would have changed it and the outcome would have been a lot different by now. Has it been frustrating? Sure. Personally, it's been a roller-coaster year.

"If we can win this thing on Sunday, this will probably be one of those ironic years, to have such a down personal season and such a high team victory - it'll be like, 'How did this come together?' Obviously, there were weeks that I didn't know if I was going to be around the next week. I just tried to stay the course."

A year ago, the 49ers lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game, but Akers was a huge success story, setting NFL records for points by a kicker and field goals made. He was selected for his sixth Pro Bowl.

This season started with Akers making a 63-yarder, tying the league record. But he'd undergone double-hernia surgery in the offseason, and as the year went on, the man who left the Eagles after the 2010 season as the greatest kicker in their history was far from his usual solid, dependable self.

There hasn't been an easy mechanical flaw to diagnose and correct, he said.

"It's not drawing quite right after it starts out on the proper line. There are a lot of things, you just kind of scratch your head," Akers said. "Even coaches are like, 'That looks good - form looks good, track looks good; why is it going this way?' That's kind of been the crux of the season for me. I've lost a good amount of the hair on the top of my head to this point, and I think more and more is falling into my helmet, each and every week."

On Jan. 1, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh brought in veteran Cundiff to compete with Akers. That wasn't something Akers had dealt with, at least not since he'd established himself with the Eagles (under special-teams coach John Harbaugh) in 2000.

"If they were going to change and go with Billy, that's the decision that they make. It's not that you have to be good with it, but there's nothing you can do about it," Akers said. "I just went out and kicked as if I was going to be there . . . if they changed their mind, I would wish them success and watch them from home."

Cundiff was cut before the Atlanta game, and Akers probably could have buried the controversy if he'd been perfect against the Falcons. He wasn't.

Now, he has a spectacular opportunity to make the year all good. It comes against two of the people Akers is closest to in the NFL - John Harbaugh, now the Ravens' coach, who ran the Eagles' special teams from 1998 to 2006; and Randy Brown, Baltimore's kicking consultant, who served in that capacity for the Eagles in 2004 and '05.

"David's going to go down as one of the greatest kickers in NFL history," Brown said Wednesday. "He's going to go down as one of the clutch kickers in NFL history . . . whether it's Tiger Woods, every player has ups and downs. I fully expect David to be the great David Akers on Sunday."

Akers still spends his offseasons in Medford, N.J., adjacent to Evesham Township, where Brown serves as mayor. Akers has made appearances on Brown's behalf.

"David and I wished each other luck over the weekend after we both won [the conference title games], then put a moratorium on that," Brown said. "I respect him as a player, dad and husband tremendously. He does so many incredible things off the field.

"Just like the Harbaughs are going to be brothers when the game is over, Dave and I are going to be best of friends when the game is over."

Speaking of the Harbaughs, no one outside of their family has had a better view of both coaches than Akers.

"Jim is kind of emotional," Akers said. "He just runs on the moment. He gets really fired up at times. I think John'll get that way, but he doesn't go to the extreme. I think both [personalities] are built on the competition that is bred into their heart. That's where the similarities are."

For all the kicks Akers made in Philadelphia, the thing many fans remember most clearly is the way it ended: two missed field goals in a 21-16 playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers at the end of the 2010 season, Andy Reid asked if Akers was the reason for the loss and observing that we could all count, the postgame revelation that Akers was dealing with his daughter Halley's tests for a malignant tumor, which ultimately was removed.

A coach who never, ever singled out players in the media chucked his kicker underneath a rolling Greyhound. What is Akers' perspective, 2 years later?

"I looked at it as a coach being a coach, at that situation, understanding what's going [through his mind]. Was [Akers] the only issue in the game? No," he said. "There were a lot of other things that came down. It was probably a knee-jerk reaction to say it. I've never really held onto it."

Akers said he felt for Reid this season, was in contact with him when Reid's eldest son, Garrett, passed away in August, and again when Reid got the new gig in Kansas City.

"I couldn't imagine burying my son and then going out and coaching an entire season, or playing in the season. My hat goes off to him for being able to find the strength to do that," Akers said.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

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