Zak DeOssie figured he’d be ahead of the game if he lasted five years in the NFL.
“After that,” the Giants’ long snapper said, “you just keep going.”
He’s still going.
It’s now 13 years and counting. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll make it as long as the punter he once snapped for.
“Jeff Feagles played for 20 years, and I have no idea how he did that,” DeOssie said. “It’s just how good you get.”
A converted linebacker who mastered the art of long snapping, the 35-year-old DeOssie may one day match Feagles’ longevity. For the record, Feagles made it through an astonishing 22 seasons with the Patriots, Cardinals, Seahawks, Giants and Eagles before retiring at age 43. DeOssie would be 44 if he played that long.
“I envisioned playing linebacker when I first came in, and then I fell into long snapping,” said DeOssie, a fourth-round pick in 2007 and the only player besides Eli Manning to be a part of the Giants’ last two Super Bowl championship teams. “Now I just love this job so much that I keep going.”
DeOssie has become a master at his craft, spending hours refining his technique.
“It’s all about getting rid of bad habits that you learn over time and getting back to the fundamentals,” he said. “It’s a weekly policing of it.”
DeOssie can thank his father, former Giants linebacker/long snapper Steve DeOssie, for helping to revolutionize the position and changing the punt play. When Steve DeOssie played for the Cowboys from 1984-88, he did what no other long snappers at the time had done: block after the snap. By having the long snapper account for a defensive player, teams could use a “gunner” on each side of the formation to cover the punt.
“When Dallas had him, they went to the spread punt formation,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick once said in an interview, describing Steve DeOssie’s role on the punt team. “When they brought 10 guys up to rush, they would bring them in tight, and Dallas got to spread the punt and the center snapped and blocked, which up to that point was very unusual.”
The position eventually was refined to the point that all teams now have a long-snapper specialist, compared with the previous era when players at different positions would double as the deep snapper.
Who’s the better long snapper named DeOssie?
“I always bust his chops that I’m definitely the better long snapper,” Zak said. “He disagrees. He did create the long-snapper position, though.”
While Zak has taken the art of long snapping to a different level, he has taken on the added duties of helping his fellow players through his longstanding role as the team’s NFL Players Association representative. DeOssie now is a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, meaning he’ll have a direct role in negotiations aimed at a new collective-bargaining agreement. The current deal expires after the 2020 season.
DeOssie remains optimistic that a deal can be reached without a work stoppage similar to the lockout in 2011.
“I guess I would say yes about being hopeful of a new deal], only because the owners said they were going to lock us out . Now no one is saying lockout and no one is saying strike,’’ he said. “There’s a potential for a work stoppage, but we understand the opportunity we have on both sides. We’re focused on doing what’s best for both parties.”
One area in which the players won’t budge is the idea of an 18-game season, which has been raised periodically by commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We don’t need 18 games,” DeOssie said. “It’s just more opportunity to get hurt. The game is physical enough. It’s hard enough. The argument is there’s more money to be had collectively to play 18 games, but health and safety is paramount to us. Always has been. And we think the NFL is going pretty well right now, so I don’t see why adding two more games would be necessary.”
DeOssie wants his fellow players to be prepared for anything, up to and including a work stoppage. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith recently told his constituents to save up to a year’s salary as a precaution.
“It’s all about financial literacy,” DeOssie said. “I think it would do everyone a lot of good if we could prepare guys for the inevitable transition from current player to former player. And if we’re talking about collective bargaining, we’re a lot stronger if everyone is financially more well off.”