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Feely feels the love after double-duty kicking

New York Jets kicker Jay Feely (3) celebrates

New York Jets kicker Jay Feely (3) celebrates with New York Jets tackle Damien Woody (67) after Feely kicked a field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals. (January 9, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

The voice mails and text messages that awaited Jay Feely after last Saturday's kicking and punting exhibition in Cincinnati were not all that usual. Then again, Feely showed he's not your usual NFL kicker.

Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly had left a message. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Feely's friend and teammate from the University of Michigan, had left a humorous text. So, too, had countless NFL punters and kickers, part of that small fraternity to which Feely belongs.

The one Feely most appreciated, though, was a voice mail from the manager of a recent New York championship team.

"I was fired up to get that call from Joe Girardi," Feely told Newsday earlier this week. "It was just, 'Great job of being there for your team.' He came out here to work with Mark [Sanchez] earlier in the year, and I went to a bunch of Yankee games with my son. It was just a nice thing for him to do."

That's how a lot of the Jets felt about Feely stepping in at the last minute to punt in place of Steve Weatherford, who missed the 24-14 wild-card win over the Bengals with a rapid heartbeat. Feely will go back to just kicking Sunday in San Diego as the Jets try to upset the Chargers and reach the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1999.

Weatherford has been medically cleared to play, which is a relief to Feely. "You learn to regulate yourself from a mental perspective," said Feely, 33, who has gotten more accurate as a kicker as he's gotten older. "Still, [Sunday] was as nervous as I've ever been on a football field."

But he did the job. It was another example of what Feely tries to do every week when he covers downfield on kickoffs, trying as hard as any special-teamer to make a tackle.

"He's been a big part of this team," Kerry Rhodes said. "We know he's not just a kicker. After [last Saturday], he's like a rock star around here."

"I've always tried to approach my career that way, to not be viewed any differently than anyone else on the team - with the way I approach offseason workouts, the way I cover on kickoffs," Feely said. "All because, No. 1, I think it'll help the team, and No. 2, I want to be viewed as a teammate, as a football player, not just as the kicker. And I think my teammates have always treated me that way.

"It's not a whole lot different than Brad [Smith] stepping in at wide receiver, your Wildcat QB. Or the guys who play other positions out of necessity. We have David Harris, who coming down the stretch has to play on special teams because we needed him, and he's our starting linebacker. It was just more pronounced, I guess [last Saturday].''

Feely said he thought a little more about being careful on kick coverage with Weatherford being out, but not that much. And in today's game, he can go back to trying to stick his helmet in and bring down Darren Sproles without worrying about who's going to punt.

Of course, there might not be any more calls from sports stars or conservative commentators. Maybe just from one of Feely's three younger brothers, two of whom, including high school senior Tyler, are punters.

"He was more like, 'Is that the best you could do? That form is terrible!' " Jay Feely said. "I expect that from them."

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