been called the Nancy Kerrigan of football.
You remember Northern Colorado punter Rafael
Mendoza, don’t you? The one stabbed in his kicking leg by the backup
punter? The one who screamed out in pain but didn’t add “Why me? Why
me?” The Rafael Mendoza whose friend later saw a car speeding off with
a license plate reading “8-KIKR” immediately after he was stabbed? The
Rafael Mendoza who is now afraid to walk out in a dark parking lot for
fear other wackos, who desire his punting job, might be wielding a
knife? The Rafael Mendoza who was back punting two weeks
after the stabbing but still can’t sit on his right side? Yes, that
Rafael Mendoza and when you see him looking over his shoulder, right
after his punts, you can’t blame him.
The incident happened to Mendoza in Greeley,
Colorado (named after Horace who once said “Punt west, young man… but
be careful of hooded guys carrying knives.”) and even in this small
town, every time Mendoza enters or exits his car, he surveys his
This incident is so Tonya Hardingish, it’s eerie.
Two guys wearing black clothes and hooded jackets sneak up on Mendoza
and stab him in his kicking leg just as he’s approaching his car.
And just like the Nancy Kerrigan incident the injury is just bad enough
to eliminate him from current competition but not do permanent damage.
And just like with Nancy Kerrigan the main suspect turns out to be
Mendoza’s primary competitor, backup punter, Mitch Cozad. Cozad is
fingered because he owns the car with the plates – 8-KIKR – which was
seen at a liquor store driven by two guys in black hoods. And just like
with Tonya Harding you have to question the mentality of someone who
thinks he can pull off this kind of evil with a car with such obvious
vanity plates. The only thing worse would have been him driving a car
with ISTABHM plates.
The good news is Mendoza has recovered enough to
punt 24 times this season (38.8 average). Rafael says his leg is only
at 70%. If true, when Mendoza gets back to full strength he’ll be at 54
yards a punt or a new national record. Again, if true, Cozad was stupid
in stabbing Mendoza. Instead he should have bowed at the Alter of
Rafael and collected as much Mendoza memorabilia as possible to later
sell when Rafael becomes the greatest pro punter of all
The bad news is that this ever happened in the first
place. We’re comparing this to Tonya Harding but in Harding’s defense
she, at least, was competing for the Olympics. Mitch Cozad was
competing against two other punters for the starting position at a
mediocre division 1-AA school, destined to never be on television, and
likely to never even be mentioned on television.
Okay, you’re saying “Silliman, what do you know about punting? Better
yet, what do you know about punter’s rage?” To that I answer, you’re
right, the Silliman knows so little, having never been a punter, having
never known the glory of the full leg extension or the rare opportunity
to hoist the ball skyward in the thin Colorado mountain air or seeing
threes of thousands cheer when you place it well. I never read
Mike McCabe’s book “Becoming a Champion Punter.” I was never in on the
phone call where Mom asks “How were you booting ‘em, today?” and I
answered “Most had good lift but I did shank one right in the
hamstring.” No, never been there. Nor was I there when Mom said “A Miss
Harding called today and wanted you to know she’s not with that Jeff
guy anymore,” to which I would’ve had to say “Anything, else, Mom?” and
she says “Yes, Miss Harding wants to know if you can box.”