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A Conversation with Doug Pelfrey

Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey, of Scott High School, the University of Kentucky, the Cincinnati Bengals, and one of the most popular players to ever play pro sports in his hometown, sat down this week with Geoff Hobson of on the eve of his biggest challenge as a kicker.

HOBSON: I guess we always start with Kicks for Kids (Pelfrey's charity). How's it doing?

PELFREY: We just went over $500,000 in giving back to the community. My golf tournament is June 26 and 27 (at Triple Crown Country Club) and we had Derby Day a few weeks ago at Potters Ranch (in Union, Ky.) About 85 kids from the inner city around the area. It's going well.

HOBSON: You've heard the knock that some people think your kicking has slipped because you're doing so many things outside football for the charity.

PELFREY:  A kicker has  so much free time. The  biggest thing I have  to learn through playing pro football is to be able to entertain yourself.  You can bore yourself to tears just sitting around waiting for something to happen.  (Former Bengals punter) Lee Johnson did the stock market. That gave him something to do.  You see a lot of kickers start businesses.  Eddie Murray, who played for years, started his own candy deal.  I do most of my stuff in the offseason. None of it gets in the way of my training. 

HOBSON: You've got a big staff, don't you?

PELFREY:  Now I've got one full-time guy, one part-time guy and a 45-person board. Initially, I was doing all the work myself. Now I've got 45 people helping me, plus 500 volunteers. It's just not me. It's funny because when I  was spending the most time with it, those were my best years. '94, '95, '96.

HOBSON: Maybe you should fire the board.

PELFREY: Exactly. Get back to doing it myself. I've heard the knock, especially after last season. But I strongly deny it.  I've got so many people helping me, and it doesn't consume my thinking. I plan my day around just kicking.  I do the other in my spare time.

HOBSON: You and your wife Carla had a baby daughter a few months ago. Is wide right going to have a little perspective now?

 PELFREY: The Bible says a baby is a gift from God and that's how we're looking at her. It changes your life, your lifestyle.  But wide right, wide left, anything, that stuff is always going to bug me. If I go wide right too often, I won't be able to provide for her. That's the way I look at it.

Since having her last season, and going through what I did (on the field) last season, all that stuff, a lot of it made me question why I was playing and it just wasn't any fun any more. . .But (the baby) is one of the reasons I come out with more desire this year than any other year, just because I know I want to play. I know I'm going to play five, six years, probably longer than that just because I know I want to play. The last year or two hasn't been much fun and I wondered, "Why do this if I really don't enjoy it?'

HOBSON: Did you think about not playing any more?
 PELFREY: I didn't treat that seriously. I was just tired of all the stuff and it made me question things. But I realize how much I have, how much I love playing and competing. I've had offers to do other things. I've had people approach me about several different things.
  HOBSON: Like what?
PELFREY: Some TV and radio. Three different groups have approached me about getting involved politically in Kentucky. Grooming me with the idea of running for governor some time down the road.

HOBSON: That's your nickname, right? "Governor"?

PELFRFEY:  But it's something I'm not really into.

HOBSON: Who approached you?

 PELFREY: One group was a set of friends.  The other two were different groups from the same party, but I don't want to say which one.  They wanted to see my interest,  but I really know after questioning myself that I don't want to do that kind of stuff. I don't want to get into running a business.  I don't want to get into politics. I'm a  kicker.
HOBSON: What stopped the questioning?
PELFREY: I've always done well. That's the reason I've been getting frustrated. There's been so much going on around me and I feel like I've been out there by myself. Now I realize they're trying to address it. They drafted a long snapper (seventh-rounder Brad St. Louis). They drafted competition for me (sixth-rounder Neil Rackers) and I think Brad (Costello) is going to be back (to punt and hold).  It's good knowing what's going to be around me. I've said all along it's continuity.

If we can get a young snapper who wants to focus on snapping and who wants to snap, and Brad never held until he got here. I'm starting to think we can have fun again, get this team winning and we can be a big part of it.

HOBSON: Can St. Louis be Truitt-like? An automatic, accurate snapper like Greg Truitt?

PELFREY: He can. The thing that St. Louis has that I don't know if other snappers around here have, is a desire to snap. It's been like pulling teeth the last year and a half to find someone who wanted to snap other than Truitt. I was giving a big pep talk to (free agent rookie offensive lineman Doug) Dorley: "If I were you, I'd snap every single day."

I think if we get a guy like St. Louis and Costello, guys who are going to be around, I know I can play six or seven more years and do well and get back to the glory days, so they say.

HOBSON: That would be '94, 95, '96. At the end of the '96 season you ended the season as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Remember in '94 when all three wins came on last play field goals and all three losing coaches got fired, two right after your game (Houston's Jack Pardee and Philadelphia's Rich Kotite)?

PELFREY: We were winning games, setting records and having fun. In the last  two and a half, three years, there hasn't been anything close to kicking a game winner. That's how I want to pattern my career. On kicking game winners, making the big kick.

HOBSON: Didn't you beat the University of Cincinnati up here at the gun in college?

PELFREY: We beat UC when I was at UK for Homecoming, the same day Carla was Homecoming Queen. So I've always had a flair for the dramatic. It's been boring the last few years. I haven't enjoyed it. I want to start having fun again and I think we can with the continuity and I'm excited about the offense. Akili (Smith) has the leadership capabilities and with (running back) Corey Dillon. Even if we don't sign Corey, Michael Basnight is a heck of a back and (Brandon) Bennett is good. And with receivers like Darnay Scott, Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans, I think we're going to score some points. We'll be in scoring position and that's the key.

HOBSON: So your last game winning try was. . .?

PELFREY: Three years ago, I'm pretty sure. I've got six in the last seconds and nine in the last two minutes. I saw a chart in Sports Illustrated and I was second in the NFL on winning field goals last two minutes they had me 9-for-13. I missed one this year (that would have locked up what was eventually a seven-point win in Pittsburgh) that was just outside two minutes. From 25 yards. I've never been more upset about missing a kick than that one.

HOBSON: Your locker is in the corner where wide receiver Carl Pickens dressed and you know what the media dubbed it. They said that corner killed more chemistry than Clorox.

PELFREY: Y'all can dub it what you want. It will be different. We're moving into a new locker room so we'll literally get rid of that corner whether Carl is here or not. It will be a much more open locker room. It won't have those sort of corners. It's shaped like a football and that creates openness. I think things are really positive. I think we're moving in the right direction.

HOBSON: You felt some of your quotes were taken out of context in stories after Rackers got drafted. Can you set the record?

PELFREY: I felt misrepresented. I think I came across as angry, bitter and making excuses, and all three I felt were untrue. I said I was disappointed. I said I didn't think anybody on the team was excited about having someone drafted at their position except Carl Pickens. I've been a successful kicker for a lot of years in this program and with the changes in snappers and holders in the last year and a half, I just think they could have addressed those areas as opposed to me.

HOBSON: I think what upset you is that when they drafted Rackers (special teams coach) Al (Roberts) said it was a wakeup call for you.

PELFREY: Of all the guys on this team that needed a wakeup call, I don't think I needed that. I knew I had a bad last 20 games or so. I haven't taken a month off. I've been down here working every day, and I'm going to have a successful year. I just hope it's in Cincinnati.

HOBSON: Is your job in jeopardy?

PELFREY: It always is, but this year more than any other. I think people are questioning how good I am. I always enjoyed competition. When I was four years old, my mother would come into my room and say, "Your Dad is almost dressed," and I would race so I could get dressed faster. I always wanted to compete. (Competition) will make me better. It already has. But I'm not trying to be the best guy on my team. The day I stop wanting to be the best in the NFL is the time to get out.

HOBSON: Can the Doug Pelfrey of Scott High School and Kentucky see himself playing in the NFL for other than the Bengals?

PELFREY: When I was a little kid, I said I was going to play at Kentucky and for the Reds or Bengals. Since I haven't hit a baseball in awhile, I plan on staying with the Cincinnati Bengals. But I know I could get cut the last week of training camp. If I do get released, I will get picked up by another team and I really do feel like I can play another six to eight years, maybe longer. I take real good care of myself. I don't have that many vices.

HOBSON: You? What's your worst vice?

PELFREY: Talking to you.

I don't want to come off as a complainer, a bellyacher, an excuse maker. I just want to come off as a good, positive guy who wants to do well and has done well.

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