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Wagner's First Kick Is Blocked, But Path to NFL Career is Clear

September 17, 1987|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

It might seem improbable, but Chicago Bears punter Bryan Wagner says he has managed to mentally block out his first punt in the NFL, which was blocked and recovered for a touchdown.

Wagner was attempting to kick from just in front of his own end zone against the New York Giants before a sold out crowd at Soldier Field and a Monday night national television audience. He handled a high snap from rookie John Adickes but Erik Howard of the Giants bolted untouched into the backfield and blocked the kick. Tom Flynn recovered the ball in the end zone to give the Giants a short-lived lead in the Bears' 34-19 win.

"Don't get me wrong, I'll never forget it," Wagner said by phone Wednesday from Chicago, "But, I have blocked it out of my mind. I can't let it affect the rest of my kicks."

Wagner, a three-time All-American at Cal State Northridge, received that advice when he finished an anxious journey to the Bears' sideline where Coach Mike Ditka was waiting.

"Ditka put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Now don't worry. It's not your fault. You just keep kicking,' " Wagner said.

He has tried to follow that line of thinking for the past two years through tryouts with five different NFL teams. Wagner, who was playing for the Denver Broncos during the exhibition season, was traded to the Bears three weeks ago in exchange for offensive lineman Stefan Humphries. When he arrived in Chicago, he unseated incumbent Maury Buford.

The key for Wagner has been his ability to stay calm, to concentrate on one kick at a time.

"In the past I've been nervous," said Wagner, who averaged 42.5 yards on four kicks after the block. "I've gotten to the point where I can relax. It's taken me two years, but I've done it.

"I think I could be around a while."

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