Eagle Legend Akers Returns to Delaware Valley
He who laughs last…
Most fans last saw David Akers almost exactly a year ago. The Eagles’ all-time leading scorer and franchise Hall of Fame inductee was trolling Cowboy fans at the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas…sweet revenge from the ’17 Draft when Cowboy All-Pro Drew Pearson trolled Eaglesfans when the annual conscription was held in the 215.
“Hey Dallas, the last time you were in a Super Bowl, these draft picks weren’t born!!” Akers thundered.
It was easy for Akers to stand smiling in the thralls of thousands of booing Cowboys fans. For though he is a six-time Pro Bowler who once shared the record for the longest field goal in NFL history, and a man who scored more points than anyone else in the 2000s, Akers has also witnessed plenty of adversity.
Akers was undrafted out of the University of Louisville. He was cut three times before landing permanently with Philadelphia. He lost nearly his entire life savings in what later proved to be a Ponzi scheme.
“When the FBI calls you, one of two things happened,” Akers told a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) audience at Cairn University in Langhorne on April 5th. “You’ve done someone wrong, or someone has done you wrong. Well, someone did me wrong.”
Yet Akers- as energetic and affable to the FCA assembly as he is in the YouTube clip announcing Dallas Goedert’s selection- stays upbeat. He credits his Christian faith and what he calls the 3 Ps: Perseverance, Perspective and Personnel.
A native of Lexington, KY, Akers wanted nothing more than to sign with his hometown Kentucky Wildcats. They did not offer him a scholarship, but UK’s fierce intra-state rival Louisville did. Akers started all four years for the Cardinals.
“I don’t think (the NFL) ever came through my mind as a real possibility,” Akers admitted. “I had a really good junior year and a really terrible senior year so I thought ‘Man, I don’t know.’ But when I came for Pro Days, I punted and kicked. I showed that I had a strong leg. I could be a jack of all trades, probably a master of none, but that got me into camps and got teams excited about the possibility of kickoffs…and hey, this guy could punt too.
“One thing I try to impress upon guys that are coming up is,” Akers continued, “the more you can do. Just say ‘Yes Coach, I’ll do it and just show me an opportunity.’ Have that attitude of: there will be guys coming in who are better than me. They just are not going to outwork me.”
Akers signed with the Carolina Panthers out of Louisville and was released. He was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons and released again. While competing against Panther Pro Bowler John Kasay and Falcon Hall of Famer Morten Andersen was ne’er impossible, the young kicker benefitted significantly from the experience. He persevered.
“I was very fortunate to learn through a combination of kickers,” Akers said. “The first was John Kasay of the Carolina Panthers who in 1997 changed my technique. Then being able to kick with Morten Andersen and seeing how a guy, at age 38, performed on a daily basis through the offseason and what was his mental aspect. He called me Q, for Question Boy, still to this day.
“Then you had Sean Landetta and Norm Johnson with the Eagles,” Akers continued. “I saw how Landetta prepares off the field. I lived with Norm Johnson my rookie year so I was able to see his daily preparation and how to be a professional. I think that helped me, mentally, be a combination of all of those guys.”
But Akers’ NFL debut, for the Redskins on September 20th, 1998 at Seattle, showed he wasn’t in that class of kicker…yet. His dream of an NFL career turned into an abject nightmare.
Steve Broussard returned Akers’ very first kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Compounding that with two missed field goals meant Akers’ first game as a Redskin…would be his last, and he was released a third time. Nearly quitting, he auditioned with the Eagles that December and had, in his words, “a terrible workout.”
“’Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness,’” as Akers read from the book of James. “I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I have a tough time feeling joyful when I lose a job. Or hear news from a doctor. You willhave trials and tribulations. What are you putting your faith in? Are you focusing on the prize or are you focusing on the temporal things?”
Terrible workout aside, Akers’ perseverance paid off and Philly signed him. Akers kicked for the Eagles from 1999 to 2010. No one in Birds’ history has done it better.
Individually, Akers led the NFL in scoring as an Eagle in 2010 and a 49er in 2011. Collectively, no season was better than 2004 when Akers and Philly advanced to Super Bowl XXXIX.
“Beating the Atlanta Falcons on a freezing cold night after I got my nose busted on a kickoff,” Akers remembers about that season. “It was a lot of years of trial and a journey, and to be able to bring that to the Eagles fans: the hope of a Super Bowl championship was something special. It was a great group of guys and a great group of coaches.
“Last year, being able to see them go ahead and win that Super Bowl, and see what the City has been wanting for so long, shows a lot. Doug Pederson was my first holder with the Eagles,” Akers pointed out. “Seeing him have success was awesome. There were a lot of guys I was happy for. Duce, Jim Schwartz was my coach in Detroit, a lot of those guys I played with like Brandon Graham and even Jon Dorembos getting a ring. Jason Peters and Brent Celek.”
Akers’ 386 made field goals rank twelfth in NFL history, and he was nearly 38 years old when he drilled his 63 yarder at Lambeau Field on Opening Day 2012. There is tremendous physical and mental preparation involved to sustain that kind of a career.
“You have to stay confident in what you do, in the mental process of your technique and how you build up, whether it is the off season, the pre-season or the regular season,” Akers explained. “How you prepare and how you maintain things mentally then turns into the physical part.
“I tried to do different things: ju-jitsu, hapkido as well to get both sides of the body strengthened. I ate well, did chiropractic and soft tissue work just to understand the whole package: mind, body, spirit. You have to take care of the physical, you have to have the mental part and sometimes, you have to understand that you’re going to have the ups and downs. Try to have the amnesia for both and just keep pushing forward.”
Akers concluded, “I trained to be able get my mind out of the game a lot of the times and take a martial arts mentality of: Okay, I’m going to prepare, I’m going to do all of these little maneuvers, I’m going to take my head out and I’m going to let my body react.”
Akers shared an embarrassing anecdote at Cairn- not only did a missed 35 yard field goal eventually cost the Eagles a game at the Giants in 2002, but the kicker compounded it with a silly comment during the postgame press conference. “A teammate to perseverance is perspective. Things are going to happen in life that you can’t control. How are you going to handle that?” Akers asked. He responded by quoting Philippians 3: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
As difficult as it was to tell his wife that the family nest egg was gone after the Ponzi scheme was uncovered, Akers pointed out, “I got to see my marriage vows live up: for richer or poorer.” Those life experiences have provided Perspective.
Akers’ family- his wife and three children- serve as that important Personnel to keep him grounded. When a young Akers shanked two field goals in a bitter loss to Kentucky, UK coach Bill Curry handwrote Akers a letter of encouragement…a letter Akers still keeps.
“You have your team around you. We have to have people around us who encourage us and love us,” Akers pointed out.A firm grasp on the 3Ps may help explain all of those PATs- 16thmost in NFL history- and other kicks that Akers converted.
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