The ballad of Rob Maver: A punter on the run

Consider for a moment the lowly punter.

He has but one job – to kick the ball – and even that is rooted in failure: the punter is only ever utilized when his team has been unable to secure a first down or move within scoring range. Even among the kickers, he is the least appealing option.

Within this context, the look on the face of Calgary punter Rob Maver as he ran for an improbable, unexpected – some might even say miraculous – first down is perfectly understandable. It is a look of a man enjoying a moment of pure, unadulterated joy, a moment he has been waiting for his entire career – perhaps even his entire life – to arrive.

Like any spectacular play, it deserves a thorough and proper telling.

There’s 7:27 remaining in the fourth quarter and Maver’s Calgary Stampeders are holding a slim seven point lead over the B.C. Lions. The game is still very much in doubt and with a win, the Stamps can secure a playoff spot.

After an incompletion from that slacker Bo Levi Mitchell – a pass intended for that other special teams contributor Roy Finch – the Stamps are forced to call upon the services of Maver, an eight-year CFL veteran and two-time all-star, to get rid a football they seemingly don’t want. Rob Maver is 31-years-old.

He kicks it away and into the hands of B.C.’s dynamic returner Chris Williams. Calgary’s cover team – made up of players bigger, stronger and faster than Maver and who will endure repeated collisions with others while chasing the ball he kicked – smother Williams after just five yards.

But wait, there’s a flag. In a CFL game, a penalty on punt return is extremely unusual.

The infraction is actually on Calgary, a holding penalty that will require Maver to punt the ball a second time within very little opportunity to recover. The humanity.

The ball is snapped on the do-over, straight and true. But there’s a problem: the Lion’s have sent a rusher off the edge who has blown by the Calgary protection and he’s in Maver’s proverbial kitchen before he can even swing his leg back, never mind forward. It looks for all the world like the kick is getting blocked.

But not today. Not with this plucky punter at the helm. Maver, the savvy vet, pulls the ball down and begins running like his goddamn life depended on it, running like no man (or at least no punter) has ever run before.

And he better run. A Lions defender is closing fast, a player so big and so strong he virtually blocks out the fading Calgary sun. There’s a good chance that Rob Maver will be killed (at least in the football sense) if that Lion player, closing fast and with hate in his heart, gets to the teeny, tiny punter.

Flashback, the 2014 Grey Cup game. Rob Maver is running to make a tackle on Hamilton’s Brandon Banks, willing, as always, to put that frail body in harm’s way, usually the last line of defence between a return man and the end zone.

Dear God. Hamilton defensive lineman Justin Hickman lowers the boom on Maver, catching him with a perfectly clean block. Hickman is a relative giant of a man, a football specimen who played in the NFL and Maver is but a punter. The collision is quick, violent and leaves Maver crumpled on the turf.

Do we have video of that hit? Oh good, we do.

But that will not be Rob Maver’s fate today, oh no. He outruns that B.C. defender and turns the corner and suddenly…. suddenly, he is free. Open space. Green artificial turf stretching almost to the horizon. A first down marker like a beacon in the distance, the safety of the sideline well within in range. Rob Maver is a football player doing football player things and it is glorious.

And so he does what men in throes of true happiness are inclined to do: he smiles. He laughs. He experiences a joy unlike any other.

Just look at this face. Look at it.

Rob Maver runs for 24 glorious yards. That doesn’t count the 12 it took him to get to the line of scrimmage. He runs for a country mile, he runs forever. He runs until B.C. returner Chris Rainey – one of those dastardly men who ruins Mavers’ glorious punts by trying to make touchdowns out of them, who requires Maver to put his body in harm’s way – has to force him out of bounds. Untouched, it’s worth noting. Take that, Justin Hickman.

Three plays later, after more failure from Mitchell, Rene Paredes kicks a field goal to give Calgary a 20-10 lead.

Punters, man. Always needing someone else to bail them out.

After the game, the media wants to talk to Rob Maver. He is quoted in a Canadian Press story that will be read around the country, hell around the world. These are his words.

“If any punter tells you that they’re fully satisfied just punting the football, even though they love their job, they’re lying,” Maver said. “They obviously want to do more things.

“Any time I get the chance to do something other than just catch it and kick it, I’m going to enjoy it.”

Punter joy is the sweetest joy of all.