|1986 Topps #314, Colts Leaders (Rohn Stark)|
Consider the various examples of disorder and oddity.
(1) On the left, number 98 of the Patriots has been spun around in the wrong direction, we can assume during an attempt to reach up and deflect the punt. On the right, number 50 of the Colts is positioned a little bit better, heading downfield, but not exactly in the direction of the punt. The action resembles a scene from one of those vintage electronic football game tables where the figurines get vibrated all over the place.
(2) What's up with the dudes standing off the field in the background? One of them, toward the right of the frame, is shirtless. Another, just left of center, might be a security figure of some kind with blue shirt and hand on hip. In front of said security figure appears to be a folding lawn chair. And it seems like only the thinnest strand of rope is separating them all from the field.
(3) Look at the bleachers above the dudes. Aside from three fans hunched over on the left (and maybe a camera man?), the section is completely empty. And they're bleachers. Not individual seats. Seems odd for an NFL stadium.
But among all the discombobulation, there's punter Rohn Stark. Captured in the moment. Exhibiting perfect form.
Look at his eyes. They're focused on the flight of the football. He wants to make sure he's struck it well and aimed it true. And if that beautiful picture doesn't tell you enough, the caption on the bottom left—black text framed in a bright white box—tells you all you need to know:
STARK BOOMS IT SKYWARD
You can almost hear the sound of his foot striking the ball, can't you?
Look at that security figure in the background of the original card again. I think maybe he heard the sound too, and it was so sweet and pure and solid that he had to turn around and look.
What a moment to capture on cardboard.
And consider that life as a punter can't be easy. You're only called into the game for a few seconds at a time. And in those few seconds you've got to somehow catch the long snap and have absolute focus while 275-pound monsters are pushing ever closer toward you with the sole intent of stretching their arms out and smothering the ball as it leaves your foot.
For this punt, it looks like Stark found those few seconds of clarity.
It also seems like he found that clarity throughout his career. The four-time Pro Bowl member led the league in total punting yards in 1983 (4,124), and more impressively led the league in yards per punt in 1983 (45.3), 1985 (45.9), and 1986 (45.2). He finished second in 1982 and 1984.
And for one of those moments—pure clarity and concentration amidst such chaos—1986 Topps Football #314 has a place in my box of favorites.