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A booming seven-year stay in Seattle that resulted in Rick Tuten being voted the punter on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team got off to a somewhat deflating start.
It happened on a Sunday night in 1991 – Oct. 13, to be exact. Tuten, who had been signed that Tuesday, averaged 45.8 yards on five punts in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Raiders at the Kingdome.
“I was driving a rental car, because I’d just been signed,” Tuten said this week from Ocala, Fla. – where he always lived during the offseason and now calls his fulltime home.
“When I was in Buffalo (he punted for the Bills in 1990), we got our parking tag and you just parked wherever in the players’ lot. Well, I come out after my first game as a Seahawk – feeling pretty good about what I’d just done – and my car was gone because I didn’t park in the right place. It had been towed. So I had to take a taxi to the impound lot to bail my car out. And a rental car, at that.”
The ordeal obviously did not have an adverse affect on Tuten. In the next five seasons, over an 80-game span, he punted for 11½ miles – or 20,153 yards, including a club-record and league-leading 4,760 in 1992. During that 2-14 season in ’92, Tuten also punted 108 times – another club record and the fourth-highest total in the 91-year history of the NFL.
So much for wondering how he got the nickname “Bootin’ Tuten.” While it rhymes, it also fits.
“Rick was the first kicker that actually had ‘guns,’ ” Paul Moyer, a one-time special teams captain turned former Seahawks assistant coach, said of Tuten’s muscled biceps. “He wanted to be a football player and he was a pretty good athlete. He lifted as hard as most of the players.”
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The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
Tuten appreciates the props, but he always realized what his proper role was.
“I was a frustrated linebacker,” he said. “It’s a good thing I could punt, because you could have timed me (in the 40-yard dash) with a calendar. I was born to punt, because I sure wasn’t born to run.”
But when it came time to vote for the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, Tuten was an 80-yard punt of a choice. He collected 1,335 votes – more than the combined total of runner-up Jon Ryan (862), the team’s current punter and club record-holder for best average in a season; and third-place finisher Jeff Feagles (433), who kicked for more seasons (22) than any punter in the history of the league.
Tuten’s relatively short stay with the Seahawks encompassed three coaches – Chuck Knox (1991), Tom Flores (1992-94) and Dennis Erickson (1995-97). It also covered what is now remembered as “the lost years,” as the Seahawks never posted a winning record in Tuten’s seven seasons.
It just placed a premium on the punter, especially in 1992.
“That’s what put me out there,” Tuten said of getting all those punts because the Seahawks generated so little offense. “I remember every week, when Chris Berman was still doing all the football stuff (on ESPN); he would have the latest total: Seahawks 51 points this season, Tuten 71 punts.”
The final tally was 133 offensive points (13 touchdowns and 14 field goals) to 108 punts, as the offense rallied down the stretch.
“We were in that the whole season, and I really thought I was going to do it, too,” Tuten said of out-punting the point-producers. “Thank goodness we got on the scoreboard quite a bit at the end there.”
Tuten made the most of his ample opportunities, as he still owns a slew of club records: most punts in a career (554), season (108) and game (12); longest punt (73 yards); career punts inside the 20-yard line (147); and career touchbacks (45). He shares the record for best single-season net average (38.7) with Ryan. From 1992-96, Tuten had 29, 21, 33, 21 and 21 punts downed inside the opponents’ 20. The club single-season record is 34, by Feagles in 1999.
Tuten also remains the only punter in franchise history to be voted to the Pro Bowl – in 1994, when more than a third of his 91 punts were downed inside the 20.
But then Tuten not only was born to punt, he was raised to do it.
“My dad started teaching me to punt when I was 6 in the backyard,” he said of his father, Lamar, a former running back and punter at the University of Florida. “One thing led to another. I started kicking the ball into the neighbor’s yard, so we moved to a bigger place and then a bigger place.”
Like the Kingdome. In 1995, when a combination of snow, ice and wind tore the bubble on the team’s covered field beyond repair, the Seahawks were forced to trek to the Kingdome for their daily practices in the final five weeks of the season.
How did Tuten spend his practices? By seeing how far he could launch punts into the 300 level of the since-demolished structure.
Lamar Tuten continued to be his son’s offseason snapper until Tuten’s NFL career ended after the 1999 season, his second with the St. Louis Rams.
“For all those years, from Little League football all the way through my last season in the NFL, he was my snapper,” Tuten said. “He’d underhand it to me from 15 yards.
“So punting was just something I could do. I’ve always figured you could make a kicker, but punters are born.”
And no other punter in the 35-year history of the Seahawks was born to do it better than Tuten.