Why you should care
Because one screw-up here could cost the Denver Broncos this coveted game.
Aaron Brewer is doing his thing at Super Bowl media day — walking around with a bemused look on his face, watching the cameras and tape recorders swarm more famous brethren, like Peyton Manning. This is the big league, and he’s not the prime attraction.
Denver Broncos long snapper Brewer isn’t completely anonymous, though. He’s good at what he does, but it just so happens that the epithet most commonly following his name is a little less desirable than what gets attached to Manning: Twenty-five-year-old Brewer was once dubbed “the worst player in the NFL.” But don’t feel too bad. Brewer’s earning more than $1 million a year playing a position that requires him to be on the field for only a handful of snaps each game. He’s about to play in his second Super Bowl in his four pro seasons. And his consistently flawless snaps on punts, field goals and extra points are a big reason Denver is in the NFL’s championship game this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. “No one cares about the long snapper, but it’s a position of paramount importance, because it changes the whole perspective of field position,” says Wayne McDonnell, an associate professor of sports management at New York University.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Brewer would stand out in most crowds. But on media day, he easily blends into the chaos. His long dirty-blond hair streams out from a “Super Bowl 50’’ cap as he listens to teammates get interviewed. A Denver TV reporter sticks a microphone in Brewer’s face and proclaims, “We have never talked to this young man,’’ and then moves on after his questions elicit a few quick self-deprecating answers. But behind that surfer-dude exterior is a perfectionist. Long snapper guru Chris Rubio says that Brewer is extremely athletic, not to mention consistent and automatic. “Being a long snapper is almost like being a professional free-throw shooter; you’re doing the same thing every time,’’ Rubio says. “Long snappers have to be like a sniper — you have one job, and you have to do it well.’’
It’s a lot of practice, related to a golf swing. You do it enough times, it becomes muscle memory.
Brewer on snapping
So how could a guy who never thought he’d play football after high school — let alone make two Super Bowls by the time he was 25 — have earned the dubious honor of being tabbed the league’s worst player? In 2013, during Brewer’s second season, he received an overall rating of 39 in EA Sports’ Madden NFL 25 video game, while most NFL players were rated in the mid-60s to mid-80s. That left him dead last out of about 2,300 players. For some reason, Brewer and other long snappers get rated as tight ends in the Madden game — a completely different position — so he’s ranked on attributes such as catching, despite the fact that he’s never caught a pass in the NFL or played a down on offense or defense. (An EA spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.) But that didn’t stop his teammates from celebrating Brewer’s distinction.
Manning contacted John Madden, who sent along a mock plaque. Denver’s head coach at the time, John Fox, honored Brewer at a team meeting. Do a quick Google search on Aaron Brewer and one of the top items that pops up is a headline asking: “Is Aaron Brewer of the Denver Broncos Really the Worst Player in the NFL?” Brewer doesn’t seem to mind much. “It was kind of a fun story,” he told OZY at media day. “I kept the plaque. My parents have it. I think it’s pretty cool.’’
That’s about the last time Brewer’s name has appeared in a headline. Meanwhile, special teamers on other squads have gotten plenty of negative attention this postseason for flubbing plays that usually are automatic. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski blamed himself for New England’s two-point loss to Denver in the AFC championship game because he missed an extra point for the first time in nine years. And the Minnesota Vikings lost a playoff game to Seattle in subzero weather in January when kicker Blair Walsh missed a go-ahead 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left. It turned out the laces on the ball were facing the wrong way — toward Walsh — when he kicked it. “It definitely starts with Aaron Brewer,” says Broncos kicker Brandon McManus. “In my two years here, I’ve never had him give me laces.”
Indeed, Brewer has performed so well that the Broncos gave him a four-year contract before last season. Not bad for a kid who played linebacker in high school in Southern California and had no thoughts of continuing beyond that. His brother, too, was a snapper, so Brewer tried it out. Rubio was in town to help another snapper, and Brewer sought his help. That led to a scholarship to San Diego State, where he did the long snaps for four years while majoring in finance, and he was signed by the Broncos after being passed over in the NFL draft. Looking up at the crowds at media day, Brewer says with a goofy sort of innocence, “I never thought I’d be here.’’
Rubio describes Brewer as even-keeled: “His blood pressure is probably like 50 over 30.” And Broncos punter Britton Colquitt, who also serves as holder on McManus’ kicks (meaning he receives all of Brewer’s snaps), says Brewer’s enviably calm “mentality” is his greatest strength — it’s a matter of temperament. But that calm demeanor is complemented by the athleticism and speed required to get downfield on punts; he has eight career tackles. Brewer says snapping is all about routine. “It’s a lot of practice, related to a golf swing,’’ he explains. “You do it enough times, it becomes muscle memory.’’ Though he starred on defense in high school, he says he has no desire to be anything more than a long snapper or to get in a defensive series in the NFL. “These guys are too big and too strong for me,’’ he says.
But it’s not as though his job is easy. Rubio — who was a long snapper at UCLA in the 1990s and now mentors future snappers through Rubio Long Snapping camps and private lessons (his camp last month in Las Vegas attracted 310 kids) — says the position is not for the faint of heart. “If a quarterback goes eight for 10, he’s a hero,” Rubio says. “If Aaron Brewer goes eight for 10 and has two snaps over the head of the punter, he’s fired.’’