ALAMEDA — Everyone wants the underdog to win. I’m no exception. But what do you do when two underdogs are competing for a job? What if it isn’t David vs. Goliath, but rather David vs. David? Sling vs. sling?
That’s the state of the Oakland Raiders’ kicking competition, with rookie Eddy Piñeiro trying to take the roster spot currently held by Giorgio Tavecchio. Both spoke to the media Wednesday after the second day of the Raiders’ three-day minicamp, as did presumptive holder (and punter) Johnny Townsend and new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia.
Honestly, how are you supposed to root against one of these kickers?
Tavecchio has already become a cult favorite in Oakland. He spent several years as a Raiders “camp leg,” attractive primarily because he kicks left-footed, which meant the team could give Sebastian Janikowski a breather without screwing up the mechanics between long snapper, holder and placekicker. Tavecchio got to try some field goals in preseason games, and made most of them. But Janikowski was firmly entrenched as here.
Then Seabass hurt his back at the start of his 18th NFL season, and Tavecchio wound up replacing him in 2017. He performed adequately, making 16 of 21 field-goal attempts.
Off the field, Tavecchio is a superstar. He grew up in Moraga, but has also lived in Italy, and has an Italian flair for food, clothing and espresso. As former 49ers kicker David Akers once said of Tavecchio to calbears.com: “Don’t give Giorgio a cappuccino in a paper cup.”
And don’t dismiss his resilience. After wrapping up training camp stints with the 49ers, Packers, Lions and Raiders, Tavecchio needed real jobs. So he worked at a restaurant and a furniture store and a brokerage firm and a tech company. In 2016 he helped with kickers at Cal, his alma mater.
When he finally got his shot with the Raiders, teammates were overjoyed. And after he made all four of his field-goal attempts in his first real NFL game, at Tennessee in Week 1, coach Jack Del Rio gave Tavecchio a game ball. The player marked the occasion by quoting Aristotle to reporters after the game, possibly a first in Nashville.
Last year in training camp, Tavecchio volunteered to help with defensive line drills. He held a blocking dummy and was ceremonially crushed like a panino by a series of 300-pounders. Tavecchio is 5-foot-10, 182 pounds.
When media folk linger in NFL locker rooms, we frequently approach players to make small talk in quiet moments. It makes the job more fun, but it serves a real purpose. You might need information or a quote from that player one day; it will go more smoothly if they recognize your face.
I was in the Raiders’ locker room here one day last year, probably halfway into the regular season. I had never really talked much to Tavecchio. I didn’t need to introduce myself. He did the honors, shaking my hand and taking care to ask my name and where I worked. What a guy.
But Tavecchio isn’t exactly competing against Kim Jong-un. Because Eddy Piñeiro is pretty easy to get behind, too.
Piñeiro is listed as 6-0, 185, but he seems smaller when standing on an NFL field. Facially, he looks to be about 14 years old. His modest size is surprising when you see the videos of the Miami native kicking 72- and 77-yard field goals in practice. He’s got Janikowski’s leg on Stephen Curry’s body.