Wednesday, January 11, 2017
CANADIAN COWBOY SOAKING UP PLAYOFF FUN
For 12 years, the Montreal long-snapper has avoided the spotlight playing in one of pro football's most high-profile markets. And he's done so with amazing precision and durability, having never missed a game or snap since joining the Cowboys in 2005.
Then again, long-snappers often crave anonymity because when they make headlines, it's usually because of a botched snap.
"It (lack of recognition) is part of the job,'' Ladouceur told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview. `"I understood that a long time ago and I'm totally fine with it.''
The six-foot-five, 255-pound Ladouceur has been a model of consistency with Dallas. The 35-year-old has played 195 straight games heading into Sunday's NFC divisional playoff versus Green Bay and hasn't missed any of his 1,722 career snaps (830 punts, 521 converts and 371 field goals).
Dallas's third-longest tenured player behind quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten (both 14 years) hasn't gone completely unnoticed. Ladouceur was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014.
However NFL life is often unpredictable. Contracts aren't fully guaranteed and teams routinely cut veterans for salary-cap reasons. Long-snappers, especially, are often a miscue or two away from being unemployed.
Ladouceur saw first-hand just how ruthless a business pro football can be.
After visiting the San Francisco 49ers the third week of the '05 season, the Cowboys stayed in California to prepare for the Oakland Raiders. Rookie snapper Jon Condo was struggling so Dallas gave Ladouceur, who played at the University of California and was in the area after being released by New Orleans, a tryout.
Former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells was so impressed with Ladouceur that he cut Condo right off the team bus before practice. Condo eventually landed with Oakland and remains its long-snapper.
No one appreciates Ladouceur more than Dallas kicker Dan Bailey, who's made 89.5 per cent of his field goals and all 250 career converts over his six seasons.
"L.P., he does a third of my job, it all starts with him and he's been doing it for a long time,'' Bailey says of his teammate. ``I'm real lucky to have him.
"He makes my job easier.''
Ladouceur can thank a fellow Canadian for helping him land in Dallas. Kicker Shaun Suisham of Wallaceburg, Ont., had joined the Cowboys earlier in 2005 and told his agent Gil Scott - who's also Ladouceur's representative - when they were auditioning long-snappers.
"I don't take credit for anything although I like to tease L.P. that I got him the job,'' Suisham chuckled. "I haven't even got a beer out of him for it.
"But what L.P. has done, that's not good luck that's skill. His skill is one that's overlooked until there's a mistake and I can't ever recall there being one with him.''
"It's easy to confuse a skill with looking easy versus someone being very talented,'' Suisham added. "When you're very talented like L.P., it looks simple.''
Ladouceur began long snapping in high school, where he also punted, kicked and played on the defensive line. He went to Cal as a defensive lineman and didn't resume long snapping full-time until his junior season.
Ladouceur hones his craft at each practice with Bailey and punter Chris Jones. He credits his teammates for helping him feel young.
"What keeps me going is the guys around me,'' he said. "I mean, Ezekiel (standout rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott) is almost 16 years younger than me so it's a completely different generation.
"Many guys on special teams have been with me for four, five, six years ... we understand each other pretty well and playing for each other is important. My job is very routine and I know it's not the most flamboyant but they understand the value and importance of it.''
Dallas certainly does, signing Ladouceur to a five-year deal reportedly worth US$5.5-million in 2013. He's expected to earn a base salary of about $1.1 million next season before qualifying for unrestricted free agency.
It was a regular season to remember for the Cowboys, who won 11 straight games en route to a 13-3 record. That earned them the NFC's top playoff seed and an opening-round bye.
When Ladouceur steps on the field Sunday, a treasured memento will remain in his locker. It's a hand-written note from Bruce DeHaven, Dallas's former special-teams co-ordinator (2003-06) who died last month of prostate cancer at age 68.
"Before our playoff game against Seattle in 2006, he gave me a note that says, 'Special teams wins championships,' on the front and 'Perfect snaps,' on the back,'' Ladouceur said. "I've kept it in my locker ever since.
"He's the one who gave me a first chance and trusted me ... you never forget.''