Punters are in a lot of ways similar to a utility infielder in baseball. Both are essential when it comes to filling out a roster, although neither is a priority when it comes to the master plan laid out when a new general manager assumes the responsibility of running a team. Their roster spots are pliable, attention paid from fans is minimal, and yet no franchise can field a team without one. No one goes into a draft coveting one; nobody retires their jerseys; yet every now and then there are moments when their presence gets thrust into the forefront of a team’s season (for both good and bad reasons).
Todd Sauerbrun’s career arc highlighted these sentiments like he was filling out some arbitrary (and highly generalized) checklist made by some mediocre columnist. Yet, one key attribute separated Todd Sauerbrun from your average punter or average middle infielder: Unlike most, Todd Sauerbrun was not only a high draft pick, but he was an all-star player as well.
But before I highlight the career and post-playing life of the former 13-year NFL veteran, let me start from the beginning. The inception of Todd Sauerbrun starts in Long Island, in Setauket, New York. He attended Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, where he lettered in both football and lacrosse. Averaging 45.1 yards per punt as a senior (along with the New York State Record 62 yard punt) Sauerbrun would go on to attend West Virginia University to continue punting. It also should be noted that he was also a high school U.S. Lacrosse All-American selection due to the fact that he holds Ward Melville records for midfield scoring with 109 goals and 24 assists, totaling 133 points. However, football was where his athletic career would see its prolongation, while the rest of the sports world would start seeing more awards pile up in the process.
Sauerbrun didn’t take long to find his niche as a special teams ace in the Big East. From 1992-1994 he was voted First-team All Big East each year, as well as a consensus All-American during the 1994 season. During his All-American senior year he also set an NCAA record with a 48.4 punting average. Unlike so many times in the past, this specialist was not forgotten when it came to the April NFL Draft. His displays of power and precision as a punter lead the Chicago Bears to do something that most teams wouldn’t dare to do: Select a punter with the 56th overall pick in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft.
With the Bears Sauerbrun enjoyed immediate and record-breaking success. During his five seasons in Chicago he wound up finishing second all-time in punting average for the storied franchise. He would also snag All-Pro honors for his exceptional 1996 season. Unfortunately, the Long Island native would wind up tearing his ACL during the third game of the 1998 season, forcing him to miss the rest of that year. After the 1999 season he would depart from the windy city, before a brief stint in Kansas City in 2000. Following that season he would join the franchise in which he would find both his greatest personal success; as well as his greatest personal failures.
From the years 2001-2004 in Carolina, Todd Sauerbrun wasn’t just some guy. He was in many respects, the best in the game. During the 2002-2004 seasons he was picked to represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl; while in the 2001 year he received the PFW Golden Toe Award. He was also an All-Pro from 2001-2003. Perhaps most impressively, Sauerbrun became the first player from either conference since the AFL-NFL Merger in 1970 to lead his respective conference in gross punting average for three consecutive seasons (2001-2003). But for as much as he stood out on the field, off the field Sauerbrun displayed glaring deficiencies.
In December of 2004 he was charged with driving under the influence. He was also named in an investigation of steroid use in the NFL; linked to a South Carolina doctor named James Shorrt, who was charged with distributing steroids and human growth hormones. All these factors tipped the hand of the Panthers, who traded him to Denver in exchange for a seventh round pick on May 19, 2005. After a year with Denver, Sauerbrun found trouble once more; this time in the form of a four game suspension to start the 2006 season as a result of taking the banned dietary supplement ephedra. The day he was supposed to return, the Broncos cut him in favor of Paul Ernster.
The only highlight of his tenure in Denver was his shocking tackle and forced fumble of New England Patriots return man Ellis Hobbs during the 2006 AFC Divisional Playoffs. This would lead to a Broncos field goal, and thus ending New England’s bid for an historic three consecutive Super Bowl bids. The video gave Sauerbrun a brief reprieve from public scorn; as well as made him a YouTube sensation (you are free to look it up on your own time). Although after finally being cut by the Broncos Sauerbrun’s career would continue on; he would become to be known in a less than positive light. He would also assume a new title.
“The Worst Person in the NFL” was bestowed upon Sauerbrun by Keith Olberman after a November 25, 2007 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, his former team. Once again back in Denver, Sauerbrun was adamant that the Broncos would challenge Devin Hester; which was just what arguably the greatest kick returner of all-time needed to hear. Hester gashed the Broncos special teams unit for two touchdowns, while Charles Tillman also blocked a punt en-route to a 37-34 overtime victory for the punters former team. In many ways, this performance is a perfect encapsulation of the career of Todd Sauerbrun. Although displaying an elevated confidence in his obvious raw talent, the former Mountaineer’s ultimate downfall is a stubborn nature that no longer seemed to fit a declining skill-set that comes with, well, age. After a brief stop in New England in 2006 and a return to Denver in 2007, Sauerbrun would see his time in the league come to a close. However, we wouldn’t see the end of his football-playing career just yet.
The Broncos released him on December 18, 2007 after yet another off-field incident; this time after an altercation with a Denver taxi driver. But as previously mentioned, Sauerbrun’s football career was not yet finished. Really, there’s not much I can tell you about his on-field performance with the Florida Tuskers of the UFL. But instead, I can turn to a specific picture to tell you all you need to know about how Sauerbrun’s career came to its merciful end. In it, you have Todd Sauerbrun alone on the bench, with his head tilted sideways, mindless starting off into space with a lone football at his side. Overweight, careless and alone (a lone tattoo on his bicep) he is the shell of man who once had a talent so great that it warranted a storied franchise to take him in the second round; which is still fairly unprecedented to this very day. Yet, by the end of it, many in football were glad to see the career of this special teams player come to an end.
Where is Todd Sauerbrun now? Really, there isn’t much to be found in regards to the current whereabouts and actions of the 13-year veteran. But like many of these columns, the idea is just as much about remembering the career of player than it is featuring intricate details of his post-playing life. For, like many utility infielders, we can remember Sauerbrun as being an interchangeable part of many NFL teams. But he should also be remembered as a unique talent and commodity; playing a position where those attributes are far from common. Todd Sauerbrun’s downfall is not unique; we see talented players fail for a myriad of reasons, just like he fell as a result of legal troubles and general idiocy. However, his personal story is, and it is one worth telling in detail.