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Score big by getting your kicks

I was lucky the opposition ONLY intercepted five of my quarterback's 15 misguided passes, my star running back delivered an expletive-inducing 32 total yards, and my defense, to quote 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, didn't do diddly-poo.

Yet thanks to a rookie kicker picked up on a hunch in Week 3, I registered my first weekly points victory in nearly two years (Hit it, Freddie: "I've paid my dues, time after time ...").

Go ahead and poke fun at them for their comically poor tackling technique, suspiciously tidy and pad-free attire and especially for those single-bar face masks straight out of 1965, but don't expect me to join in on any kicker kicking.

Yes, this is the "Love Thy Kicker" column, and it's long overdue considering how many times the little guys with the big legs have gotten me out of tight spots and carried me when others more qualified insisted on dropping the ball.

Dallas' Nick Folk was the latest to come to my rescue when he boomed not one but two game-winning, 53-yard field goals as time expired Monday night to beat Buffalo, capping a four-field goal night that helped me move within 96 points of first place (pal and Bee colleague Will DeBoard still isn't talking to me or Folk after stealing his thunder).

Others had their hides saved last Sunday by Houston's Kris Brown (who booted five field goals, including a record-tying three of 50 or more yards) and Baltimore's Matt Stover, whose steady right foot accounted for all nine points in the Ravens' win over the 49ers.

Having a dependable kicker has always been a prerequisite to fantasy success, but never more so than this season, when every first-round pick not named Peyton Manning or Willie Parker has had his cleats nailed to the ground and routinely failed to penetrate the force field guarding the end zone.

They'll never produce 400-point "I'm-going-to-Disneyland" efforts a la Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson, but kickers can be the difference between winning championships and kicking yourself weekly for playing the wrong receiver when given the choice between Chris Chambers and Patrick Crayton.

Consistent performers like Stover, Arizona's Neil Rackers, Cincinnati's Shayne Graham and future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis are reliable point producers who, when at their best, can cover your back on the rare occasion when Chad Johnson can't get on the same page with Carson Palmer or Tom Brady decides to include Benjamin Watson in all of the Patriots' reindeer games but not Randy Moss.

I won a championship two seasons ago, despite trading Brady for Kerry Collins (Fresno State officials have asked for the diploma back on numerous occasions since), because Rackers was hammering four and sometimes five balls between the uprights each week, with one or two traveling 50 yards or more.

If my word alone isn't enough to convince you of kickers' importance, the numbers should. According to figures at cbssports.com (my league's host Web site), Brown and the undrafted Folk lead all kickers with weekly scoring averages of 126 points and 119 points -- better than first-round running backs Shaun Alexander (107), Frank Gore (117.6), Steven Jackson (96.7), Rudi Johnson (116.3), Laurence Maroney (84) and Larry Johnson (75.8), as well as top receivers Marvin Harrison (72.8), Larry Fitzgerald (102.2), Terrell Owens (114.4) and Torry Holt (110.2). Everyone, please get out your lighters and join me in setting ablaze every fantasy magazine now serving as a crumpled coaster beside your computer.

They might throw like Garo Yepremian, run like Ron Cey and tackle like Richard Simmons, but kickers could be your best friends by season's end, so respect them while laughing at them in "The Best of Football Follies: Volume XXVIII."

My Week 6 lineups

TEAM 1 (2nd) -- QB: Tony Romo (vs. Patriots); RB: Shaun Alexander (vs. Saints) and Clinton Portis (at Packers); WR: Chad Johnson (at Chiefs) and Laveranues Coles (vs. Eagles) or Patrick Crayton (vs. Patriots); TE: Benjamin "TD" Watson (at Cowboys); K: Nick Folk (vs. Patriots) and D/ST: Eagles (at Jets).

TEAM 2 (4th) -- QB: Jason "I'll keep your seat warm, Peyton" Campbell (at Packers); RB: Edgerrin James (vs. Panthers) and Clinton Portis (at Packers); WR: Steve Smith (at Cardinals), Patrick Crayton (vs. Patriots) and Anquan Boldin (vs. Panthers) or Chris Chambers (at Browns); TE: Todd "Gametime Decision" Heap (vs. Rams) or Owen Daniels (at Bucs); K: Nick Folk (vs. Patriots) and D/ST: Jaguars (vs. Texans)

Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays. He can be reached at srosenberg@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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