Sports

His words mightier than foot

If the name Owen Pochman doesn't ring a bell, maybe this will jar the memory: It's wide right! It's wide left! 49ers lose!

Is it coming back now? Yes, that Owen Pochman, the ill-fated 49ers kicker for six games in 2003, an enduring symbol of the wretched Dennis Erickson-Terry Donahue days.

In Pochman's last game with the 49ers, he missed two field goals and booted the overtime kickoff out of bounds to hand the Arizona Cardinals a gift-wrapped victory. As Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy wrote that day, "By the time you read these words ... Pochman will be either out of a job or out of the country. Or both, if he's smart."

But far from hiding under a rock, Pochman is in the public eye again. Voluntarily, even. He has written an autobiography, a self-published 273-page novelty called, "I'm Just a Kicker."

This is, of course, an odd thing for Pochman to do. As a literary genre, books about fringe athletes aren't exactly Harry Potter material.

There is no "Johnnie LeMaster: My Life and Times." No bookshelf includes "The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Donald Hollas."

History is written by the winners, the saying goes.

But in his 49ers chapter, Pochman proves the losing side has a story worth telling, too. The kicker gives a rare and riveting glimpse into coping with failure on a national stage.

We learn what it's like to blow a game, then head into a locker room filled with angry 300-pounders ready to rip off your head and use it as a Hacky Sack -- "a tidal wave of hate," as Pochman puts it.

He writes of that Arizona game: "I felt like I was in the locker room of the opposing team. No one wanted to talk to me or look at me. Jim Mora, Jr., the former defensive coordinator, screamed, 'I can't put my kids through (expletive) college because our kicker can't make a field goal.' He's a millionaire, but I still wanted to hand him all the money in my wallet, I felt so bad.

"I took off my jersey and gave one more look at POCHMAN stitched across the back, knowing it would be the last time I ever put that jersey on. Then I threw it into the laundry bin, along with my career in the NFL."

It got worse. The only place teammates left for him on the 49ers' bus was a seat covered in barbecue sauce. Pochman discovered the sauce belatedly but was too horrified to get up and walk past everyone again.

"So I sat like a marinating piece of meat for the entire ride to the airport," he writes.

The only player with an encouraging word was quarterback Jeff Garcia, who pulled Pochman aside and regaled the kicker with stories of his own career hurdles.

"I always thought Jeff was a classy guy and a good leader, and I appreciated his support at one of my lowest moments," Pochman writes.

Pochman's career had no such rebound: He was cut from the roster the next day and left team headquarters with "a whole head full of memories that I secretly prayed wouldn't scar me forever."

He never kicked in a regular-season game again.

It's hard to work up many tears, however, for an author who spends much of the rest of the book detailing how he went from an awkward Mormon virgin to dating Playmate of the Year Brande Roderick.

There is almost as much of this stuff as there is football. And while reading about a hookup with a Playboy centerfold has its allure, reading about their bickering over whose credit card to use for the hotel room does not. There are way too many pages of mind-numbing detail, complete with the small talk.

In fairness, Pochman knows his first literary venture isn't a polished effort. Reached by phone, he explained that he went without a publisher because he wanted complete creative control over his first attempt at writing. The project started as a personal exercise, but his sister read his early pages -- "my scribblings," Pochman called them -- and encouraged him to push forward.

The result is a self-published book that remains a little rough around the edges. Pochman has trouble, for example, spelling the names of other NFL players: It should be Garrison Hearst (not Hurst), Brett Favre (not Farve) and Willie McGinest (not McGinnest). He gets Adam Vinatieri right sometimes, but calls him Vinatiari elsewhere. Same thing with Morten (Morton) Andersen. But there also are hints of promise, and Pochman said several literary agents have contacted him since the book hit the Web site at justakicker.com.

In that light, it's a shame there wasn't a longer NFL career for Pochman, who bounced around with the New England Patriots and New York Giants before reaching the 49ers. His tales from inside the locker room brim with insight.

Pochman writes that before a preseason game, Patriots general manager Scott Pioli asked him to fake an injury during warmups -- in front of everyone -- so the Patriots could put him on the injured-reserve list (and allow Pochman to make the IR salary of $120,000).

If he declined, the Patriots would give him a few last kicks to showcase himself, then cut him after the game. Pochman, eager to stay on an NFL roster any way he could, reluctantly faked a hamstring injury -- and got cut anyway. He quotes Pioli as telling him, "Owen, we don't know how to say this, but we think some people caught on to the idea that we had you fake it. We're going to have to let you go."

The Patriots pushing the rules? Imagine that.

Alas, with only 16 NFL games on his résumé, Pochman must rely too heavily on stories from his awkward teenage years, chaste Mormon upbringing, record-setting career at BYU and dating saga. Unless you've really been longing to know what makes Pochman tick, these chapters can be skipped.

Pochman is leery about publicity regarding his book, but he also sounds at peace with his career.

He joked that when he chats with strangers, he occasionally lets it slip that he used to kick for the 49ers.

"I'm sure you were better than that Owen Pochman guy," the stranger will reply. "He was the worst."

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