Takeo Spikes has been marveling at Brian Moorman's talent since Spikes' first practice as a Bill during the spring of 2003, when he noticed this skinny blond guy flying around the field during a conditioning drill.
"I'm like, 'Who is this white dude who's damn near lapping people?' " Spikes said. " 'Is he a receiver? Why isn't he playing?' "
"Spikes, he's the punter," someone said.
Spikes was curious. So after practice, he looked up Moorman's biography in the media guide. Sure enough, this was no ordinary punter. Moorman had been a three-time NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles at Pittsburg State (Kan.), and a Division II All-American in football and track.
Moorman is an athlete, all right. Against New England, he scooped up a bobbled snap and dashed 34 yards for a first down, the third-longest run ever by a Buffalo punter. In the Oakland game, he completed a 24-yard pass to Kevin Thomas on fourth down.
"I think there are a lot of kickers who are better athletes than people realize," Moorman said. "They don't realize it until you're able to make something happen from a mistake. It's fun to be able to get involved with the game in other ways besides kicking, but the bottom line is, I'm out there to kick."
Moorman can make things happen with his legs, but it's his right one that has made him the Bills' secret weapon. Some feel the 28-year-old Kansas native has been his team's most valuable player so far. He boomed an 80-yarder in the opener and hasn't let up since. His gross average (43.2) is sixth in the AFC, but it doesn't begin to reflect his value. In the Bills' two wins, he was astonishing in the brutal winds of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
After the Miami game, he was voted AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He was even better against Arizona. Moorman punted six times into the wind, four times from inside his own 10-yard line or the end zone. Those four kicks went from 37 to 41 yards, and none was returned.
"It was very satisfying," Moorman said. "It was one of the best games of my career. Some of those balls that I hit were some of the best balls I've ever hit. If I'd been going in the other direction, or on a day with no wind, they may have been farther than any kicks I've ever kicked."
Rian Lindell called it the best punting display he's seen. Scott Player, Arizona's punter, was in awe. Once you've punted on a bad-weather day in Buffalo, you never take a windless day for granted again.
But the list of punting leaders doesn't come with a weather report. It tells you a punter's average, not how fast the wind was whipping off Lake Erie. So at Pro Bowl time, Moorman is at a disadvantage. He didn't make it last year, despite setting a Bills record of 44.6 yards per boot. If it comes down to sheer stats, he won't make it this year, either.
"We've got great punters in the AFC," Moorman said, "and it's going to be tough to make the Pro Bowl. If we keep getting 30 mph winds, it's going to make it even tougher. Unfortunately, sometimes it does come down to numbers."
Not that he's complaining. Four years ago, Moorman wondered if it might be time to start his career as a teacher. In 1999 and 2000, he was released by Seattle. But he led NFL Europe in punting in 2000 and 2001. In July of '01, Tom Donahoe signed Moorman as a free agent.
Moorman was inconsistent in his first NFL season but continues to improve and has become one of the league's best.
Spikes says every punt is an event.
"It's like, 'OK, Moorman's getting ready to punt,' " he said. "You hear people talking on the sidelines. You want to see it."
Moorman laughs at the notion of him as MVP. He's not like the other players who take a pounding every week. But he's an athlete and a football rarity -- a punter who has become a star.