The 88-year history of the Giants has produced an incredible fraternity of alumni. “Once a Giant, always a Giant,” the late Wellington Mara preached. And in that brotherhood, there is a group within the group. They aren’t the most visible or celebrated, but they are important and beloved. They are the punters, and they lost a member one week ago when Dave Jennings passed away at the age of 61.
From Jennings to Sean Landeta to Jeff Feagles, the link of special teamers who once wore the New York Giants uniform litters the top of the NFL record books as all-time greats at the position.
“You look back at Dave and you’ve got Sean Landeta and myself and you look at those three names, and you see a lot of years with the Giants organization,” Feagles said in a phone interview the day Jennings died after suffering from Parkinson’s disease since 1996. “I’d say we’ve got a nice little group there. It’s kind of a fraternity, and it means a lot to me and just for my name to be associated with those two guys is very special.”
Spanning four decades, Feagles’ NFL career began in 1988, a season after Jennings retired from the New York Jets, which he joined after Landeta succeeded him as the Giants’ punter. Feagles, playing for the Eagles at the time, first met Jennings in 1991 when he was a finalist for a punting award, which Jennings presented at a banquet in Tampa Bay. But it wasn’t until Feagles arrived in New York in 2003 – when Jennings was in the Giants radio booth — that the two punters got to know each other personally.
Feagles, through the Giants’ alumni network, kept up with the diminishing health of Jennings and had been thinking of him in the weeks leading up to his death.
“I heard the news, and it was a real sad day for me,” Feagles said. “Being a punter and following Dave Jennings and his career and what he did for the position, it’s kind of ironic because Dave Jennings was the player that got the Inside-the-20 statistic put in the NFL, and I’m the all-time leader in that category. So it’s synonymous and it’s sad. I was happy that I had the chance to spend time with him when he was somewhat healthy and still working for the Giants’ broadcast team. We spent many hours in the back of the plane just talking punting, which doesn’t happen very often. We just really got into the nuts and bolts of the position and how it’s just transformed into what it is today.”
Feagles said two memories stand out above the rest when thinking about Jennings – one good, one bittersweet. The former was a picture taken from the awards banquet when he first met Jennings after his third season in the NFL. He doesn’t have the photo but remembers the lineup: former Pro Bowl punters Tommy Barnhardt, Reggie Roby, himself, Dave Jennings, and Rich Camarillo.
The other memory took place in 2011 and is still hard to swallow.
“One of the worst memories I have is, unfortunately, it was a great day in his life, a great day in Giants nation, if you will, when he got inducted to the Ring of Honor,” Feagles recalled of the ceremony, which took place at halftime of the Giants’ Week 13 loss to Green Bay at MetLife Stadium. “Just seeing the state that he was in that day, he had to be in a golf cart.”
As far as appreciation goes, Jennings will always have a special place in the hearts of Giants fans. But Feagles thought Jennings deserved more credit around the NFL.
“I honestly believe that Dave Jennings didn’t get the respect that he deserved,” Feagles said. “I think that he was a pioneer. I think that he had great vision, and he was very, very passionate about the position as a punter and really wanted people to understand it by what he got the NFL to do — to put that Inside-the-20 statistic in. Because when you think about what punters do, it’s about field position, and that is such an important statistic. So with that in mind, I don’t think a lot of people know that he’s the man that did that.
“If you’re a little bit of a historian for the position like I am, you would understand that he should have got a lot more credit and he should have got a lot more respect.”
*There will be a memorial service for Jennings on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at St John’s Episcopal Church, 301 East Main St, Ramsey, New Jersey.
Tags: Dave Jennings, Jeff Feagles
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