Originally created 01/15/04

Wanted: New nickname for Colts' Hunter the Punter



INDIANAPOLIS -- Hunter the Punter might need a new nickname.

The Indianapolis Colts' offense has been so spectacular through two playoff victories that Hunter Smith has not punted once. And the Colts wouldn't mind giving him another day off when they play the New England Patriots for the AFC title Sunday.

"I've never been through anything like this," Smith said Wednesday. "I know I didn't punt against Buffalo one time, but this has been very different."

Smith isn't complaining, even though his No. 1 duty hasn't been necessary during the Colts' best playoff run since the 1995 season. The only work he's done so far? Holding for kicker Mike Vanderjagt on field goals and extra points.

"Nobody really likes Hunter that much anyway," NFL co-MVP Peyton Manning said with a smile.

In a 41-10 first-round victory over Denver, Indianapolis scored on its first seven possessions, a streak that ended only when Edgerrin James lost a fumble. On their next possession, the Colts came up short on fourth down while trying to run out the clock.

In Sunday's 38-31 win at Kansas City, the Colts scored on six of eight possessions. On the other two, the Colts ran out the clock at the end of the first half and ran the clock down to eight seconds at the end of the game. The Chiefs didn't punt, either, making it the first NFL playoff game with zero punts.

"It's a little bit unusual for your punter not to punt in two weeks," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "It's a testament to our offense that we haven't turned it over and he hasn't punted. That's very, very unusual."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is impressed with what the Colts' offense is doing.

"It's been awesome," Belichick said. "They're averaging 40 points a game, they don't have to punt. ... They've been as efficient as you can possibly be."

So now Smith - whose nickname was devised to distinguish him from the Colts' trainer named Hunter Smith - is being dubbed, "Hunter the Non-Punter."

He doesn't mind the attention.

On Wednesday, he laughed when asked about his limited role so far in the playoffs.

"That's life as a punter," he said. "You're known for holds, or a fake field goal or not punting. It's a very eccentric position on the field."

During high school, Smith played quarterback, running back, tight end, kicker and punter. The Colts consider him one of their best athletes. In a weekly team passing contest to hit the crossbar from 30 yards, Smith frequently is among the finalists.

After signing a six-year, $4.78 million contract in March to stay with the Colts, he averaged 42.2 yards on 62 punts this season. Smith put 20 kicks inside the 20-yard line, had just three touchbacks and one block.

Perhaps his most notable achievements, though, came in his secondary job. With Smith's help, Vanderjagt did not miss a field goal or extra point all season.

And Smith is one of only four Colts with a rushing touchdown: He scored on a 21-yard run off a fake field goal against the New York Jets in November.