Marquette King turns a lot of heads with his post-punt celebrations. He says, "It forces me to focus even more, so I don't make any mistakes, so I don't look stupid from doing whatever just to kind of have my fun." (Getty Images)
The boos, King says, allowed him to build an edge that day. "It forces me to focus even more, so I don't make any mistakes, so I don't look stupid from doing whatever just to kind of have my fun," he says. "I also don't do it to flex or show off."
For a long time, King felt as though every eye in the stadium ventured to the back of his jersey whenever he trotted onto the field. He wanted to gain the perspective of a fan, so he attended a Monday night game between the Rams and 49ers in nearby Santa Clara in Week 1. In the stands, some people watched the game. Most did not. They were too busy having fun to notice or care whenever a punter came onto the field.
"I was so far away from the players, it's like, 'Why do I even get nervous?'" King says of his perspective from the stands. "I'm so far away, nobody can do nothing to me. It's like, 'You know what? I shouldn't ever get nervous again.' So, I don't. I don't get nervous. I just get anxious to be the best."
King is sitting at a clear glass table midway between the piano and wine cabinet as he talks on this Monday. He's wearing an earth-toned hoodie and, yes, camouflage pants. "I like camouflage," he says. "I don't know why. Just ever since I seen it, I just latched onto it." He believes he would have either been a teacher or entered the military had this punting thing not worked out. "I think the military would have been a lot more fun than teaching," he says.
He is soon interrupted. A notary has arrived, and King has to sign a pile of papers for his mortgage. He messes up. "You can just white it out," he says.
"I don't get nervous. I just get anxious to be the best."
— MARQUETTE KING
"We can't just white it out," the notary counters.
"What if I draw a line through it?" he asks. Nope, can't do that either.
He is asked about the Raiders' recent game in Mexico against the Houston Texans. In Mexico, the air was thin. "I had a good game, almost by accident," King says. "I felt drunk. I got tired walking."
That his punting career is flourishing is impressive considering how it originated. King signed a five-year extension earlier this year, worth $16.5 million in total and $7.75 million in guaranteed money. As a kid, growing up in Macon, Georgia, King never really considered it as a future profession. But he didn't like staying inside.
"I'd just go outside by myself, because a lot of kids didn't want to go outside," he says. "I'd just go out in the backyard and just kick a ball back and forth, and then it got to a point to where I had to knock on a neighbor's door and ask him could I kick the ball in his yard, because I started getting better with it. So, I just started kicking in his yard. Then if I mishit a punt, then I would hit his house, so I started going the opposite way."
He played receiver in high school. The guys who got the girls scored touchdowns, of course. He began kicking almost as a lark, sending knuckleballs into the sky once the previous punter had graduated. At Fort Valley State, he played receiver until a coach pledged to take away his scholarship unless he converted to a full-time punter. King eventually relented. All right, he figured. Might as well have fun while doing it. (Memo to Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio: King would love to play offense for you, "if they needed an extra receiver because all the other receivers got abducted by aliens or something.")
A friend mentioned that King could get paid for punting. Sure enough, the Oakland Raiders phoned King shortly after the 2012 draft and offered him a free-agent contract. King ran into the street "like I'm just invincible or something," he says. "I felt like I could do anything. Yeah, it was cool. After that, me and my family went to the mall and got Oakland Raiders hats and got the date stitched on the side of when I got the call, and the hat still sits in the house."
He didn't know much about the Oakland Raiders and hadn't traveled anywhere close to California. So it was a surprise—and deflating—when a friend informed him that the Raiders had the league's best punter, an all-timer in Shane Lechler. Still, King had been scheduled to punt in the team's last preseason game his first year, but his foot swelled up after a weightlifting injury and he had trouble walking. "I thought it was over," King says. "I thought it was over because I wouldn't be able to play in the last game."
Marquette King leads the Oakland Raiders holding a Raiders flag on to the field before a game against the Denver Broncos on November 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Getty Images)
Instead, the Raiders wisely decided to keep him. After Lechler left for the Houston Texans in 2013, King outdueled veteran Chris Kluwe to become Oakland's punter.
He has been stealing the spotlight ever since.
"Punting's not a bad thing," King insists. "One thing I hate is when people are like, 'I hope I don't see you on the field at all,' and I'm like, 'Well, dang.' It's crazy, man. Sometimes, it'll make me mad, because it's like if I say, 'I hope you don't do your job either.' I mean, punting is not a bad thing at all. It don't mean the offense fails. You can punt the ball, the dude can drop the ball and the offense could get the ball back closer to the goal line."
He has strived to create a delicate balance between caring and not caring so much that it affects his game. His average net punt of 42.6 yards is good for fourth in the league, and he is tied for fourth with 27 of his punts ending inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
He walks the sideline during games and grins a lot. He laughs at fans in the stands and players on the field. He may punt into the net to stay loose, waiting for the time that may be his only play or two to get onto the field that game. "Team's gotten so much better, I got to bring some cards out there on the field because I be chilling for like a whole half," he says.
I'm the best-looking person out here, King now thinks before each punt. I'm the most swaggiest person in the world. I can't be stopped right now. To King, swag is a combination of how people carry themselves and confidence. "You get both of those together, then that's where swag is created," he says, adding: "[It's] a way that you can be different, where you can kind of stand out to where it doesn't affect you, because some people can overdo it. I don't feel like I overdo it."
So, King celebrates when no punter has celebrated before.
There are rules to the dances. He'll go in whenever he can pin an opponent inside the 10-yard line. If he's farther away, he’ll dance to a 55- or 60-yard punt that'll still leave an opponent behind the 20-yard line. "I wouldn't celebrate on a 45-yard or 50-yard punt fair catch in the middle of the field somewhere," King says.
He does it all, he says, in good fun.
Against Carolina, King ran on the field during team introductions and spotted Newton. He dabbed then, and Newton laughed. "The way I do it, if I see somebody else dancing, do a dance celebration or whatever, then if I make a play, then I'm going to do the same celebration they did," he says. "I'm always finding something."
"Punting's not a bad thing. One thing I hate is when people are like, 'I hope I don't see you on the field at all,' and I'm like, 'Well, dang.'"
— MARQUETTE KING
The inside joke is that King is keenly aware of his dancing skills—aware that he doesn't have any.
"I know I ain't a good dancer," he says. "I mean, I got rhythm, but I ain't got rhythm like that, you know what I'm saying? I need to take some dance classes." He is already prepared to pay the fine upon the extreme unlikelihood he should score a touchdown. Only seven punters have done so, and the last was the Ravens' Sam Koch in 2012—oddly enough, against the Raiders.
"I would probably run up in the stands and just sit down somewhere," King says as his eyes light up at the thought of scoring a TD. "I just know me. I got this balance of just not caring but caring. Punters don't usually score, so if I ever scored, I would just do something that I know nobody else would do. I don't even care if I get fined, because I had fun doing it."
It is King being King. What other punter in the league would make a grown man cry upon meeting him like King did recently when he met a fan shopping for Raiders gear at a team store?
Then there's King on social media, which he has mastered just like punting. He smiles, thinking back to when Joe—he forgets his last name (it's Thomas, the Cleveland Browns' All-Pro offensive lineman)—tweeted that the NFL should fine a team whose punter celebrates like King. King originally fired back on Twitter, advising Thomas to "stay in your lane." He quickly deleted the tweet. He preaches positive vibes only—and something about allowing a deer to be a deer.