Fourth and Swag

Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King doesn't get nervous—he gets your attention. And then during off-days at his place in Silicon Valley, his attention turns to wine, cars and...SpongeBob?

By Jonathan Abrams

Illustration by John F. Malta

December 8, 2016

Marquette King is all about donning camouflage—it colors his clothes and his car—but he'll never hide who he is. He lets YouTube how-tos guide his fingers on the gleaming black piano in his after-work oasis, but there's no sheet music for the rhythms behind his dances on the football field.

He'll provoke Cam Newton, Hit Dem Folks with a penalty flag and carve his initials into the hearts of Ravens fans, but there's no malice in the man who, through skill and a cultivated swagger, has managed—somehow, incredibly—to make punting cool.

"I want to be myself to the point to where it makes everybody else want to be theyself," King, the 28-year-old Oakland Raiders punter, says. "It's weird. I wonder if some people are always focused on trying to put on a front just to let everybody else know how cool they are and be themselves behind closed door?"

It is not a question that King has to ask himself. He has danced before this season. You probably didn't notice. The Raiders were out of sight, out of mind to most, and they lost often, even as King quickly and quietly developed into one of the NFL's better punters. But winning changes perceptions, and more eyes are on him now.

That type of focus may have bothered King in the past. Nerves coursed through him during his first career punt—an August 2012 preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. An opposing linebacker saw a black punter and figured the play had to be a fake. King laughed and booted the ball 57 yards.

Now, four years later, it's the day after King celebrated a 47-yard punt against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12 by dabbing, poking the beast that is the reigning MVP Newton. He has retreated to a sleek, modern but boxy single-story house at the bottom of a leafy Silicon Valley hill. It is the home of his agent's mother—"My mom out here," he says proudly—a place where he can use his Monday to decompress before "I get smacked in the face with reality Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday."

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Marquette King punts during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum on December 7, 2014, in Oakland, California. (Getty Images)

King has his options for optimal relaxation. Inside, he can grab a glass and pour some wine from the cabinet. Cabernet is his preferred choice. "It's perfect, man," King says, "and then I can light the fire and just chill." He can walk in the backyard and take in the crisp California air filtered through the leaves of skyscraping trees and listen as birds chirp. On this day, he offers to boot some balls into the sky but quickly rethinks the overture. The neighbors—just an onside kick away—are luckily spared for the time being.

He rarely watches television but often tunes in to cartoons when he does. Hello, SpongeBob SquarePants. If he wants to split the difference between being inside and outside, he can head to the jacuzzi, on the patio but still cornered off by walls. The piano is the living room's centerpiece. King taught himself how to play in his spare time on the road. "I go home after practice every day and compete with myself on how to get better playing this song," he says. "I might practice for like 30 minutes, get away from it for about 15, go back on it and the whole day will be gone like that because I've been practicing."

King also taught himself Ray Lewis' squirrel dance: a slide to the left, to the right, a wiggle of the legs and a puffing of the chest. In October, King mimicked the dance in Baltimore against the Ravens, crystallizing himself as a punter neither we nor the NFL has ever seen.

Punters are traditionally monotonic in their actions and routine. They enter on fourth down. They kick. They shuffle off the field. Home fans typically bemoan their appearance. Their presence usually means the offense has failed. But King is there to let you know he has a job to do, just like Derek Carr or Amari Cooper. And that job? King does it well while having fun, dancing in the afterglow of one successful punt after another.

In the locker room before the game against the Ravens, King pondered how he could rile up Baltimore's fans. He watched Lewis' dance on YouTube again and again—slide, slide, boom!—before finally feeling confident enough to give it a shot. He knew he would perform it if he landed a good punt—he sent the ball sailing 55 yards to the Baltimore 8-yard line—but he was unaware that he was dancing in the middle of the field until a chorus of boos rained down on him.

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."


"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."

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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.'"


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.


Marquette King looks on from the sidelines during a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on August 27, 2016, in Oakland, California. (Getty Images)

In that head-scratching social media post, King tweeted an image earlier this season of himself punting with the caption: Sometimes you see a deer and you're like o cool a deer.

"I looked at how the Raiders always post these Instagram pictures with players and quotes, like, 'The team did real good today' or 'I love my defense' or whatever," King says. "They have a picture of the player and a quote that they say in the interview, and I'm like, 'Man, the Raiders always doing stuff like this, man. I don't even have one of these. I'm going to create my own.'"

He asked his friend, Rod Streater, a former Raider, about what quote he should tack onto his picture, and Streater suggested the deer quote.

As far as what it means?

"I don't know; it's whatever you want it to mean," King says, laughing. "I'm going to leave it open."

He was just as playful—but a bit more definitive—in his viral tweet pointing out the Buffalo Bills "snitch" who alerted the refs to his most viral post-punt dance to date: picking up and waving a yellow penalty flag thrown against Buffalo in the fourth quarter Sunday. The refs waved the flag right back at him—for a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Worth it.

He is still that same Georgia kid, the one who grew up idolizing Michael Vick. Seeing Vick on an NFL field once stunned King. He forced himself to snap out of it. "I had to realize like, I'm in the NFL too," he said. He figures social media is a way to break that wall between fan and player. He wants to interact with fans the way he wishes he could have when he was younger. He can do that, while chilling with a glass of wine and decompressing on his Mondays.

He then works hard on his craft the rest of the work week, all to have fun on the weekend out on the field.

"Shoot, everybody's on the pitch count," King says. "We can only play this game for so long. I know when I get old, I want to be like, 'You know what? Oh, I did this. I did something stupid right after this. Watch this.' And be able to laugh at it. I don't want to be old and be like, 'Oh, man. I should have did what that punter did.' I don't want to get to that point, so I want to do everything I want to do, and then when I'm done, then I'm going to be glad with the decisions I made doing it."

Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling author of Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams.

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