David Akers figures he hardly deserves mention in the same breath as Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, someone the kicker watched and admired when he was growing up in Kentucky.
The only thing is, Akers is on pace to break San Francisco’s single-season points record that Rice set when he scored 138 in 1987. There’s no avoiding such talk as the season moves into December, with NFC West-leading San Francisco on the verge of clinching its first playoff berth since 2002.
Akers is considered among the 49ers’ most important offseason acquisitions after they signed him to a three-year deal in late July—right up there with the high-profile hiring of coach Jim Harbaugh.
Yet nobody knew quite how much these two would mean in a major turnaround for an organization determined to return to the success of the glory days when Rice became arguably the best wide receiver in NFL history.
“If I end up breaking that, they need to put an asterisk on it, because you just don’t beat a Jerry Rice,” Akers said. “As a receiver, what he did in that season, all the touchdowns and a 140-something points.
“I’d like to get more points, but I just want to take my name off the record books if we get it, all right? My era watching football as a real little kid was watching the Redskins and Joe Jacoby and those guys, Joe Theismann, and then there was Joe Montana and Young. Coming in here and meeting Tom Rathman was like, dude! And there’s Dwight Clark. And Roger Craig and those guys. That’s who I watched as a kid.
“So, Jerry, watching him for all those years. And I got to play in a Pro Bowl against him. And, to me, it’s just not a fair statement to say you can put (me) in the same category.”
Akers kicked a 52-yard field goal in San Francisco’s 16-6 loss at Baltimore last Thursday night, making him 6 for 6 from 50-plus yards this season. He is 28 for 33 overall on field goals and has converted all 24 of his point after attempts, giving him 108 points with five games to go.
Harbaugh insists he would be perfectly comfortable and confident in letting the left-footed Akers line up for a field goal of 60-plus yards.
“Depending on the field, depending on wind, he’s hit a 59-yarder so far this year,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve seen him do that in practice. Depending on wind conditions, somewhere 59, 60, 60-plus.”
In a 27-20 victory over the New York Giants on Nov. 13, Akers booted four field goals and even set one up with a surprise onside kick.
The team’s oldest player—he turns 37 on Dec. 9—sure is showing the Philadelphia Eagles just what they lost in letting him go. Akers most certainly is headed for his sixth Pro Bowl in 13 NFL seasons.
“Akers, oh my God, field goals, I don’t think he will miss,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “You give him a good time to kick it, he’s going to make it.”
Akers showed he is indeed human during a win against Arizona on Nov. 20— though rainy conditions and a soggy field at Candlestick Park didn’t help his cause. Akers had two field goals blocked and missed another wide right, snapping his streak of 15 straight made attempts.
He acknowledges many times it’s the luck of the draw with weather, wind or other unforeseen conditions.
“I tried a 54-yarder last year. It was 27-something degrees out there, it was against the Vikings, into the wind and we had just sodded the field so it was really soft,” Akers recalled “I hit it straight and it came up like 4 yards short. I mean, I hit it pretty good. You just can’t (control) that.”
Akers hasn’t tweaked much in his approach or technique in years. Make that 15 years, actually. Not since his early days with Carolina, Akers’ original team.
It was there he began to pattern himself after John Kasay, now the 42-year-old kicker for the New Orleans Saints.
“The only thing I’ve messed with or tooled around with are kickoffs,” he said. “But I’ve tried to be as much like John Kasay as possible when I kick. That started back in ’97.”
That style has served him well.
Akers, punter Andy Lee and long-snapper Brian Jennings are usually on their own field during practice while the rest of the group works nearby—and Akers shows off his strong leg by routinely sending 50-yard field goals through the uprights.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound kicker can’t be missed for his fashion sense, either—always stylish in hats or glasses.
“I’ve seen a lot of leadership from David in the locker room. I knew he was a great guy and a high-character guy, but I didn’t anticipate what kind of a leader he was and what kind of impact he’d have on our team,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a kicker be as much of a leader as David has been. I can’t say enough about him. A class act all the way.”
For Jennings, Akers is another lefty kicker to replace Joe Nedney this season. Jennings appreciates everything Akers has brought this year.
“These games come down to a couple points here or there,” Jennings said Wednesday. “The presence and stability he brings to that position, the performance that he’s brought to that position, has really been the difference in us winning a lot of games. The outcome would be a lot more uncertain if he hadn’t made the kicks that he has made.”
Akers landed in the Bay Area after 12 seasons with Philadelphia, where John Harbaugh—Jim’s big brother—served as his special teams coach for eight years.
Akers was named to the past two Pro Bowls and last season set a career high with 23 touchbacks. But the Eagles drafted kicker Alex Henery in the fourth round, making Akers expendable.
That has worked out beautifully for Akers, Harbaugh and the 49ers.
“He’s just somebody that treats everybody with respect, therefore he earns respect,” Harbaugh said. “He’s just a good guy, got a good heart. People have good antennas and I think our guys perceive that.”