Behind The Mask: Neil Rackers

The following is part whatever in a series of posts where our top writers for the Battle Red Onion tag along with our favorite players for the Houston Texans to learn about their lives away from the football field.  The content is raw, unedited, leaves us open to lawsuits, and will probably land us all in jail.  But it's a risk worth taking so we can learn more about the men behind the mask.

Kickers have been long regarded as the odd-man out in football.  When a placekicker is out on the field among regular football players, he looks like he doesn't belong.  Here is this little fella standing among almost two dozen other men who have roughly the same size, and in many cases, appearance, of public transportation vehicles.  Neil Rackers knows the feeling all too well.  Ever since his youth as a soccer player and his conversion to real football, Rackers never felt truly accepted by any football team because his job description consists of "kicking a ball really, really hard."  That feeling would soon change.

It was a sweltering June afternoon at Rice Stadium.  The Texans had begun yet another mini-camp under the leadership of quarterback Matt "teh" Schaub when Rackers came onto the field from the southwest vomitorium.  He always felt butterflies in his stomach whenever he came onto a football field, even just for practice.  He saw the offense stretching on the far side of the field.  Some defensive players, including DeMeco Ryans, were training nearby.  Rackers jogged over to the offense and started warming up.

He could hear the stifled chuckling coming from Jacoby Jones and James Casey as he stretched his legs.  He sat in the very back of the offensive pack, Schaub looked like little more than a bald speck of dust down at the end zone.  Rackers ignored their mockery of him and instead thought about a moment during the last season when he felt like a real football player.  It was Week Four against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Rackers had just kicked off after the Texans scored a touchdown, and the special teams defenders were doing just as much of a bang-up job as the defense.  Rackers was the last remaining defender and he crashed into the returner, knocking him down to the ground.  He felt sore, he felt pain, he felt like a real NFL player. 

Every so often, he would catch himself looking at the defensive players to watch them practice.  They looked like they were trying to destroy the tackling dummy.  He shrugged his shoulders when he saw the defensive players all smiling and busting their butts, a sense unfamiliar to them under previous defensive coaches.  Rackers turned back to the offense, who continued to stretch, each player with a grim, determined look on their face. 

The warm-ups ended and the offense took to the field to work on their offensive drills, which Rackers could not participate in.  He had tried before with disastrous results, and a lot of laughter from the offense.  Rackers went over to the defense. 

"Hey Cap'n!"

Ryans rolled his eyes subtly and jogged over to Rackers.

"What's up, Neil?"

"I don't suppose I could practice with the linebackers, could I?  I've made some pretty hard hits on special teams and I wanted to give it a shot."

Ryans took a step back and placed his hands on his hips.  He scanned Rackers' small frame and occasionally scratched his chin.  A wide grin formed on Ryans' face.

"Oh, you're just too cute," he said pinching Rackers' cheeks, "you want to play with the big kids just like a real football player."

Rackers pulled back and rubbed the offended cheek, "You could have just said no, Cap'n."

"Sorry, dude, but we need to undo all the damage Coach Bush did in his two years here.  That's going to take every second we can spare.  Why don't you go on and practice your kicks?  I don't want you to end up getting hurt or something."

Rackers slumped and walked to the empty end zone.  Ryans called out to him, "You're still the best kicker on the team!"

Yeah, only because I have Matt Turk as competition.

He set up the special teams practice area joined only by the ball holder:  Steve Slaton.

Rackers eyed the ball held by Slaton and kicked the ball straight between the uprights.  Unfortunately, Slaton had forgotten to set up the net behind the uprights, so the ball sailed into the stands behind the end zone.  After fishing the ball from under a bench coated in some sticky, disgusting liquid that Rackers couldn't recognize (which was probably for the best), and coming back down to the field, he noticed that most of the players had left.  The few that hadn't were preparing to depart.  Even Slaton had vanished from sight, so Rackers' day of practice was effectively over without someone to hold the ball.

As he departed the stadium, Rackers thought more about how he wished he could be something other than a kicker for a change; if not a linebacker, then what?  He had trouble with that part.  Nobody was willing to give him a shot.  He couldn't catch a ball, or run with the ball, and he'd be crushed into a fine paste if he tried playing offensive line.  He didn't know what he was going to do, but he knew one thing:  he was getting sick of kicking all the time.

That night, he sat at his favorite watering hole nursing a Cuba libre and talking with Andre Johnson.  Johnson was cool, Rackers thought, he never gave him any crap about being a kicker.  After a couple of hours just shooting the breeze, Johnson's phone beeped, prompting him to see who was calling him.  Johnson's eyes opened wide.

"Sorry, Rack-o, I gotta get moving.  Family emergency."

"Oh, oh, okay.  I guess I'll see you tomorrow, 'Dre."

Johnson laid some money down on the bar to pay for his drink, and rushed out the door.  Rackers looked at the bar as the bartender picked up the money and the glass from the bar, and he noticed Johnson had left his keys on the bar.  Rackers grabbed them and ran after Johnson.  He saw a shadowy figure move into the alley across the street and chased after it.  The alley was dark with the sound of garbage cans being knocked over breaking the silence.  As Rackers came out the other side of the alley, he couldn't see where that figure went.  That's when he heard the scream down the street. 

Rackers hurried down the empty road toward the scream.  He saw a girl surrounded by four vicious-looking meth-addled thugs.  On the ground was a large, muscular man in tight-fitting black and blue spandex, still dazed from the thugs' ambush.

"Your precious Haymaker can't do anything to save you now, little girl.  Just hand over the purse, and you won't be hurt."

The girl tossed her purse to the hood who promptly dumped everything out and grabbed the money inside.

"Very good.  Take her in the back, and do what you want with her," the main thug said as he walked away. 

Rackers arrived just before the girl disappeared into the alleyway with her captors.

"Let her go!" Rackers yelled.

"Hmmmm...no.  Kill him."

Two of the other thugs thrust their knives at Rackers.  He jumped backwards and delivered a roundhouse kick to the side of one thug's face, sending him flying.  He kicked the knife out of the other thug's hand, which hit the ground with a dull clack.  The thug readied his fist but never got the chance to throw a punch with it; Rackers jumped up and performed a bicycle kick to the thug's chin and he flopped to the ground like David Carr.  Seeing how easily he dispatched the other two thugs, the leader and the thug holding the girl hostage ran over to take care of this nuisance.

Rackers took a deep breath, shouted "Tatsumaki senpuu kyaku!" and dropped both thugs with a flying hurricane kick.  The girl ran over to Rackers and wrapped her arms around him.

"Thank you.  I don't know what they would've done to me if you didn't show up."

"Glad to help, miss."

"Wh-who are you anyway?"

Rackers looked around nervously, "Oh, uh...they call me, um...kick-kicker g-guy."

The girl looked in his eyes with a sense of awe and maybe even desire for her hero, "Thank you, Kicker Guy," she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek; only after Rackers had moved his head to avoid kissing her on the lips.  He was married, after all.

The man in spandex slowly got up, trying to clear the cobwebs in his head.  He had also forgotten to put his mask back on.

Rackers looked over at him as the girl left the alleyway, "'Dre?  Is that you?"

Johnson looked around to see where the voice was coming from.  "Wh-who's there?"

"It's me, Neil.  'Dre, ar--are you...Haymaker?"

Johnson didn't know how to respond.  Eventually he just shrugged and said, "Yes, I am Haymaker."

Rackers started jumping up and down in place like a giddy schoolgirl.

"Listen.  You can't tell a soul about this.  I'm pretty sure that I'd get suspended by Goodell for doing this, and I've already beaten the crap out of Innegan twice now."

"Twice?"

"Yeah, once on the field and once when he was Lepre--you know, it's not important.  The point is, you can't tell anyone about this ever.  Deal?"

"Sure, on one condition."

"That is?"

"Let me join you.  I could be your sidekick!  Haymaker and uh...um...Footballer."

"Footballer?"

"Because I'm a kicker, y'know."

"Yeah.  Needs work.  And the answer's no."

"But why?  You saw what I could do to those punks."

"I work alone.  No reason to get you involved in this."

"Except those thugs managed to get the drop on you.  What would you do if the stakes were bigger?"

"I said no.  Now go back to your family, Neil."

As Haymaker was about to scale the building wall, he stopped in his tracks and put his fingers to his ear, like he was a Secret Service agent.  He bolted out the alleyway, shouting to Rackers, "Go home, Neil!"

He thought about going home.  He thought about it and then thought about the rush he got from beating down those meth-heads wearing their Pacman Jones jerseys.  He hadn't felt a thrill like that in years; even going out onto the football field paled in comparison to the excitement of that last fight.  He knew what he had to do.  He followed Johnson, or at least tried to follow him.  When he left the alley, he was nowhere to be found.  When he wandered about town, he passed a store with a wall of televisions in the front window.  He could hear the news the anchor monkey was reading as clearly as if he were in the studio himself.

"We now go live to the Brooks Brothers store on Westheimer where Haymaker has just entered to negotiate with the hostage-taker."

Rackers hurried his way to the clothing store and waited behind a police barricade to see how the situation would shake out.  He quickly grew bored with the lack of action there and snuck around to the back of the building to see more of what's going on.  The back of the building had no windows to look in, however; just a back door that led to a small break room.  He creeped in slowly so as not to draw attention from anyone, especially anyone holding a gun.  He peered around the edge of the doorway to the main showroom.  He saw a half dozen men in fine suits sitting on the floor tied together.  Haymaker stood at the main entrance trying to talk sense into the angry customer with the gun.

"Please, put the gun down.  There's no reason to play cowboy today.  Nobody has to get hurt."

"Hell, no!  These suckers sold me oversized pants!  Now they all droopy on me and it got me kicked outta a mall!  I'ma get new pants fo' free from these guys or I'ma start shooting holes in the place!  You feel me?!"  He looked over at the bound and gagged salesmen.  "You feel me?!"

Haymaker stepped quickly toward the customer, but he turned sooner than he expected. 

"Uh uh," he pointed the gun back at Haymaker, "I don't think so.  Don't take another step closer."

Rackers saw a blur as the man with sagging pants ran at blazing superhuman speed over to Haymaker.

"You're too slow for me, Haymaker," he started running circles around Haymaker.  He literally could not see where the villain was as he ran.

"Dez, there's no need for this.  We can talk about this."  Rackers could see Haymaker was starting to get really irritated at the Cowboys wide receiver and threw an errant punch into the blur.

"Shouldn'ta done that, Haymaker.  And the name..." he leaned close to Haymaker, "...is Flashpoint."

Haymaker managed to duck several of Flashpoint's punches, but the ones that landed knocked Haymaker down for the count.  Flashpoint stood triumphantly over his near-vanquished foe.

"Unnnhhhh, knocked down twice in one day...this lockout's gotta end, I need to go to practice," Haymaker said, rubbing his forehead.

"No more practice for you, I'm afraid.  Say goodnight, Haymaker."  Flashpoint raised the gun to his head and placed his finger on the trigger.

"He said put the gun down."

Flashpoint turned and looked at Rackers, "And who the hell are you?"

Rackers assumed his fighting stance, "Call me Roundhouse."

"I'll call you dead."  Flashpoint raced in a blur at Rackers Roundhouse, thinking he would make fast work of the interloper.

Roundhouse watched Flashpoint come at him as if he were moving in slow motion.  He could see the spittle flying from his mouth as he charged.  Roundhouse dropped low and knocked him into the air; catching Flashpoint completely off guard.  He stood upright and placed a perfectly timed kick to Flashpoint's jaw and sent him reeling across the room.

"You should've put the gun down...Flashpants."

Roundhouse released the salesmen, who gave him a free suit for his trouble, and picked Haymaker up off the ground and hurried out the back way to avoid being spotted by the lookie-loos.  The police came crashing in and took Flashpants into custody just as Roundhouse and Haymaker went out of view.

"How about now?  Still don't need a sidekick?"

"Mmmhmmmm, I'm convinced.  You're hired."

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