Those 49ers kickers just keep on making history.
After already having shattered single-season league marks for most field goals, most field-goal attempts, most points in a season and best net punting average in 2011, PK David Akers and P Andy Lee have been selected by Pro Football Weekly as the first-ever co-recipients of the Golden Toe Award, widely acknowledged as professional football's most prestigious kicking honor.
"It's been good having him around," Lee said of Akers, a six-time Pro Bowler who had established himself as one of the league's more reliable placekickers in 12 seasons with the Eagles before signing a three-year deal with the Niners late last July. "He's just an awesome guy to hang around with and look up to, even though I'm in my eighth year. It's just great seeing how he works at his craft."
Things couldn't have worked out any better for Akers, who told PFW that the presence of both Lee and Niners longtime long-snapper Brian Jennings was one of the big reasons he decided to uproot his family and make the 3,000-mile move to San Francisco.
"I had worked with Andy and Brian at Pro Bowls in the past, so we already had kind of a connection," said Akers, who immediately got the ball rolling on a blockbuster season with a career-high 15-point game (4-of-4 FGs, three PATs) in Week One. "We knew there weren't going to be any personality conflicts. We both just wanted to do our jobs at the highest level possible and have success.
"That Andy was able to hold the last six seasons for (ex-Niners PK) Joe Nedney, who is also left-footed, was important."
So is the extreme importance that both Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh and special-teams coach Brad Seely place on quality special-teams play.
"He's a real X's and O's guy, very detailed," Lee said of Seely, who actually helped develop Akers when Akers was trying out with the Panthers in 1997. "He always has great game plans and goes about getting us to do what he wants in a very fun but serious way, if that's possible.
"He gives us lots of leeway. He lets me decide, when I am directional-kicking, how to adjust to the way the wind is blowing, whether I hit it to the left or to the right. It may seem small, but it gives us freedom within his scheme.
"It's fun because the scheme works. He just puts guys in the right situations to make plays."
Akers certainly had fun in the regular-season finale against the Rams, when he lined up for an apparent 32-yard FG attempt and instead took a direct snap from Jennings and tossed a 14-yard TD pass to a wide-open Michael Crabtree near the left sideline.
"Just to have an opportunity to do something like that was special," Akers said. "It's funny because I got critiqued later. When that snap came back to me, I just said to myself, 'Oh man, just don't overthrow it!' I threw the ball in the general vicinity and probably should have put a bit more pepper on the ball, but the end result was pretty cool."
Lee said the coolest moments in his banner season came in his brilliant effort in the Niners' surprisingly one-sided 20-3 victory over the Steelers in Week 15, when he boomed six punts for a net average of 49.2 yards, including four punts that landed inside the 20-yard line and a long of 62 yards.
"That definitely was a special game," said Lee, a three-time Pro Bowler who already had set the franchise record for most punting yards before this season, in addition to now ranking first in franchise history with a 45.7-yard gross average. "It was 'Monday Night Football,' on a big national stage against the Steelers, one of the best teams in the NFL. And it was a must-win situation for us, too, knowing that we had to win out."
Lee credits more directional punting and the Niners' stellar kick coverage for much of his record-breaking success this season.
"In the past, I'd just the kick the ball away from certain return guys maybe three or four games a year," he said. "This year, there was only one game where we kicked the ball down the middle of the field. That helped with the net, but so did our coverage guys. (Blake) Costanzo and C.J. (Spillman) and (Tavares) Gooden. And (Chris) Culliver as the gunner on the other side. We've had four to five guys on every punt just killing it."
Speaking of killing, that was what Akers was doing to the ball on a lot of his field-goal attempts this season, connecting on 7-of-9 three-pointers from 50 yards and beyond, including a long of 55.
Is it possible the 37-year-old Akers has found himself a Fountain of Youth in the Bay Area?
"I don't think it's ever been a case of me not having the length," said Akers, who finished the season with a mind-boggling 166 points — 19 more than his closest pursuer, Saints PK John Kasay. "But sometimes you just have to be in the right situation.
"Each week, because of the way we've been able to run the ball and maintain possession, and the way the defense has kept forcing three-and-outs, we knew we were going to have opportunities to put points on the board, whether it's TDs or field goals.
"It's been wonderful. There's an aura around this team that I really enjoy."
2011 PK David Akers / S.F.
P Andy Lee / S.F.
2010 PK Billy Cundiff / Balt.
2009 P Shane Lechler / Oak.
2008 PK Jason Hanson / Det.
2007 PK Rob Bironas / Ten.
2006 PK Josh Brown / Sea.
2005 PK Neil Rackers / Ariz.
2004 PK Adam Vinatieri / N.E.
2003 PK Mike Vanderjagt / Ind.
2002 PK Adam Vinatieri / N.E.
2001 P Todd Sauerbrun / Car.
2000 PK Matt Stover / Balt.
1999 P Craig Hentrich / Tenn.
1998 PK Gary Anderson / Minn.
1997 PK Pete Stoyanovich / K.C.
1996 PK Cary Blanchard / Ind.
1995 PK Morten Andersen / Atl.
1994 PK Fuad Reveiz / Minn.
1993 PK Norm Johnson / Atl.
1992 P Rich Camarillo / Phoenix
1991 P Jeff Gossett / L.A. Raiders
1990 PK Nick Lowery / K.C.
1989 PK Eddie Murray / Det.
1988 PK Scott Norwood / Buff.
1987 P Jim Arnold / Det.
1986 PK Morten Andersen / N.O.
1985 No Award
1984 PK Norm Johnson / Sea.
1983 PK Ali Haji-Sheikh / N.Y.G.
1982 PK Mark Moseley / Wash.
1981 PK Rafael Septien / Dall.
1980 PK Fred Steinfort / Den.
1979 P Bob Grupp / K.C.
1978 PK Frank Corral / L.A. Rams
1977 PK Mark Moseley / Wash.
1976 PK Toni Linhart / Balt.
1975 P Ray Guy / Oak.
1974 PK Roy Gerela / Pitt.
1973 PK David Ray / L.A. Rams
1972 PK Don Cockroft / Clev.
1971 PK Garo Yepremian / Mia.
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