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The thinking man's punter

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


Thirty-five and in his 12th NFL season, Mark Royals, a 6-1, 215-pound punter, has seen it all. Now he says it all on relationships with teammates, Ray Perkins, the NFL cities, respect punters never get, Pokemon and his million-dollar hairdo.

RM: Do your teammates know you well?

MR: I think it's very rare that you get a lot of guys on the team who get along really well and get to know each other. A lot of that is the makeup of men in general. I have found over the years that men are a lot more superficial in the way they get to know each other. It's more of a, "Hey, what's up? How you doing?" For the most part, for everyone, it's somewhat of a facade.

RM: Aren't you and (kicker) Martin Gramatica pretty tight?

MR: Yeah, but I don't think that just because we're kickers we automatically have a bond. I met Martin before I actually came here. I had been in New Orleans, been released and didn't know where I was going to go. I happened to be working out at USF one day and Martin (and his brother Bill) came out and we talked and jokingly I said, "Let me hold a couple balls for you so I can get a feel for how you like the ball held. And who knows maybe I will hold the ball for you ... "

RM: What's the best thing about the NFL?

MR: The relationships that you build. It's something very special about a groups of guys from different walks of life striving for one goal. You're able to put all your differences aside to try to attain one specific goal. It's a bond you develop that I don't think you have in any other places.

RM: The worst thing?

MR: The business side of it. It can be very brutal, very unforgiving.

RM: Worse than losing?

MR: I tell you what, I've found over the last two years that the longer I play this game the more the losing affects me. The window of opportunity is starting to narrow. I'm starting to realize that it's not going to last forever and when a good opportunity slips by, it can be very frustrating. It's a tossup.

RM: Punters get no love, do they?

MR: I feel confident that when Sunday rolls around the people that matter are very comfortable with having us back there and doing the job. As long as my peers respect what I'm doing on the field then all that other stuff is nonsense. I know what I do is very difficult. There are only 30 people in the world that do what I do.

RM: Are you one of the more athletic punters in the league?

MR: That's a tough call. I certainly consider myself one of the best. When you're able to maintain a career for this length of time, it tells you that you're doing something right.

RM: What else could you play?

MR: Probably quarterback. I throw the ball pretty well and I think that if I really decided that that was what I needed to do I could to it.

RM: Ever played soccer?

MR: Never.

RM: What did you think about the debates?

MR: I watched as much as I could stomach. I get really tired of the mudslinging that goes on at the time of the debates. I really get sick and tired of hearing all the promises of what they're going to do and it seems like to me it's a bunch of propaganda to get elected.

RM: Tell me about Ray Perkins.

MR: My feelings about Ray? I have heard all the negative comments about him. Now, when I decided to sign here as a free agent and had already been cut three other times, I asked him to be honest with me and tell me the truth about my chances. He looked me dead in the eyes, and everyone knows how he had that cold stare, and he told me that the guy here at the time (Chris Mohr) "is like a son to me, but that doesn't matter, "I'm going to keep the best guy.' " He told me if I earned it, I'd get it. I earned it and I got it. I'm definitely grateful. He was true to his word. RM: ESPN or CNN/SI?

MR: I watch both.

RM: Pikachu or Charmander?

MR: Pikachu is the only one I know.

RM: Do you grasp this Pokemon thing?

MR: It's amazing to me. I don't understand it and I don't know how the kids understand it. My daughter (Brooke) is 3 and she's got all these Pokemon cards. She likes the ones that are shiny. It's a craze, but it's unbelievable.

RM: Why do you like the movie, A Few Good Men?

MR: It seemed that it was fairly clean. I don't think a lot of the vulgarity you see in movies is necessary. I'm not a prude or anything, but it's just not my style. Plus, I like what it stood for and I like Jack Nicholson.

RM: Would there be a Code Red on a football team for a slacker?

MR: I don't think there is such a thing as a Code Red. But, I can tell you, if you have veteran leadership on your team and there's something going on that needs to be addressed, those guys would address it. Sometimes it may not be pleasant. The point, however, would be made.

RM: Aside from Tampa, what's the best NFL city?

MR: The city that I found surprisingly nice was Pittsburgh. It was a blue-collar town with hard-working people but the city was nicer than I thought. I was expecting this really run-down, nasty, steel-like city and it wasn't like that.

RM: Worst city?

MR: New Orleans was a good place to visit, not a good place to live. I'll just leave it there.

RM: What's the deal with your hair?

MR: Why does everyone want to know about my hair? Somebody told me that I was getting gray on the side and my response is that my hair can turn any color as long as it doesn't turn loose. My teammates get on me for my hair all the time. Eric Zeier, you know he's a little folliclely challenged, he gives me all this heat and says he would like to have my hair. It's always there. I guess it's because I haven't changed it for long time it looks in place all the time. I guess I'm blessed.

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