The Eagles signed a potential future Hall of Famer this off-season, and nobody seemed all that excited about it.
Yes, Saverio Rocca was that good when he played Australian Rules football in his native country. He couldn't shop for groceries in Melbourne without being recognized by the fans who admired his work with the Collingwood Magpies and North Melbourne Kangaroos, the two teams that employed him during his illustrious 15-year career.
"It was nice in a way when I got over here," the punter said yesterday after the first day of an Eagles minicamp that consisted mostly of rookies and entirely of players much younger than the 33-year-old Rocca. "Punters don't get recognized a whole lot here anyway, so I'm happy to keep a low profile and stay out of everyone's way."
Rocca said he started thinking about playing in the NFL early during his football career in Australia, where the game is played in an entirely different way.
"Ever since Darren Bennett came over and started punting here, I've always had the thought in the back of my mind that I could do it," Rocca said.
Bennett left Australia to punt in the NFL from 1995 through 2005.
"I didn't really want to cut my AFL career short, because I knew that was a guarantee and that I'd be able to make it there," Rocca said. "But once I retired, I figured I might as well give it a shot. I don't want to wake up 20 or 30 years down the track asking myself, 'Could I have made it?' "
Can Rocca make it with the Eagles?
It really is an interesting question. A year ago, the Eagles were so delighted with Dirk Johnson's work that they signed him to a six-year contract extension just before the start of the season.
Johnson, however, finished 24th in the league with a punting average of 42.6 yards. His net average of 34.9 was 29th. The Eagles obviously want to be better in that department, so they've decided that Rocca, who was revered for his strong leg in Australia, could present suitable competition. Rocca met Johnson earlier this month during the Eagles' three-day, post-draft minicamp.
"Dirk has been all right," Rocca said. "We've seen each other about a half-dozen times. He hasn't been around a lot, but he's doing his stuff back at home. Things have been OK. It seems like there's a feel of competition out there, which is good. If there wasn't, then I wouldn't be doing so well."
Bennett has given Rocca some tips about punting the American version of a football. Rocca also punted in one game in Victoria, Australia, in preparation for a career change. During the Eagles' first minicamp, Johnson was the more consistent of the two punters, but Rocca showed off the leg that made him a legend in Collingwood.
"The balls are almost the same, except the ball over here has the pointier ends," Rocca said. "Ours are a little bit fatter, so this ball has a smaller sweet spot. You really have to make sure you pinpoint where you're hitting it."
With the Magpies and Kangaroos, Rocca had a knack for pinpointing where he was hitting the ball. His 748 goals in 257 games rank 12th all-time in Australian Football League history. He admitted, however, that he wasn't completely satisfied with his AFL career, which included some controversy when he was released - they call it delisted in Australia - by Collingwood after the 2000 season.
"I was there for nine years and I had tendinitis in my knee for a year or two," Rocca said. "I didn't play quite so well in my first year with the new [Collingwood] coach, so he said he'd release me."
With his AFL future in question, Rocca initially tried to kick-start his NFL career in 2000 during a tryout with the Green Bay Packers.
"That didn't go so well," Rocca said. "It was a bit rushed and I had an operation on my leg four weeks before that, so I went back to Australia. I got a gig with another team, the Kangaroos, and played for another six years. But I always had it in the back of my mind that I was going to give this a go."
This time, it's much more serious. Rocca has brought his wife, Rose, and two sons, Matthew, who will soon turn 5, and Lucas, 11/2, with him. The family is living in Moorestown while Rocca tries to join Bennett and the New York Jets' Ben Graham in making the transition from the AFL to the NFL.
Rocca said he was disappointed that he never won a championship in Australia.
"I played in three playoffs and lost the first game in each playoff," he said. "I never experienced a winning playoff game. I didn't want to play 15 years and not experience the winning feeling of a playoff game. Hopefully, that can transpire over here."
Even if it doesn't, there's some thought that Rocca is headed for the AFL's Hall of Fame.
"Some people say that I am, but I don't know," he said. "If it happens, that would be great. But that's behind me now and I'm into a new phase of my life."