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Benny Worthy Jr
On a Florida Friday night, shoe met leather and Mike Hollis rang in his second professional football career. A 50-year-old on the football field, wearing a uniform other than black and white stripes sported by the refs. Believe it. So, how did the Jacksonville Jaguars original feel after football debut No. 2? "Very tired," as Hollis put it — but a winner. "I didn't realize how much kicking I would have to do," he said. "There was a lot of kicking."
Two decades after stepping away from the NFL, the former Pro Bowl kicker returned to the sport with the Jacksonville Sharks, becoming the oldest player in the National Arena League's five-year history. Quarterback Arvell Nelson ensured that both Hollis and the Sharks ended the game as winners, dashing around end for the game-winning 1-yard touchdown as time expired to down the San Antonio Gunslingers 72-67 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. Nelson scored 10 touchdowns — eight passing, two rushing — to lead the Sharks (3-4) in a roller-coaster, 139-point night of football on the indoor field.
The first player to kick for the Jaguars in regular-season competition, Hollis converted 175 field goals during the NFL team's glory years from 1995 to 2001, including AFC Championship visits in the 1996 and 1999 seasons and a trip to the Pro Bowl after the 1997 campaign. But injuries, particularly back issues, cut short his career not long thereafter. Before Friday, he hadn't played a competitive game or tasted the winning feeling in competition since Dec. 29, 2002 for the Buffalo Bills against the Cincinnati Bengals.
After building a career as a kicking instructor, the longtime Jacksonville resident made his first move toward an on-field return by practicing with the Sharks in the spring. But the kicking job originally went to Brandon Behr, followed by Cody Barber for most of the last month. On Wednesday, the Sharks added Hollis to the active roster, giving him his chance for a second football chapter.
"I had to do some mental stuff, because you get yourself caught up in being too anxious," he said. "You have to calm yourself down and not do anything different. That's the biggest thing that I learned playing in the NFL years ago." The moment he kicked off Friday, Hollis joined the list of the oldest players on record in professional football history. The record for oldest player to line up in an NFL game belongs to Pro Football Hall of Famer George Blanda, who was 48 when he kicked for the Oakland Raiders. Former soccer striker Manfred Burgsmueller, who played for West Germany's national team in the 1970s, was older still — 52 years old — when he closed his career as an NFL Europe kicker in 2002.
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