Paul Ernster recounted the tale of his Sunday night traipse into forgetfulness with the self-deprecating chuckles and smiles of a man who’d long since learned not to take himself with the dour demeanor of an undertaker at work.
“I’ve never been that big of a bonehead before, especially in front of such a large audience,” he said.
Of course, he didn’t lose his head; just his helmet — and only for a couple of seconds. But since his U-turn to the bench was captured by one of the many NBC cameras on hand Sunday evening, the incident worked its way into national note, from the game broadcast itself to repeated mentions on ESPN’s SportsCenter the following day.
“My agent made me watch it a couple of times, because he wanted me to relive it,” Ernster said. “He made a funny comment; he said, ‘You should contact Southwest (Airlines) and make one of those ‘Want to get away?’ commercials. I think that would be pretty funny.”
What kept Ernster from making it all the way into his punt position at the back of the end zone was a castigation from one of the game’s officials, who noticed that the second-year punter was running onto the field prepared for Australian Rules football rather than the North American variety.
“I can’t really say (exactly) what (the official) said, but he basically said, ‘What are you doing, idiot? Get your helmet on,’” Ernster recalled. “That and a few other choice words. I kind of laughed after he said it; it was kind of funny.”
“I was really stressed, because as I was running (back) to the sidelines, everybody’s looking at me (thinking), ‘What’s wrong with this meathead? Why is he running off the field? That’s when I’d realized I’ve got my beanie on, and then thankfully one of our equipment guys grabbed my helmet and gave it to me at the sideline, so I could get out there. If he hadn’t met me, I don’t know if I would have made it out there to get (the punt) off.
“When I ran off the field, (Head) Coach (Mike) Shanahan looked at me (as if to say), ‘What’s wrong with you, man? What are you doing?’ I felt like an idiot.”
At least Ernster can laugh at the incident, because his teammates will, too. Fellow Northern Arizona alumnus Preston Parsons handed Ernster a helmet during one locker-room interview Monday, and he knows more needling awaits when the team reconvenes today.
“I’m sure they’ll re-run it in the team meetings. That’s inevitable,” he said. “Getting stuff from the guys goes with the territory. I’ll just take whatever they give me.”