Ex-Gamecocks punter Spencer Lanning reacts to getting kicked in the face vs. Steelers

Cleveland Browns punter Spencer Lanning gets kicked in the face by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown during a punt return when the teams played in 2014. File/Gene J. Puskar/AP

ROCK HILL — Spencer Lanning knows it’s coming. There will be the day when his daughter, Bella, looks up Daddy on the Internet and there it will be.

“It was one of those things that when it happened, it was crazy. Then afterwards, it was teetering on the brink of annoying. Now I’m good with it,” Lanning good-naturedly said. “Everybody’s got their 15 minutes of fame. Seems like mine ended up being 30 or an hour.”

You’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown breaks contain on a punt return and is racing past Cleveland’s special-teamers. Lanning, the punter, gets in front of him.


For whatever reason, Brown tried to hurdle Lanning and his right cleat connects with Lanning’s facemask. The technical explanation is Brown wanted to jump over Lanning, Lanning went back on his haunches to try and slow Brown down and his helmet was in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time as Brown’s foot was looking for a landing.

The viral explanation? Brown was Daniel LaRusso to Lanning’s Johnny Lawrence in the last scene of “The Karate Kid.”

“It’s crazy, crazy, crazy,” Lanning said, shaking his head.

What’s weird is that Lanning actually did make the play. The “tackle” slowed down Brown enough so Cleveland’s pursuing defenders could get him on the ground. And Brown got flagged for unnecessary roughness then, with an $8,200 fine coming the next week.

But after the game (Cleveland lost 30-27), the kick was all anyone wanted to talk about. It will never go away.

There’s so much to boast about from Lanning's career, which earned him induction into the York County Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday in a class that included former Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley and some guy named Clowney. Once one of the state’s best soccer prospects, a wrecked knee turned Lanning back to the other football, where he flourished from South Carolina walk-on to starting punter/place-kicker and team captain as a senior.

Pro football had him bouncing around to six NFL teams over seven stops (plus a four-game stint in the United Football League), the life of a nomadic waived-and-claimed-and-waived-again kicker. Yet he got a shot in Cleveland in 2013, made the team and played the next two full seasons as the Browns’ punter.

He has highlights. He left USC as a record-holder in career punting average (since passed by Sean Kelly) and made a few key tackles as a Gamecock. His stop of Marshay Greene in 2009 on a long return helped USC beat fourth-ranked Ole Miss 16-10.

“Spencer Lanning had a sensational game,” Steve Spurrier said then. “We gave him a game ball because he had a sensational tackle on the punt return.”

“The man with two last names,” as Spurrier coined him, played 33 NFL games and even threw a touchdown pass, connecting with Jordan Cameron on a fake field goal in a win over the Minnesota Vikings. These days he works in real estate development in Upstate New York.

There are things he misses about the game, the off-the-field stuff like walking into a hospital room and seeing a patient’s eyes light up just because Lanning was wearing a Browns jersey. How his family and other players’ families could get together after home games. 

“Somebody asked me today if I ever thought it would have been possible. Nah,” Lanning said. “Even when I was right on the cusp, I never thought it was possible. It almost seems like a different life, to be honest.”

The kick is part of it, but he can laugh about it and embrace it. Bella just turned 2 so it will be some time until she finds it.

Want to laugh at him? That’s your prerogative.

Wife Brittany is a former Miss New York City. Lanning was part of USC’s only SEC East championship team. He played two full seasons at the highest level of professional football.

As he always did when a high-school knee injury forced him to give up a star soccer career, Lanning got kicked and kicked back.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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