How much did he hold the attention of the Boston sports fan?
First, it’s the name: There aren’t a lot of guys named Zoltan in everyday life, let alone playing in the NFL. Second, he plays a quirky position: punter, one that lends itself to some unique characters. (Of recent vintage, Josh Miller and Todd Sauerbrun come to mind.) And third, he has an undeniable charm and charisma that can’t be faked. Spend five minutes with him, and you’ll walk away better for the experience. On the field, he’s relatively new to the Boston sports scene, but in his short time with the Patriots, the fifth-round pick out of Michigan in the 2010 draft has already established himself as the most dependable punter the franchise has had since Bill Belichick took over before the start of the 2000 season.
How big was his impact for the team/organization?
A team official once said that since 2000, one position where the Patriots have really struggled to achieve consistent success is at punter, but in his short time with New England, he has already managed to make his mark as one of the most important parts of one of the most impressive special teams units in the NFL. In rookie camps, offseason workouts and training camp, teammates raved about his work habits and preparation. During training camp, the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Mesko was always on the field before the rest of his teammates. That work ethic has carried over into the regular season, as he has helped tilt the field in the Patriots’ favor on a number of occasions. Mesko’s biggest on-field performance likely came in a Week 6 win over the Ravens when he delivered a 65-yard punt in overtime that gave Baltimore the ball at its own 19-yard line. The Ravens couldn’t convert a first down and ended up punting the ball back to the Patriots who, thanks to their great field position from Mesko, were able to take advantage of the great field position and score in overtime for the win.
How much would he be missed if he weren’t here?
Look at the punters the Patriots have had since 2000: Lee Johnson, Ken Walter, Brooks Barnard, Miller, Sauerbrun and Chris Hanson. Quite a tradition, eh? Other than Sauerbrun and (occasionally) Miller, it’s been a collection of second-tier punters who have had little to no impact on special teams. By that standard, Mesko has already made his mark. New England has a long tradition of excellence at the other specialist positions — Lonie Paxton became a star after his snow-angel routine during the 2001 postseason, while Adam Vinatieri’s clutch kicks with the Patriots helped make him the best big-game kicker of his generation and Stephen Gostkowski has already been a Pro Bowler. Based on his start, there’s no reason to think Mesko won’t belong in that class shortly.
How much buzz does he create around the water cooler?
As was the case when he was a collegian at Michigan, Mesko has become a bit of a cult hero among hardcore fans because of his name and his eclectic background. He was named the “NFL’s Most Interesting Man” by the Wall Street Journal. He was born and raised in Timişoara, Romania, can speak four languages (Romanian, Hungarian, German and English) and only ended up in the United State after his parents won a green card lottery in 1997. He has two degrees, was able to dunk a basketball in grade school, was a special teams captain at Michigan and remains in genuine awe that he gets to share a locker room with another former Wolverine, Tom Brady. (He’s called Brady “my favorite player in the whole NFL.”)
How much emotion does he evoke at the mere mention of his name?
Since college (where he was a Homecoming King), people have flocked to Mesko. At Michigan, there were no fewer than five T-shirts created in Mesko’s honor, including “Zoltan for Heisman,” “Zoltan for President” and “Zoltan for Space Emperor (of Space).” And since his initial conference call with reporters after he was drafted in April, no one locally — fans, media and teammates — has had a single bad thing to say about Zoltan. An immensely likeable guy who has endeared himself to the media and his teammates, everyone in the New England locker room who is asked about him immediately gives an appreciative smile and a thumbs-up.
How hard would he be to replace?
Punters are easy to overlook, but when you consider the cast of characters the Patriots have had over the years, the odds of landing another Mesko are long.
How polarizing is he to the city?
Mesko is probably still too far under the radar to generate much passion with most football fans. But in a city known for its colleges and universities, the thoughtful and whip-smart Mesko could become a crossover star in a few years. He’s not going to be delivering a dissertation at Harvard on the difficulties of punting at Gillette Stadium, but if he continues to be successful, he should get more than his share of local endorsement deals.
How polarizing is he to his team?
It’s a difficult job for a punter to be accepted by his teammates, but Mesko, despite the fact that he’s only been around since April, he’s already become one of the most popular guys in the locker room. His buzz cut and goofy smile have won over his teammates, who consistently praise him as not only one of the better punters they’ve seen, but a genuinely funny guy who can keep everyone laughing.
Brian Billick joins D&C to talk Pats/Steelers, Wade Phillips, Thursday Night Football and 18 game schedule.
Keyshawn talked about Randy Moss and how the Patriots receiving game has changed since Moss was traded, if he would have Moss on his team, what makes people say Moss is a smart wide receiver, who he believes is the best team in the AFC, how bad the situation is in Dallas that Jerry Jones was forced to fire Wade Phillips, what he thinks about the NFL's Top 100 Players list and if he believes he should be on the list.
Troy talked about if he hated the Steelers or Colts more when he played against them, how he looks at the Patriots after a loss to the Browns, that the Patriots defense is still progressing and has things they can improve on, what is the problem with the Patriots wide receiving corps since the departure of Randy Moss, what Tom Brady was like when he played with him, and Brady's subpar performance against Cleveland.