A Toast to Ka’imi Fairbairn


Once more before his moment in the sun is swallowed up by the insatiable maw of time’s passage, before the spectacle and catharsis of another week displace his glory from our memories, let us toast the 60-yard field goal of Ka’imi Fairbairn, and the journey it represents.

‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ So goes the old saw, and I imagine UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn would agree.

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August 30, 2012, saw the long-awaited debut of quarterback Brett Hundley, who wowed the gathered faithful with a 72-yard quarterback keeper fun for a touchdown as the first play from scrimmage against Rice. You’d be hard pressed to imagine a more auspicious arrival onto the college football stage.

The very next play was Fairbairn’s first as a Bruin, and his debut performance was … not as impressive. His failed to get enough lift on the extra point, and it was blocked. Next drive? Another touchdown and another blocked extra point. He missed a third extra point at the end of the third quarter. Bruin fans were unenthusiastic.

What made it worse for Fairbairn was that he was stepping into a job with expectations shaped by a long legacy of good-to-great kickers.

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Thus Fairbairn’s introduction to UCLA fans was an unflattering contrast between a position from which Bruins had come to expect excellence as a matter of course and a scary future of unreliable kicking.

MORE: Matt Joye’s Daily Bruin profile of Fairbairn

Fairbairn rebounded, of course. He kicked the game winning field goal at Arizona State, he’s put up great overall numbers (81.8% on field goals in 2014), and he became absolutely automatic under 35 yards. But every time he does miss, be it at Stanford in the 2012 Pac-12 Championship or against Utah last year, it’s further proof to much of the fan base that ‘our kicker sucks.’ Fairbairn has become defined by that first impression – trapped in a narrative from which he can’t kick free – and that’s as unfair as it is misleading.

Go Joe Bruin has previously made the case to our readers that we should be appreciating his career and his growth because otherwise we only deny ourselves the joy of watching a player grow and excel. Everyone loves a winner, and consistent dominance is awe-inspiring, but the stories and players that draw us in and stay with us through the years are the ones that have an arc – character development, so to speak.

Underdogs and comeback kids, sleepers and Cinderellas, stories of disappointment and redemption: these are what take sports from a spectacle to a passion, from something we appreciate and marvel at to something we love and carry with us and pass on to our children.

Without the context of Fairbairn’s career – whether you know him as just the latest in a long line of good kickers or as the liability he appeared to be in his rocky freshman season – his record-setting 60-yard field goal against Cal last week is just another curiosity. ‘Oh, that’s neat. Good for him.’

RELATED: Ka’imi Fairbairn Sets Field Goal Record – Video

But for those in the know? Look at how his teammates reacted.

"Retweet to vote for Ka’imi Fairbairn (4 FG incl record 60-yarder) as Player-of-the-game. #CALvsUCLA #BruinRevolution https://t.co/DjXoTbCjtC— UCLA Athletics (@UCLAAthletics) October 23, 2015"

I know I can say he’s the only kicker in whom I’ve ever become emotionally invested.

Never fear, though! Even if you’d written him off until now, you can still jump on the Ka’imi Fairbairn bandwagon. There’s still time. He’s currently 17 points away from the legendary John Lee‘s school record for career points.

Next: Know Your Opponent: Colorado

Rumors are that Fairbairn will be shortlisted for the Lou Groza Award. He’ll be up against some guys who have earned the loyalty and love of their schools, but he’s worthy to be in their company, and it’s about time that he has our loyalty and love. He’s also earned it.

MORE: Joey Kaufman’s OC Register Look at Fairbairn’s Season

There will be more time to appreciate this good kid, great kicker, and even greater story. Then we can get ready to do it all over again next year with highly-touted UCLA kicker commit JJ Molson.