John Nies was a punter for the Arizona Wildcats in 1989. He had a unique one step approach to punts that allowed him to down 15 of them inside the 20 to lead the nation. He only logged one season as a starter for Arizona, but had 58 punts for 2406 yards and a 41.6 yard average. In 1987 and 1988, he saw action primarily on the kickoff team, booming 88 kicks, of which only 29 were returned by opposing teams. He was selected in the 6th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, and punted 5 times for 174 yards in 4 games.
In 1991, Nies would be the 4th special teams player off the board in the World League of American Football positional draft, selected by the Sacramento Surge. He then saw time at both kicker and punter, splitting time with Kendall John Trainor. John finished 11 of 12 on extra points and 4 of 7 on field goals. He punted 23 times for 902 yards including a 53 yard long.
He’d return to the franchise for the 1992 season, and although he’d see an uptick in his kicking stats, Nies was relied upon much more as a punter again as Cary Blanchard quickly established himself as the much more consistent kicker.
Since retiring from football, Nies has been a fitness ambassador with Lululemon, a fashion model, actor, and ESPN host. Currently he teaches East meets West health and wellness philosophies at his group fitness and wellness center, The Power Center, in Red Bank, NJ.
Card: ProSet 1989 Acquired: IP 2020, Houston Roughnecks/ Tampa Bay Vipers Joint Practice
After graduating from Drake University, Dennis McKnight signed with the Cleveland Browns in 1981, but didn’t make the squad. The following year, he signed with the Chargers. A gem in the rough, McKnight possessed versatility that allowed him to see action at every position on the offensive line (except at left tackle) over his time in San Diego. A gym rat, Dennis also was the team’s long snapper, and was a Pro Bowl alternate in 1988. He joined the Lions and played for them in 1990 and 1992, with a short stint in Philadephia in between during ’91. Over his football career he played in 141 contests, starting 100.
Dennis enjoys the sport so much that he went into coaching in 1999. As a positional coach he’s seen stops in college at Hawaii, Grossmont CC, San Diego State, SMU, and Lamar University. McKnight has also coached in the CFL for the Esks, and Ti-Cats. In 2020 he joined June Jones’ coaching staff for the Houston Roughnecks as Offensive Assistant/ Special Teams coach.
I completely missed Dennis on my inventory of Roughnecks players and coaches. Thankfully Lance was going with me to the joint practice, and brought an extra card for me. Dennis still posesses a strong and powerful build. When he speaks, its excited and loud, like a professional wrestler.
We watched him work with the kids after practice. I was very impressed by how he was handling them, and at one point exclaimed, “The whole point of this is to have fun!” As he was exiting, we stopped him and asked him for his autograph, where we talked about the current state of things. He thanked us for coming and how much it meant to the players. We also talked briefly about how the NFL is out of touch with fans and that they are missing out on the game of football.
I really had high hopes for Christian Hackenberg that he’d resurrect his career with the AAF in 2019. He’s been through a lot as a professional and has really put his best foot forward. He even worked with renowned quarterback coaches trying to fix a hole in his throwing motion.
In college at Penn State, he was tutored by future head coach Bill O’Brien. Hackenberg put together some solid numbers playing for the Nittany Lions throwing for 8,457 yards and 48 TDs to 31 interceptions over 3 years. After his junior season in 2015, he’d declare for the 2016 NFL draft, and while rumors swirled that he’d be selected possibly by his former coach Bill O’Brien and the Texans, the Jets ultimately chose him with the 51st pick of the second round where they planned to groom him as the franchise’s quarterback of the future. He rode the bench for the season, and then battled it out in camp during the 2017 season against Bryce Petty and Josh McCown. He had a decent preseason, but again saw no playing time.
Hackenberg then in 2018 was traded to the Raiders, but the trade was cancelled the next day, so he was released outright. A few months later he signed with the Eagles for the preseason, where he saw limited playing time. He’d be released before the regular season, and join the Bengals practice squad for a few months.
He’d opt to join the upstart Alliance of American Football in November of 2018, and was selected by the Memphis Express in the second round of the League’s quarterback Pick or Protect Draft. Hackenberg beat out first round pick Troy Cook, Brandon Silvers, and Zack Mettenberger in camp to nab the starting gig.
Hack then ran into a buzzsaw against the defensive minded Birmingham Iron his first week throwing for 87 yards and an interception on 10 of 23 passing. Memphis was shut out 26-0. Although the Express’ fares improved very slowly over the next two games, Christian wasn’t able to put the rock in the endzone through the air. He’d be benched in favor of Zack Mettenberger, then later passed up for Brandon Silvers, and ultimately in the end by Johnny Manziel. On the season, Hack finished 32 of 62 for 277 yards and 3 interceptions, while rushing for 47 yards on 9 carries- scoring one TD.
Christian was high on my list to get an autograph from, as he had a great selection of cards to choose from. He had these great AAF cards, and also some Panini cards I was itching to get signed at the next game, but before I could do so, the league folded.
My friend Mark, from Markssigningbonus.com came through for me on this collaboration passing this address forward to me so that I could give Hack another shot. He signed all 3 of my cards with his nice, loopy signature. I find it interesting that he abbreviates his first name to just ‘C.’. Also the C has a strong upper loop in it, and leans heavily to the right.
As the market collapsed on the AAF certified’s later in 2019, I was able to pick up his autograph. It’s a nice looking card of him and I hope he continues his football journey in whatever manner it may continue.
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.