ASHBURN—Ethan Albright is already on his own little NFL planet. He's a long snapper. He has bright red hair and freckles. His skin is so fair that his wife gave him a personal UV indicator as a gag gift. His sunscreen is SPF 85, a rating so high he might as well wear a suit of armor.
He doesn't like night games because he's usually in bed by 10 p.m. One of his claims to fame is that he was the lowest-rated player in the Madden video game a couple of years back. His nickname — Red Snapper — is fabulous but hardly fearsome.
So, when his years of flawless, upside-down spirals to holders and punters was finally rewarded with a Pro Bowl spot in February, he did things his own way. Party time in Hawaii, hitting the clubs with the big stars of the league? Nope. He took two daughters and two sons — ages 3, 5, 7 and 9 — and turned the trip into a three-week family vacation.
"I was changing diapers and in the kiddie pool," Albright said. "I was on the beach at 5 in the morning and they were in bed by 6 at night. Fun trip. I liked everything there was about it."
But a trip for six to Oahu can cost quite a bit. Sure, it would be just a blip for a player with a multimillion dollar signing bonus, but Albright plays for a veteran minimum salary — this year it is $850,000 — and he was able to break even on the trip only because his team, the NFC, came away with a 42-30 win and the $40,000 bonus per player that accompanied it.
"I was pulling harder than anybody for us to win that game," Albright said, "and get that winner's share."
That said, Albright has no complaints whatsoever. Most people can only dream about earning his salary, yet he gets that nice check for bending over a few times a game and performing a task that's been part of his routine since childhood, when his older brother — a punter — would make him go into a yard and snap the ball.
Albright hasn't had a bad snap since joining the Redskins from Buffalo in 2001. He was a two-year starter as a lineman in college for North Carolina in the early 1990s but long ago gave up any pretense of being anything but a long snapper in the NFL. At 257 pounds, he's about 50 pounds lighter than most offensive linemen.
But "Madden NFL Football" doesn't rank long snappers, so Albright was listed as a very, very bad lineman in the 2007 edition and got plenty of ribbing as a result.
There are plenty of people who rank long snappers, however, and one of them remembered Albright when it came time to pick one for the Pro Bowl last season. Green Bay's staff was in charge of the NFC, and Packers special teams coordinator Mike Stock knew Albright well from their season together with the Redskins in 2001.
"For a long time, they didn't even take long snappers," Albright said. "I was flattered and felt the responsibility to go out there and do the job right."
Albright performs a few thousand snaps per year, counting offseason workouts, minicamps, training camp, in-season practices, and, of course, the games themselves. All that bending over isn't natural, so he hangs his 37-year-old body upside down from an inversion board as part of a regimen to keep his back from getting too compressed.
"Joints wear out over time," said Albright, who is beginning his 14th NFL season. "I'm trying to do some maintenance to keep it strong."
Barring an injury, Albright figures there's only one thing that can stop him from playing as long as he wants: a bad snap. After all, whoever heard of Trey Junkin before his fourth-quarter lapse with the New York Giants in the 2002 playoffs?
"He had a long career, and all of a sudden there was a mistake, and that's what he's always known for," Albright said. "I'm hoping I get out before I lose the ability to snap it. Right now it feels great. It feels like every other year."
The only crimp in his NFL longevity is his back-and-forth family life. He and his wife and children live in a town house in northern Virginia during the season and spend the rest of the year in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C.
"And I think Mom and Dad are getting tired and picking up and moving every six months," Albright said. "I'd prefer to stay here year-round."
But it's not that simple. The Redskins love Albright, but they're not going to give him anything other than a one-year contract because of the NFL's salary cap. What happens if he leaves his Carolina roots and moves here, then finds himself playing with another team in 2009?
"It's one-year contracts, and it's tough," Albright said. "You can laugh at me for saying 'one year at a time,' but that's the reality for me."