A few weeks ago when Brian Kinchen received a call from Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, a longtime friend from their days with the Cleveland Browns, gauging Kinchen's interest in filling New England's long snapping void, Kinchen polled his wife and four children for opinions. With his eyes welling up, Kinchen described his kids' excitement as they told him, "Go for it one more time, Dad."
At 38, he had settled on his life after an NFL career that ran from 1990-2000. He was now a seventh-grade Bible school teacher in Baton Rouge, La. He spent part of one year coaching a fifth-grade football team and part of another year breaking down film for Nick Saban at Louisiana State, his alma mater.
His last NFL address was Carolina, where he long snapped and was a backup tight end for the Panthers in 1999 and 2000. He had a few tryouts, kept in shape, and played on the Celebrity Golf Tour. In his head, he knew he could still play tight end and long snap, but he was resigned to moving on.
"It's an unbelievable story," Kinchen said. "During our few days off this week, I went back to the school where I teach, and it's been chaos and nuts over there. I feel now that I have the connection to my kids because that's where they go to school. When I was signed, it was kind of bizarre, but then making it to the Super Bowl . . . what are the odds of that?"
For most people, slim and none.
Kinchen, however, kept in touch with Pioli, who was, in Kinchen's words, "low man on the totem pole" in the Cleveland front office when the two were with the Browns starting in 1992.
"Scott's my age, so we used to hang out. We had talked. He had never mentioned me coming over here, though, because they had signed a pretty good guy, a good snapper," Kinchen said, referring to Sean McDermott, who New England signed to replace the injured Lonie Paxton. "I had called [coach Bill] Belichick about playing tight end for him, but I was old, so you need a specialty."
He maintained a regimen of lifting weights and doing squats. He wondered why he was putting himself through this ordeal.
"I'll be in shape until I'm dead," he joked. "When you've done something for so long, it's hard to stop. I never got out of shape."
Kinchen, who was Belichick's backup tight end in Cleveland for five years, asked his old coach if he could mess around at tight end during practice. Belichick told Kinchen he could do what he wanted, but the coach warned him not to get hurt.
After a day of positional drills, kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter/holder Ken Walter said to Kinchen, "Why don't you stay over here with us?" Kinchen took their advice and decided to concentrate on long snapping.
"I'm not preparing for the future," Kinchen said. "My time here is temporary. I'd love to be able to go out there and bump heads, but there's no need for a 38-year-old tight end. I'll win a Super Bowl and get out of here. I've got four kids. I've got a 14-year-old. It's hard to ask them to move up here. I'm not going to leave them. Family is too important to me."
He is the second Kinchen in a Super Bowl. The first was his brother, Todd, who was a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, who lost to the Denver Broncos, 34-19, in Super Bowl XXXIII.
"Now, it means so much more going to one," said Kinchen, knowing it will be his last hurrah. "It doesn't make me any more complete as a man. I'll be the same now than if I had never gone. But it's fun around here. I joined a 12-2 team, and the day I got here, it seemed the confidence these guys had and the ability to win, I didn't even have to look for it. It wasn't that it was expected or that we assumed we'd be here. Coming in as late as I did and as jelled as they were, you could see it. You could feel it."
He and Walter took about "two seconds" to mesh on the snapper-holder and snapper-punter relationship on the field. That's because Kinchen was the snapper when Walter was in Carolina.
Kinchen still knows a lot of people in the Panthers organization, coaches and players alike. He's happy the Panthers have come this far. Happy to be able to see his old friends. He's also happy those in the organization can put some recent tragic times behind them. He was there when Rae Carruth was charged and convicted of plotting the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. He was around when Fred Lane was killed by his wife, Deidra.
"It's kind of a blur," Kinchen said of that time. "I was reminded of it the other day when I was talking to Kenny about it; the things that happened. It's amazing stuff. This is the NFL, but stuff like that doesn't happen in real life, never mind on a football team."
He said of Carruth, serving a life sentence, "Rae was such a good guy. Nice guy. But I guess that's what they say about people like that. You just never know. It was just bizarre the lives lost in the process of that. That's the way this world works."
Kinchen also excels on the golf course and is frequently found atop the leaderboard in Celebrity Golf Tour events. He won a silver medal in a US Open Qualifying round, and he said he briefly toyed with pursuing professional golf.
"I was the best professional athlete playing golf, according to Sports Illustrated," Kinchen said. "It's funny. You think you want something but then you start doing it and you say, `Why do I want to do this?' It would be nicer if I had some people my age I could play golf with, but there's nobody playing golf my age at noon. There's nobody out there. You're out there playing with 55-, 60-year-old retired guys. It's not something you wake up and say, `Yeah baby, let's go!' "
Anyway, the lifestyle wasn't for him. Going from place to place, living out of a suitcase. Dragging his wife and kids around everywhere.
And while he's grown and changed since he was a young player in Cleveland, he's also seen growth in Pioli and Belichick. He remembers Cleveland as such a struggle, and here in New England it's so smooth and refreshing.
"The majority of the reason is personnel, the quality of individuals," Kinchen said. "Not to name names, it's different here. I could see that the day I walked in. Bill's changed. But he's the same on the field. He's learned to embrace his players a little bit. You can see that in the way he handles the media. I think that helps him. He's won a championship so the pressure's off. Without question, he's my most favorite coach. He picked me off the street twice. How can you not love a guy like that?"
He will bring his wife and children to the Super Bowl -- a family reunion. If there's euphoria, he will cherish the moment.
Then he'll go back to real life in Baton Rouge -- teaching the Bible.
"Going back [to school] the other day and seeing them and getting hugs from all of them . . . that feeling will not be matched by anything else I do in my lifetime," Kinchen said. "To feel as loved as I was yesterday, and the day before . . . We're in chapel on Wednesday and the director came over to have everyone -- teachers and students -- put their hands on me and prayed for me. The feeling of acceptance of love from those kids and teachers . . . Granted, it was because of a football game, but in the long run, it's because of me and what I've become in their lives." Being able to see that was worth saying yes to Pioli's offer.