|New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski practices an onside kick on Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, in Indianapolis. The Patriots are scheduled to face the New York Giants in NFL football Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)|
Pats, Giants kickers wandered onto Super Bowl path
INDIANAPOLIS—Call them accidental Superheroes in the making. Or, if they miss, Super-something-elses.
Both Super Bowl kickers have taken uncommon paths to the title game, essentially stumbling into a job that often decides titles and legacies for better or worse. New York's Lawrence Tynes and New England's Stephen Gostkowski know one of them could be the first player celebrating -- or bending over in angst -- in the final seconds Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It comes with a job that neither aspired to while growing up.
Tynes joined his high school football team so he could hang around with his friends. Gostkowski went to college on a baseball scholarship, someone who could throw the fastball by `em.
Win a Super Bowl? Wasn't in their plans.
Now, they've got a chance for one of the ultimate thrills in sports -- kick it through the uprights and go wild with more than 100 million people watching.
"They're like walk-off homers," Tynes said. "Those are fun, that's the only word to describe it. You get to turn around and see 52 grown men acting like kids again. That's the best part."
Miss it? Well, that's something entirely else. For the two kickers, there's no hiding in this game.
Fair or not, reputations are made or broken with one swing of the leg when everything's on the line. Scott Norwood's long miss brought Buffalo a heartbreak. On the other side, Adam Vinatieri became the Super Bowl standard for clutch kicking by making two game winners with the Patriots.
Like basketball players who dream of hitting the winning shot for the NBA title or baseball players who pretend they're at bat with two outs in the ninth and the bases loaded in Game 7 of the World Series, kickers grow up pretending they're lining up in the final seconds of the Super Bowl.
Those daydream moments become sort of otherworldly when they come true.
"You're never going to get it out of your mind completely," Vinatieri said this week, after making some kicks at an NFL fan event in town. "I'm sure when I was out there on the Super Bowl kicks, my heart was racing."
Tynes and Gostkowski didn't aspire to the heart-pounding role when they were growing up.
Tynes is the NFL's first Scottish-born player, his father a U.S. Navy officer who met his mother abroad. They moved to Florida when he was 11 years old. Football wasn't appealing, with all the bashing and bruising.
In the 11th grade, his team needed a kicker. A coach urged him to try out, knowing he was a good soccer player.
"So I went out to the baseball field, he throws his keys down in front of where I was going to kick and he said, `Kick the ball and pick my keys up,' just to keep my head down," Tynes said. "Ironically enough, I went to spring football going into my senior year. I went to spring training, and I haven't stopped since. It's pretty weird how it worked out."
He became very good at it very quickly and went to Troy University as a kicker. He bounced between the Kansas City Chiefs and Ottawa Roughriders before the Giants got him from KC for a seventh-round pick in 2007.
Good deal. Tynes was on the team that upset the Patriots four years ago. His 31-yard field goal in overtime of the NFC championship game at San Francisco got them back to the big game.
All because his friends talked him into trying out in high school.
"I am glad I did, because the only reason I did it was to hang out with my buddies in practice," he said.
Gostkowski was a three-sport star in Mississippi, going 16-2 with a 1.00 ERA while leading Madison Central High to a state title in 2002. He also kicked a 55-yard field goal that is a school record. Baseball was more his style, though, and he went to Memphis on a partial baseball scholarship.
As a freshman, he tried out for the football team as a walk-on and earned a full scholarship that changed his career. The Patriots drafted him in the fourth round in 2006 to replace Vinatieri, who left as a free agent for Indianapolis. Gostkowski turned into a Pro Bowl kicker, but has yet to line up for a Super Bowl winner like the kicker he replaced.
He doesn't worry about living up to Vinatieri's legacy if he gets the chance.
"Kicking hasn't been the only sport in my life," he said. "I've dealt with difficult situations and I've struggled before in every sport I've played. I've had success in every sport. If you go into a game and think you're going to screw up, you're probably not going to be at a professional level. Stuff like that doesn't cross my mind."
Vinatieri has seen his kicks replayed all week leading up to the game.
"Whenever they throw a highlight on, I stop what I'm doing and watch it," Vinatieri said. "It's kind of a surreal feeling."