Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
In many cases a team’s kicker is an afterthought. Just someone to kick extra points, do kick-offs, and occasionally make a last second field goal that can literally make or break a career (see Scott Norwood). Interestingly enough, Baltimore has had a colorful and controversial history with field goals. I bring this up because one of the stranger kicking episodes in Baltimore’s football history happened against this week’s opponent- the Cleveland Browns.
Once upon a time, when the Beatles were just an “up and coming” band and The Horseshoe resided in its rightful place, there was no Super Bowl. In fact, there was just the “NFL Championship” and that was it. No wardrobe malfunctions and no Go Daddy ads.
In 1965, the BALTIMORE Colts finished the regular season at 10 – 3 – 1 tied atop the Western Conference with a team from the small town of Green Bay, Wisconsin. This was before the concept of “divisional record”, “strength of schedule” and “quality wins”. The NFL decided to have a playoff game between the two tied teams at Lambeau Field. The Colts were down to their third string quarterback, Tom Matte. Many of you may have read about this game in your school history books as the “wrist band game” as Tom Matte needed a wrist band with the plays written on it in order to play quarterback that day.
Late in the game, with Baltimore clinging to a 10 – 7 lead, the Packers were driving. The Colts held fast and forced the Packers to attempt a field goal. This was also back in the day when the hash marks were much wider on the field than they are today (much like college football is currently) and the ball was placed at a bad angle for the kick. The ball went way high over the left upright and most everybody thought it was no good. Except for the ref, who signaled “kick is good”. Even the Packers kicker, Don Chandler, initially shook his head in disgust. Packers would go on to win the NFL championship against Cleveland the following week and then two subsequent Super Bowls –three championships in a row.
But the BALTIMORE Colts were a very good team and would be back to the top relatively soon. January, 1971- Super Bowl V. Tie ball game, Colts have the ball deep in Cowboys’ territory. With five seconds left, Jim O'Brien lines up for a 32-yard attempt to win it. Now O’Brien had already had an extra point blocked in the game and missed a 52-yarder earlier –hardly the optimal build-up to instill confidence. But his kick was high, far and true.
Baltimore’s football team is now the Ravens. Our beloved Ravens as we all know won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. That team was mostly known for its defense. The disparity between the two sides of the ball was so large that the Ravens went five straight games in the middle of that Super Bowl run without scoring a single touchdown. But they did manage to win two of those five games because of Matt Stover’s leg. “Auto-Mattic” provided 100% of the scoring for the Ravens during this five game stretch. Without those two wins, the Ravens don’t make the playoffs and there is no Super Bowl. That is two times now a kicker has been an integral part of a Baltimore Championship, and third time in which one was potentially denied.
However, Baltimore was not finished being bitten by the field goal gremlin. In week 11 during the 2007 season, the Ravens hosted the Cleveland Browns. Time is expiring, Phil Dawson of the Browns is lining up for a 51-yard game tying field goal. The kick is up; it hits the crossbar, ricochets, and then bounces back onto the field of play – no good! Ravens hold on and eke out a victory Wait a minute, upon further review, the ball is ruled to have crossed the goalposts, hit the top of the support beam and then bounce back into the end zone, therefore the kick is ruled good after instant replay. Nuts!
Ravens get a new coach, quarterback, running back; and Auto-Mattic retires. Ravens are back as one of the better teams. In fact, in 2011, they will go back to the AFCCG for the second time in four seasons, having won at least one playoff game the past four seasons. Billy Cundiff is lining up for a game tying 32 yard (remember Jim O’Brien’s Super Bowl winning kick? -32 yards; oh, the irony…) field goal. Now, this is how urban legends get started. Apparently there were some issues with the scoreboard operation- at one point it said “1st Down” –Ravens were a yard short; at another point it said “3rd and 1” –it was fourth down. So there was some alleged confusion in which team- offense or special teams –should have been on the field. Cundiff missed. Of course, the game was in Foxboro, with a (presumed) Patriots scoreboard operator…
So now that brings us to this season, against these same Patriots, with many of the same cast of characters, a mere few months after the previous tragedy, except the game is in Baltimore, with nary a Patriot scoreboard operator to be found. And the part of “Billy Cundiff” is played by Justin Tucker. Or would it?
Two seconds left. Ravens attempting a game winning field goal of 27 yards. A chance to maybe exercise a bit of the field goal gremlin that has plagued Baltimore occasionally. A shot at victory in a game that was marred by many, many questionable replacement referee calls. A 27 yarder- a chip shot that many high school kickers can make on a regular basis and is automatic at the college level. Shouldn’t be a problem for a professional NFL kicker. Except Justin Tucker has been a professional kicker for exactly two, now almost three NFL games. Would he reprise the role of Cundiff? The kick is up; straight down the middle- it is good!!! Ravens exact some revenge! No wait, Patriots called time out to ice Young Tuck. Would he reprise the role of Cundiff? Justin lines up again to make it a second time. Would he reprise the role of Cundiff? Kick is up and way high and waaayyy to the right –is it good? Is it no good? IS it ever falling back to Earth? Replacement ref says “Good!” Tucker went off the Cundiff script-! The rule states that the entire football must either be inside or over the goalpost –none, not even a millimeter, can be outside the outside edge of the goal post. We may never know if the kick was 100% truly good. But it is in the books as a win, and that is all that counts.
Young Tuck seems to have firmly nailed down the position of kicker for the Ravens. He just needs to limit the drama in the future; a kicking future that looks very bright for the Baltimore Football Ravens.