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Super Bowl kickers rely on their minds
On the subject of what would it be like to line up for a potential game-winning field goal at the Super Bowl, both the Giants and Patriots kickers attempted to convince us that every kick is the same.
“I am ready for it,” Tynes told reporters this week. “You have to mentally prepare yourself every week to play or to make a kick. I feel like this week will be no different.”
Sure. It’s only the Super Bowl.
“You are ready every game,” Gostkowski said. “I just don’t worry about any moment. ... I try to treat every kick the same and I want to make every kick, let alone the kick at the end of the game.”
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Sure. It’s only a kick.
Both answers strive to deconstruct kicking into a robotic endeavor, where human nerves do not enter into the equation. The calibration of the machine is all that matters. Do that right, and the execution follows.
On the surface, these seem like autopilot answers, lacking insight and fitting right in to a week-long lexicon of clichés that featured gems like these:
“If we go out and we play well, we expect to win the game.”
“It’s been a good week for our football team here in Indianapolis.”
“We are going day-by-day.”
“Our players have been excited about getting from the meeting rooms to the practice field.”
For the last five days, the Giants and Patriots — both adept at giving the media enough without giving them too much — have served up responses like these, where it scarcely matters who said what. After four days, it’s enough to drive any journalist mad — or, perhaps, to make you understand why the athletes don’t say more. So many questions. Try to be creative or, God forbid, honest and you might end up fined, ostracized or TMZed.
So when a kicker looks at you with a straight face and tells you the Super Bowl is just another game, you won’t be faulted for rolling your eyes.
But here’s the thing: Tynes and Gostkowski are actually letting you inside.
Field-goal kickers get a raw deal. They stand on a sideline most of the game and then are expected to perform a precise task at a moment’s notice. They’ll likely only get a couple of shots at it over the course of a game. If they mess up in their moment in the spotlight, they are scapegoats worthy of blame for an entire loss (see: Cundiff, Billy). They often don’t get a chance to atone the way an every-down player would.
So what choice does a kicker have, really, than to be as robotic as possible? The less human emotion, the better.
“I am only human,” Tynes said. “I get nervous. I am not a robot.”
“I certainly know how to deal with (the nerves),” Tynes continued. “Everyone gets nervous, and if they say they don’t, they are telling a lie. You just have to handle it.”
“If I freaked out about every kick I missed in the NFL, I wouldn’t be sitting up here right now,” Gostkowski said.
Essentially, this is a breed of player paid not to think too much. They need routine. They need short memories. And they certainly need to shut out the nerves. This is why opposing coaches call timeout in the final nanosecond before a kick — to make them think. To break the routine. To learn more about what happens when the routine is disturbed; again, see: Cundiff, Billy.
Tynes and Gostkowski are employed specifically because they do have the mental fortitude to treat every kick the same, no matter how inhuman or impossible it might seem to us. The mindset is working for them: Gostkowski is 13-for-15 on field goals in his postseason career and 4-for-4 this season. Tynes is 6-for-8 this season and was 2-2 when it really counted — the NFC Championship Game, in which he nailed the game-winner in overtime.
For all the hype — however deserved — around the coaches and quarterbacks headed into this Super Bowl, recent history suggests it’s these steel-nerved kickers that might end up having the last say.
All four of the Patriots Super Bowls featuring Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been decided by three points — including their loss four years ago to Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The three games Brady and Eli have played against each other have been decided by three, three and four points. And of course, each team’s conference championship game came down to a field goal — one made, one missed. The spread is Patriots minus-3.
It’s a good thing Tynes and Gostkowski can keep their wits about them.
As Gostkowski spoke Thursday under a large tent that housed most of the Patriots roster, he was one of six players positioned at elevated risers, equipped to handle a larger media horde. The rest sat at fold-up card tables — even Rob Gronkowski, the injured tight end who has been the subject of a large portion of the ink written from this place. At the neighboring riser was Tom Brady, no stranger to a big stage.
“The toughest thing about (being a kicker) is that you don’t know what situations you’ll be put in,” Gostkowski said. “You can’t make your own opportunities. You have to take advantage of the ones that you get, the best that you can.”
Every kick the same. Every opportunity precious. The Super Bowl just another game. They have no other way to see it.
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