Packers Kicker Rises From Obscurity
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) _ Ryan Longwell started out as an afterthought.
When San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, who coached Longwell at California, decided to go with 16-year veteran Gary Anderson and release the rookie free agent kicker, 28 other teams didn’t bat an eye.
Hardly anybody cared when Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf plucked Longwell off waivers from the 49ers.
Yet, it’s turned out to be Wolf’s latest in a long line of excellent personnel decisions.
Not that he knew something nobody else did.
Heck, Wolf brought in Longwell to be a ``camp leg.″ Nothing more.
No way he wasn’t going to battle third-round draft pick Brett Conway for a roster spot. He was just here to give Chris Jacke’s designated successor a breather in training camp.
His sole purpose was to prevent Conway from overkicking.
Longwell only hoped to make an impression so that he might get a legitimate shot in somebody’s training camp next season.
He figured he’d come in, make a field goal or two and head back to school to finish up his English degree.
But Conway did overkick, sustaining a freak injury to the quadriceps muscle in his kicking leg while trying to overcome a mechanical problem that had led to four straight misses.
Suddenly, not only were the Packers defending their Super Bowl title with a rookie kicker, but they were doing it with one who hadn’t even been drafted.
Longwell signed a lease and opened a bank account for all those paychecks he’d been saving up for pizza, laundry, tuition and books back at Cal.
But in his first chance to kick a game-winning field goal, Longwell slipped and shanked a chip-shot field goal in the closing seconds that would have beaten Philadelphia in Week 2.
Everybody thought he was one more miss away from the waiver wire again.
Instead, Longwell has made everything since, save for a blocked 47-yarder against Tampa Bay when Hardy Nickerson slipped past rookie Ross Verba.
After a perfect preseason, Longwell has converted all 22 of his extra points and 16 of 18 field goals for 70 points, third-most in the NFC.
``I think that I’ve shown that I can bounce back, that it really didn’t bother me. Obviously, it hurt at the time, but you can’t let it carry on over your shoulders for a long time,″ Longwell said.
Longwell’s been doing so well that the Packers and their fans seem to have forgiven him his miss at Philadelphia, which resulted in a 10-9 loss and is the only thing standing between Green Bay (7-2) and San Francisco (8-1) for the best record in the NFC.
Looking back, coach Mike Holmgren said he doesn’t even think Longwell had at the 28-yarder.
``It was kind of like God was telling me, `Mike you can’t win this game,′ ″ he said. ``Because all of a sudden it started to rain two plays before. It just poured and then all of a sudden it stopped. So, the field got all wet and he slipped and missed the kick.″
Longwell said the only thing he’d change is his shoes.
A fresh pair sat in his locker room, warm and dry. But he didn’t have time to get a ball boy fetch them.
Lesson learned, he took six pairs to New England two weeks ago.
Even in sunshine, he won’t get caught without his extra shoes.
``I bring them to everything,″ he said. ``You know, it’s an unfortunate time to learn a lesson, but it’s very valuable.″
Longwell has kicked three field goals four times and is on pace to score 124 points, four shy of Chester Marcol’s club rookie record set in 1972.
But Longwell has been kicking fewer field goals as Brett Favre & Co. return to their high-powered, point-a-minute offense that carried them to the Super Bowl.
``I realize what I did the first four or five weeks of the season is kind of unheard of, getting three attempts every game,″ Longwell said. ``With this offense it’s just a matter of time until I start having games where I go out and kick four or five extra points and that’s pretty much it.″