How Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens became one of the greatest footballers of all time

Baltimore – Significance will be added to the pre-game routine of the Baltimore Ravens complex Justin Tucker Sunday in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

As he has done before every game and practice since college, Tucker would finish the warm-up with a kick from the correct tick, 48 yards. It was from that exact distance 20 years ago that the idol Tucker, Adam Vinatierikicked a field goal in the last second to lift the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl win, 20-17, over the St. Louis Rams.

Tucker remembers watching that match when he was 12 years old. But it took a few years, after he found his passion for kicking, to truly appreciate the scale of the moment.

“For me, this is one of the biggest kicks ever taken, if not the biggest kick ever taken,” Tucker told ESPN. “this is [routine] I just put myself in that mindset, every single day. How am I going to approach this kick and this moment when it arrives?

“That’s one of the greatest aspects of the sport, seeing a man push his team to that winning moment.”

Tucker learned about Vinatieri through Doug Blevins, the personal kicking coach who helped Vinatieri go from unknown outside South Dakota to a four-episode Super Bowl legend. When Tucker wanted to fully commit to being a fast-paced player in high school, his family tracked down Blevins, who noticed one major similarity.

“They both want to be on stage,” Blevins said. “They both want to be” the man. “

Since then, Tucker, a decade-old unremarkable freshman, has earned a Super Bowl title, five All-Pro first-team picks and countless respects from across the league. When a player misses a late field goal, it doesn’t take long before the phrase “Tucker could have done it” is posted on social media.

Tucker’s 91.1% accuracy on field runs is the best in NFL history. It is not only the most accurate, but also the best in high pressure situations. He converted 59 consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter — including Sunday’s 51 yards in Miami — and overtime, the longest active streak in the league. That includes a NFL record 66 yarder last season in the closing moments of a 19-17 win in Detroit.

Those who have known Tucker since he was a child are not surprised. They saw his confidence fuel his ability to thrive in the spotlight, whether it was a fifth-grade talent show, a game-winning penalty kick in high school, or a singing audition for admission to the University of Texas Butler School of Music. .

But there were challenges. The first was persuading his mother, Michel, to let him play football. And the person who helped him achieve this goal was – of all people – my father’s wife, Drew Bryce.

“I equal it with Mariano Rivera, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, said Ravens Special Teams coach Randy Brown, who was on the sideline and field for all of Tucker’s kicks. “They are the people who want the ball at the end of the match and the end of the match. The competition.

“Justin’s ability to focus, his need for the ball at the end of the game, is really what sets him apart from the rest.”

one of the Early indications that Tucker wasn’t afraid were the moment when he took the microphone and sang “Danke Schoen” during a fifth grade talent show. The show sparked memories of the show’s scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Dressed in a suit, Tucker played in front of the crowd by going up and down the hallways of the school hall.

“He’s not afraid of the spotlight,” said Justin’s father, Paul Tucker, a cardiologist in Tuckers Township in Austin, Texas.

Michelle, a professional photographer, said, “He has no contraindications. I don’t know why he is like that, but that’s the way he handles it.”

An example of this came during Tucker’s first year at Westlake High School. He was the only new player on the football team, and during one match against rival Austin, he was fouled in the penalty area just seconds before. And although he wasn’t the one usually dealing with penalty kicks, he grabbed the ball and put it in place.

“I just made a point that I’m taking this PK,” Tucker said. “I’m putting this game away.”

Tucker tore a shot into the upper right corner for the first winning kick of the game.

Many, including Tucker’s parents, believed football represented his best chance at a college scholarship. But Tucker wanted to play football, and he tried to impress Michelle in the eighth grade.

“No, you really need to focus on football. You are very good,” she told her son, who has been playing the sport since he was four.

Michelle wasn’t giving up – until she had lunch with Amy Hightower Press. Westlake High School can be proud of two likely inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Tucker and Drew Bryce. Amy is Drew’s dad’s wife.

“Oh my God, woman! Let him play!” Amy told her best friend, Michelle. “There are a lot of sanitary pads. It’s more protective than football. Just let him play.”

In his first two years of high school, Tucker played two sports in the fall. He would go from playing soccer for two and a half hours in the afternoon to playing soccer for two hours at night. In between, Michelle would bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two Gatorades and a towel for the car because Tucker was dripping with so much sweat.

“Now I look back, and I feel like an idiot because it was definitely football that opened the door for him,” Michele said.

was tucker a He majored in communications when he started at the University of Texas, but discovered that broadcast journalism was not for him. Tucker loved music and taught himself how to play guitar by watching YouTube videos. So he set his sights on Butler School of Music, which required four months of singing lessons with a graduate student before he auditioned.

To be accepted, Tucker had to stand on stage and sing in front of three faculty judges. He chanted “The Impossible Dream” and was accepted.

Tucker majored in recording technology in Texas and studied under Professor Nikita Storogev, a famous opera singer. Tucker’s repertoire includes singing in seven different languages ​​- English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Latin and Russian.

On the football field, Tucker ended his college career in 2011 after achieving 83.3% of his field goals, which was the third best percentage in the school’s history. However, he was not invited to combine the NFL, Senior Bowl, or Shrine East and West game.

Tucker dropped out of class early in order to practice drafting. To help promote himself, Tucker has filmed a five-minute YouTube video—without cutting or editing—doing all 10 field goal attempts from various distances. Eventually he looked at the camera and said, “Choose me.”

did not work. Tucker went without drafting and eventually signed with the Ravens after coach John Harbo chose him over incumbent Billy Condiff after a pre-season competition.

Finishing school early meant that Tucker would not walk across the stage to graduate, but was asked to return and give his commencement speech two years later.

He explained to Texans that his “art” takes place on a football field. The field-shooting process, from the snap shot to the suspension to the kick, is a performance.

“For me, in those 1.3 seconds lies a kind of palliative beauty,” Tucker said in May 2014. Almost ironically, I became so engaged, so focused that I lost myself in that moment, just like a musician performing a piece he has studied and rehearsed over and over.”

Tucker’s field of 66 yards The goal in Detroit on September 26 marks not only the longest field goal in NFL history, but also one of the bravest decisions ever made.

With three seconds left and the Ravens trailing 17-16, Tucker ran into his usual routine. He took three steps back and then moved two steps to his left before making a final audible “almost spontaneous” second.

“I looked up and realized it [goal] “The posts are way too far,” Tucker said. “I’m going to have to find something a little extra to get the ball to go.”

Tucker remembered that he was short on his 65 yard attempts before the game. He’s trained in “raven jumping” for over a year, but has never used it in any game. It’s more of a starting method as it moves back slightly to generate more power.

I just decided, ‘What the hell is this,’ Tucker said. I’m just going to back up an extra half-step, let it rip and see what happens.”

Tucker’s kick got stuck in the air for three seconds at Ford Field before bouncing off the crossbar and off the hook.

“When I came off the bar, my first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, it was so close,’” said Michelle, who was watching the game with the rest of the family in Austin. “And then when I saw the referee raise his hands as if it was all right, I said, “What happened? What just happened?”

Tucker is the only player in NFL history to score two field goals by 60 yards or more in the last minute of regulation. He improved to 16 against 16 in the field goal attempts in the last minute.

“He’s not afraid to fail,” said Brown, the Ravens Special Teams coach.

Tucker’s white jersey, black shorts and socks were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it’s legitimate to wonder if Tucker will eventually land in Canton himself. His resume includes going 4 vs 4 at the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl series, including a double overtime winner over the Broncos on the Divisional Tour.

There are currently only two kickers in the Hall of Fame: Jan Steenrod and Morten Andersen. Stenerud converted 66.8% of his kicks over three decades, and Anderson made 79.7% of his attempts from 1982 to 2007. Both are below Tucker’s double-digit conversion rate.

“I really try not to think about these things,” Tucker said. “I really try to make it a point to take one kick at a time. That’s something I heard from my agent [Rob Roche] I got out of college, one of the best advice I’ve ever had, next to my grandfather when I was trying to get on the high school team; He said, “Justin, just kick the damn ball.”

“So, between these two principles – less is more, and simplicity is better, I suppose.”