[Packers] Spotlight finally finds Longwell
By Rob Demovsky
John Bonamego, the Green Bay Packers special teams coach, does the same thing every time he sends kicker Ryan Longwell into the game to attempt a field goal.
No, he doesn’t cross his fingers, pray or go through any superstitious routine. None of that, Bonamego says, is necessary.
“I walk to the other end of the sideline,” Bonamego said, “and get the kickoff team ready.”
That’s how certain Bonamego is that Longwell will come through.
What had been another solid yet quiet season for the eighth-year kicker has turned into a heroic one in the last two weeks, when Longwell has kicked game-winning, last-second field goals to keep the Packers in a share of the NFC North Division lead. In their history, the Packers have won 41 games on fourth-quarter or overtime field goals, but only one other time have they won games in consecutive weeks on last-minute kicks.
Longwell, who booted a 33-yarder as time expired to beat Minnesota on Nov. 14, curled in a 46-yarder last Sunday night to beat Houston at the final gun to match Jan Stenerud’s back-to-back feat from Dec. 4 and Dec. 12, 1983.
“To have one that ends a game in a season is even rare,” Longwell said. “But to go back-to-back, it’s very humbling.”
What could have been a trying season for Longwell, who watched his best friend Josh Bidwell leave the Packers in the offseason and had to endure a midseason change in holders, instead might end up being his finest.
Longwell never has made a Pro Bowl despite being one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL. He entered this season as the fifth-most accurate field-goal specialist in NFL history, having converted 82 percent of his kicks.
This season, his only misses have been a 45-yarder that hit the right upright against Chicago in Week 2, a 52-yarder that hit the crossbar against Indianapolis in Week 3 and a 49-yarder that was wide right against the Texans.
Packers coach Mike Sherman called Longwell “underrated,” and punter Bryan Barker, a 15-year NFL veteran, said Longwell is a “Pro Bowl-caliber” kicker.
What might help Longwell in the Pro Bowl voting this season is that his game-winning kicks have come in high-profile games. The Vikings’ game was the 3:15 p.m. featured game on Fox. The Texans’ game was the Sunday night ESPN game. Longwell also made a 53-yard field goal on “Monday Night Football” against Tennessee on Oct. 11.
“I think I’ve kicked the ball well enough to go to the Pro Bowl,” Longwell said. “I’d love to go there. It would be a dream of mine.”
Though Longwell’s game-winning kicks have been called clutch by teammates, Barker said that word doesn’t do Longwell justice.
“To say he went out and made an unbelievable kick, I don’t think that gives Ryan enough credit,” said Barker, who took over the holding duties in Week 5 after Doug Pederson got hurt. “He went out and made the kicks that he always makes.”
What Barker means is that whether it’s an extra point in the first quarter or a game winner, Longwell approaches each kick the same way. Bonamego believes that’s what makes Longwell so consistent.
“When you watch Ryan closely, all of his kicks look the same,” Bonamego said. “I don’t think it’s any accident that he’s a scratch golfer. The same type of mental discipline that’s required in golf is being consistent over a long time. You’ve got to take each individual shot and execute a smooth stroke with mechanical precision. It’s the same thing with a kicker.”
Longwell, 30, believes he’s in the prime of his career.
Whether that will be in Green Bay, however, is another matter. Longwell is under contract through next season. He is owed a $500,000 roster bonus in March and again is scheduled to earn a base salary of $1 million in 2005.
He watched Bidwell leave for Tampa Bay after the Packers balked over an additional $100,000 in signing bonus money that Bidwell wanted. It’s unknown whether the Packers again will be willing to give Longwell a premium contract. By then, quarterback Brett Favre could be retired, and the team might have a hard-time paying a top-notch kicker that kind of money if it is in a rebuilding mode.
Longwell said he thinks he can kick in the NFL for 10 more seasons, but he already is eyeing a post-football career in golf.
Last offseason, he moved his family to the Orlando suburb of Windermere, Fla. He and his wife, Sarah, bought a home in the golf-course community of Isleworth, the same subdivision where Tiger Woods lives. The private golf course is two minutes from his front door.
“I don’t know what (my golf aspirations) are, but I’d certainly like to give it a shot,” Longwell said. “All I mean by that is, I’d like to practice and play year-round just to see where I could get. If I get to where I’m shooting even par every time, then I know I’m just not good enough. But I if I can get to where I’m shooting 64 or 65, which I don’t know if I have in me, I’d like to give it a shot.”