Alan Lowry was the mastermind of the Music City Miracle. He has seen playoff games decided on last-second field goals and watched as Kevin Dyson came one agonizing yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV.
All those moments were memorable for the Tennessee Titans special teams coach and 27-year veteran of the league, but he doubts anything will ever top what unfolded before his eyes last Sunday.
"I mean," said Lowry, "who thinks you'll ever see eight field goals by one kicker in a game?"
Rob Bironas sure didn't, and he was the one doing the booting. His 8-for-8 performance in the Titans' 38-36 win over the Houston Texans stunned everyone, including him. After hitting five in the first half, Bironas had to be told by a trainer in the locker room at halftime that he'd set the franchise record. "My first instinct was wow," Bironas said. "But then I told him to hush because I didn't want to think about that."
After hitting three more in the second half, including the 29-yard game-winner that nullified Houston's miraculous comeback from a 32-7 deficit, Bironas has now had plenty of time to reflect on his record-breaking day. In the few days that have passed, Bironas has been besieged by phone calls, text messages and emails from family, friends and fans. He said he could rarely turn on the TV without seeing his "ugly mug" or hearing ESPN's Chris Berman belt out "My Bironas" to the tune of The Knack's "My Sharona" during highlights of the game.
It's all a long way from kicking footballs at the pine trees in the backyard of his childhood home near Louisville, Ky. That's where it started for Bironas, who would go on to play two seasons of varsity football for Kentucky high school power Trinity. He played college football at Auburn and Georgia Southern, helping the latter win the 2000 Division I-AA national championship his senior season. Three invitations to NFL training camps came over the next three years, all resulting in cuts. Each time he landed in one of the arena football leagues, hoping the next season would be the one where he would finally stick with an NFL team.
Bironas' big break came in 2005, when he was invited to training camp for the Titans, who were looking for a kicker to replace oft-injured Joe Nedney. Bironas won the job, beating out Ola Kimrin, but didn't win over his teammates, who were upset with the rookie kicker for sending a meaningless preseason game into overtime by nailing a long field goal as time expired. The kick wasn't without meaning for Bironas, though, who took extra satisfaction in doing it against the Buccaneers, one of the teams that had cut him.
Sunday was Bironas' sixth game-winning kick in 38 games with the Titans, but his job is still anything but secure. Even after Bironas set a franchise record with four game-winners in '06, including a 60-yarder to beat the rival Colts, the Titans invited rookie kicker John Vaughn to training camp this offseason to compete with the incumbent. Bironas ultimately beat Vaughn out, but he's hardly resting on his laurels. "Even now, my job is at stake," said Bironas. "If you don't perform or don't stay healthy, then someone is gonna come in and do a better job than you. You constantly have to prove yourself."
Bironas tries not to focus too much on job security, instead devoting his attention to his craft. Like all kickers, he takes pride in his pre-kick routine, which includes purposefully not knowing the length of the field goal he's about to attempt. It helps him stay focused on executing the same kick every time. It's a routine he's been honing since the summers he spent buying smoothies for David Akers, the fee charged by the veteran Philadelphia Eagles kicker after beating Bironas in games of field goal H-O-R-S-E during the camps Akers hosted at his alma mater, the University of Louisville.
Lowry says Bironas has the two qualities a kicker needs to excel in the league: leg strength and consistency. Bironas says it doesn't hurt to have had the same holder (punter Craig Hentrich) and long-snapper (Ken Amato) every season, either. He's quick to credit the offensive linemen that provide protection, too, even if they're bummed the offense is having to settle for a field goal in the first place. "Before the games, I tell the guys, 'Get me close. Let me put one on top of your six.' I'd much rather be kicking extra points than field goals."
But it's been the three-pointers and not the PATs that have helped Bironas become well known among NFL fans. A similarity in name to a ubiquitous Knack song has also helped Bironas gain recognition. The P.A. announcer at Trinity shortened Bironas name from Robert to Rob to help better synch with the song.
Now residing in Music City, Bironas befriended local artist Thaxton Ward, who recorded the song "My Bironas," complete with revamped lyrics about the Titans kicker. The song has yet to hit the airwaves in Nashville, but the more games Bironas has like last Sunday, it won't be long. And unlike the rest of the sporting public, Bironas says he wouldn't mind if a certain tone-deaf ESPN broadcaster continued to bring "My Bironas" to the masses.
"I worked a long time to get here," said Bironas, "so anytime Chris Berman is saying my name, I take it as an acknowledgement of all the hard work I have put in to get where I am."