RENTON, Wash. -- It's so strange to see Ryan Longwell here, out of retirement, into the NFL's Final Eight. This is the day he should have been doing a light jog, just to stay loose as his final pre-race prep for Sunday's Walt Disney World Marathon, which winds its way through all four Disney parks in Orlando, where Longwell now calls home. It was to be the first marathon of his life.
But that all changed with a crappy field, a Sunday night phone call and a chance to put some ghosts to bed forever. Longwell is happy to have one more chance in the NFL playoffs, to try to make up for a chance he never had that he can never forget
Longwell, 38, who hadn't kicked anywhere since the Vikings cut him in training camp, will be the Seahawks' kicker Sunday in Atlanta. Four years ago, he was a 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty from a field goal that would have put the Vikings, not the Saints, in the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Colts. Imagine if he gets the chance to win a game this month ... and put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Broncos
"Every year when the playoffs come around, I think about that day in New Orleans,'' Longwell said at the Seahawks complex. "One of my biggest regrets in football was not having the chance to make that kick.''
Recall the day, Jan. 24, 2010 ... the infamous Brett Favre Bounty Game (or not), the NFC Championship Game. Minnesota and New Orleans were tied at 28, and the Vikes had a third-and-10 at the Saints' 33 with 19 seconds to go. Longwell was on the sidelines, ready to go in to try a field goal of 50 or 51 yards, or maybe a couple of yards shorter, after one more rushing attempt.
Minnesota called a timeout to discuss strategy. In what will go down as an all-time gaffe in Vikings history, two personnel groups were sent back on the field, including one with a fullback. That week, the Vikings tinkered with a safe pass play, removing fullback Naufahu Tahi and inserting wide receiver Bernard Berrian to make it a three-wide "bunch'' formation on the right side. Only thing wrong was, Tahi -- either sent by a coach or mistakenly thinking he should be on the field instead of Berrian -- ran into the huddle. By the time the Vikings huddled for the play call, Tahi realized he shouldn't be in the game, but it was too late. Flag. Twelve men in the huddle. Five-yard penalty.
(The amazing part of the play call, in retrospect: The Vikings called the exact same pass play on third down both before the penalty and after. Though normal wisdom with a gun-slinging quarterback like Favre in the game would call for a safe run to try to get Longwell two yards or so closer, the coaches called for a pass.)
Third-and-15 from the 38 now. A 55-yard try, maybe 56, if the Vikings don't advance the ball on third down.
"I wanted a try,'' Longwell said, leaning up against a wall at the Seahawks' facility. "We gave them [the coaches] the green light. I could make it. I was ready. We were in a dome. No weather. The adrenaline was flowing. I was very confident. I hit the ball really well in pregame. They wanted to try to get closer.''
Then Favre made a play that made Vikings fans sick. He rolled out, and, seeing his safe receiver, Berrian, closely covered by a cornerback, eschewed a run that probably would have netted him six or eight yards. He threw across his body for Sidney Rice. He didn't have much juice on the ball. And Tracy Porter stepped in front of Rice and picked the ball off.
"I still feel in my heart of hearts I could have made the kick,'' Longwell said.
He was sitting on his couch Sunday night when agent Frank Bauer called and told him Seattle kicker Steve Hauschka had gotten hurt that day in Washington. Would he like one more chance? Longwell won a kicking derby on Tuesday and was signed for that one more chance. That's what Longwell hopes for sometime in the next three weeks.
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