In the Super Bowl, kickers could be the hero of the game or nothing but the footnote. Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski and Seahawks' Steven Hauschka will be prepared for any situation.
PHOENIX -- It's the closing seconds of the Super Bowl. The champion will be decided on one kick. It has to be the moment about which kickers everywhere dream.
"I really don't think like that," said the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski. "This is something I learned coming into the league: you really can't make your own opportunities. ... There's been numerous games when I've made a kick in the first, second, third quarters that have had an impact on the game. My job is to be ready for any situation.
"If all I'm doing is sitting around thinking about that [last-second] opportunity, I might not be focused on the kicks that can happen in the rest of the game."
It's a measured approach and probably a smart one, but the possibility to win it all has to be somewhere in the back of Gostkowski's mind this week. After all, two of the Patriots' previous Super Bowl victories came down to field goals -- former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed a 40-yarder to beat St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, then repeated the feat two years later against the Panthers.
This season's Super Bowl between New England and Seattle has the makings of a classic championship, too, meaning that either Gostkowski or the Seahawks' Steven Hauschka could be called upon for a historic opportunity.
"It's the most exciting thing you can do in my profession," Hauschka said. "A chance to win the game for my team."
It does not always work out that way. Vinatieri walked off a hero twice, but Buffalo's Scott Norwood endured a far different story. His "wide right" miss at the end of Super Bowl XXV sealed the Bills' 20-19 loss.
Of course, for each Super Bowl decided by a field goal, there are several where the outcome has pretty much been set long before the second half's two-minute warning, thus rendering the special teams as rather moot. Such is the curious life of an NFL kicker -- an entire season could hang on his foot, or he could serve as a mere footnote on Super Bowl Sunday. Unlike the Tom Bradys and Russell Wilsons and Marshawn Lynches of the world, a kicker never has any guarantee he's going to be part of the action.
"The hardest part of kicking is waiting around and not knowing when you're going to kick," Gostkowski said. "That's why I don't worry about kicking at the end of the game. There's a whole game coming up."
Gostkowski played his role well this season, earning a second-team All-Pro nod behind, ironically enough, Vinatieri. New England's current kicker hit on 35-of-37 field goals in 2014 and has not missed an extra point since his rookie season of '06.
Hauschka struggled more during the regular season than in years' past, with an 83.8 percent conversion rate on field goals. However, he's perfect during his playoff career, at 12-for-12 on field goals and 16-for-16 on extra points. So, if a pressure-packed moment does arrive, the confidence should be there.
"You honestly don't have to think much at all this week," Hauschka said. "Your body knows what to do, the key is to go out there and let your body do what it knows to do. No mental thoughts are going to make me swing better."
That may be where kickers differ from their teammates as much as anywhere: the mental process. Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in large part because of how well he can process information mid-action and adjust. Wilson has an uncanny ability to stay one step ahead of the defense, making up plays on the fly.
Aside from adjusting for wind or footing, as Hauschka pointed out, there's not a whole lot a kicker can do on game day to change his fortunes.
"We cover most every situation throughout the year, on and off," Gostkowski said, "so when it comes time to play in the game, it's more of a natural reaction than, 'Oh shoot, I've got to get ready.' The worst thing you can do is be caught by surprise."
One thing that at least Hauschka did not see coming: His 100-1 odds as a potential Super Bowl MVP.
"I don't think I'm allowed to," he laughed, "but I'd love to bet on myself."
No kicker, not even Vinatieri, has claimed an MVP award. Breaking the drought probably would require Gostkowski or Hauschka to nail a game-winning kick and then some.
And hey, if it happens, it happens.
"It's not a selfish game," Hauschka said. "They don't give you an extra trophy if you score extra points."