Elevated blood pressure comes with the territory of being a passionate football fan.
Fans invest much of their time, energy, and hard earned money to watch men play a game – one that will largely dictate their attitude and behavior in the following days.
For Ravens fans, it seems all too fitting that a young man who has seized one of the most stressful situations that their team faces just so happens to be the son of a cardiologist.
Justin Tucker came into training camp as a 22-year old recent college graduate from the University of Texas who wanted a chance to play in the NFL. The odds were against him in Baltimore, as he was battling a damaged former Pro Bowl kicker whose return had already been endorsed by his very loyal head coach.
For Tucker to win the competition, he would have to make sure it wasn’t a competition at all – and that’s exactly what he did.
Field goal attempts are some of the most stressful high-pressure scenarios in football but Tucker makes it seem like a walk in the park. Apart from his first career game-winning kick against the Patriots, which barely snuck inside the right goal post, Tucker’s kicks almost routinely split the uprights right down the middle. Regardless if the attempts are from 19 or 56 yards, Tucker makes them all look routine.
“I was in ninth grade when I told myself I wanted to play pro ball,” Tucker said when reflecting on his high school career. “It was always a childhood dream of mine.”
Tucker’s childhood was nothing different than what you would expect from a young boy born and raised in Texas. He loved football and he was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys by default.
After a successful collegiate career kicking for the University of Texas, the opportunity Tucker had always dreamed of started to become more of a reality as he was invited to kick prior to the NFL draft by the Ravens, Bears and his hometown Cowboys.
Last January, Tucker was watching the Ravens play the AFC Championship game and saw Billy Cundiff’s missed 32-yard attempt. Given that in Baltimore, “Cundiff” had changed from a noun to a verb, Tucker realized his best opportunity would be to sign with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent.
“I saw an opportunity here in Baltimore and did my best to seize it and have some fun with it as well.” Tucker said. “I’m having a blast and I’m more relaxed now than I ever have been kicking the ball.”
One of the most surprising elements of Tucker’s game is how calm he is prior to a kick, showing a level of confidence not found in most rookies. That may be because kicking at M&T Bank Stadium – and most other stadiums in the NFL for that matter – he is in front of 30,000 or so fewer people than he was used to having watch him at Texas.
In addition to the fact that kicking in front of a huge crowd is old hat, Tucker also attributes his attitude to those who have impacted his life the most.
“I guess some of that attitude I carry with me comes from my parents, specifically my dad,” Tucker said when speaking of his father, a cardiologist in Texas. “I get to go out and play a game and I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders, I feel like I’m on an island. When my dad is doing a procedure, he’s holding someone’s life in his hands. I just try to take a page out of his book and for lack of a better term, keep a steady hand and a poker face whenever I go out on the field.”
For being just 23 years old and having a job that many can only dream about, Tucker has kept a clear head on his shoulders and stuck to his faith. Prior to each kick, Tucker displays the sign of the cross on his chest.
“This league has a way of humbling you real quick,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to only have a pair of misses thus far and hopefully I can keep that number down as much as possible.”
Tucker’s current field goal percentage is 93.5, as he has connected on 29 of his 31 attempts. He’s fourth best in the league, a feat that any rookie should be proud of. Realizing that most of his success is solely placed on him, Tucker has begun to build a support system if things don’t continue to be a storybook as they may seem at this point.
“There may come a time when something bad happens and that’s when you just put your faith in something bigger,” he said. “That’s your teammates, that’s your family and friends and the big man upstairs.”
Historically, many stories have been told about how specialists (kicker, punter and long snapper) are often secluded from the rest of the team – with the Ravens, that isn’t the case.
“I think more than anything, it just happens,” Tucker said about sometimes being left out. “Everyone else, their meetings are considerably longer. When we have that extra time, we’re throwing corn hole (the popular beanbag toss game) in the locker room and eating potato chips.”
The bond between the Ravens specialists – Tucker, punter Sam Koch, and long snapper Morgan Cox – have even inspired their own nickname: “The Three Man Wolfpack,” inspired by the movie The Hangover.
Since the departure of Matt Stover, Ravens fans have been eager to see some stability returned to the kicker position. Hopefully, as Tucker continues to mature, he can fill those considerably large shoes.
In the meantime, he’s certainly made his small part of games that much less stressful to watch for the purple and black faithful.