Up Close & Personal with Justin Tucker

Tucker SBXLVII

Over sixty fans gathered for a night to remember at the Sports Legends Museum in downtown Baltimore on Tuesday night for a private question and answer session with Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl kicker Justin Tucker.

Hosted by the Russell Street Report’s own Tony Lombardi, Ravens fans got to know Justin and the journey that brought him to Baltimore and what it is like being a kicker in the NFL.

So join us as we take a look at Justin Tucker the man, the kicker and the comedian.

 

Tony Lombardi: How long have you been in Baltimore?

Justin Tucker: Just over a calendar year at this point.

Lombardi: You have been here the whole time?

Justin Tucker: Yeah we started the off-season program a couple weeks ago and it’s nice to get back to work. I brought some of the Texas weather with me. Today was really nice. I got a mean farmer’s tan now! Probably about half the guys on the team are three different colors right now between are faces, our bodies and our arms. It gets so toasty out there.

Lombardi: I want to dial it back to when you did start your first game in Baltimore and just talk a little bit about that. But first when you arrived in Baltimore last summer was it your first time here?

Tucker: It was. The first thing I heard from anyone that’s from the Baltimore area or had been here was you have to go get some crab cakes. I burned myself out on crab cakes within like three days. I had like eight pounds worth of crab cakes a day. That hadn’t turned me off completely from them. I’m slowly getting back into it.

Lombardi: Crab Cakes don’t count!

Tucker: No, no it’s all about the crabs you have to mash and crack and all that stuff.

Lombardi: What did you think when you first sat down to do that?

Tucker: Why did I wear a white shirt!!! (Laughter)

Lombardi: Anything about Baltimore surprise you besides the cuisine?

Tucker: I don’t know if it necessarily surprised me just ’cause this city has a reputation and the fan base has a reputation of being so wild, loud just so die-hard. Being in it for the first time and seeing it and seeing how the community reacts to the players and the players to the community it’s been nothing but positive. It has been really cool!  The fans out here are awesome. That stadium with seventy sum-odd thousand people sounds like 170,000 on game day.

Lombardi: Let’s talk about that. Compare that experience as a professional to what you have experienced as a collegiate player?

Tucker: In college I played at the University of Texas “Go Horns” We would seat 103,000 people at our home games so I was never a stranger to big crowds or anything like that. We got to play in some really cool games a lot of nationally television games so pretty big stage kind of games. We were the only college games playing on Thanksgiving for the four years I was there. It would be us and Texas A&M and fortunately we ended that on a good note. The difference between that and the pro environment is you expect it to be a kind of drop off with the fans and everyone treats it like a business but I can tell you it has been the complete opposite. Everybody in this city embraces this team as we embrace the city. So it has been really cool.

Lombardi: It’s a great relation between the Ravens and players and the community. You guys are very active in it. Let’s dial it back again and talk about what brought you here. You are coming into a situation where there was a Pro-Bowl kicker in Billy Cundiff they just signed him not too long ago to a fairly lucrative contract for a kicker and here you are an undrafted rookie from Texas. Talk about your mindset there and why you actually picked the Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent?

Tucker: Yeah! The last day of the draft I was watching with my girlfriend, our dog and our family at a restaurant that we like to go to and I didn’t want to throw a draft party because I am a kicker. The likelihood of me getting drafted was already slim so we just kind of had a little casual get together. I got three phone calls within 30 seconds of the draft ending. I basically had to know where I was going and my agent and I had a plan. In growing up in Texas my whole life I was always a Dallas Cowboys fan and that was one of the teams that worked me out before the draft and they contacted me in those seconds after the draft. So it was the Cowboys, Bears and Ravens and I basically had to make that decision right there. Before I had even talked to any of them on the phone Jerry Rosburg Special Teams coordinator was the third one to call and that was about 22 seconds and was on call waiting so I made sure to hang up with the first two and let them know I already made my decision. Guys I have to answer this call. I talked to coach Rosburg for all of ten second and he goes “So what’s the verdict? ” and I said I am coming to Baltimore!!!

Lombardi: So now as a undrafted free agent you sign the contract and there are no guarantees and you really have to step up your game to knock out the incumbent. Talk about that whole process and what Jerry Rosburg was saying to you to during that time?

Tucker: Yeah, so he and our kicking consultant Randy Brown and Harbs with his special teams background and all of us putting are heads together and Morgan Cox are long snapper and Sam Koch our punter guys who have had experience in the league and with all of us putting our heads together helped Billy and I bring the best of ourselves out. It was really important for me to be open to new ideas.

I had to completely transform the way I was kicking the ball. To the lay-man watching my YouTube videos everything probably looks the same from the time I was in college to this point now but I made some pretty significant changes. That whole training camp competition I was just trying to be the best me for myself and my teammates, my coaches, my family and my friends all the people I represent but more important than anything else I just mentioned is the team.

If I can find a way to contribute to a team that has already had success I mean I think the Ravens are already leading the league in consecutive playoff appearances which is a pretty remarkable thing to do. So throughout that whole training camp competition I was just really focused on just improving a little bit each and every day. I wasn’t really looking behind or to the side seeing what anybody else was doing. I know other people have said Billy probably had the best training camp of his career and I just happened to make a few more kicks than he did and make the decision as hard as possible for the guys in the front office to make.

Lombardi: I think he is very humble everybody! (applause)  So let’s fast forward to the playoffs. You’re in Denver and we are hosting a little party at my house for the Divisional Playoff game and it was a great game. It got down to the end of the game with 37 seconds left I’m slumped down in my couch. I am decompressing and saying to myself, “Ok it’s been a good season” and all of a sudden I see Flacco step up in the pocket. Jacoby Jones catches it and it is all different now. For you as a player were you trying to decompress at that time? Did you toss in towel at that time? Where were you at that moment in time?

Tucker: You never really know with 37 seconds left and down by seven points. As a player on the sideline with a specific role I try to treat every day the same whether we are down by seven or up by seven or up by 34 or down by 34. We were in Houston and it wasn’t that much fun losing by that much (laughter).I just try to treat every day the same and that’s the way I feel I can succeed. Just poker face every single attempt.

When Jacoby caught that ball and coasted into the end-zone I literally thought to myself I cannot miss this extra point!!!!!!   We are only down by one and the only way we can give ourselves a chance is if I can make the extra point. I can tell you honestly I never get nervous. I get excited for whatever opportunities I get and I am thankful for them but I was super nervous for that extra point. I was much more nervous about the extra point than kicking that cinder-block 47-yarder 30 minutes later.

Lombardi: Did the thought cross your head if I miss this extra point Ray Lewis’ career is over?

Tucker: I got more nervous after the fact. You just told me that and I got nervous. I wouldn’t want to send Shugg (Ray Lewis). Bringing him up… his locker was just like two down from mine at the facility in Owings Mills and being able to see how he leads a group of men, the way he keeps a humble heart. Just a lunch pail hard hat type of dude he is and being able to be around that for just one year I think was truly a blessing. He is definitely one of the best to ever play the game regardless of position.

Lombardi: You know as an observer of the team I see not exactly what you see but similar things.  I think fans see and hear sometimes, particularly from out of town fans, they think that’s an act (Ray Lewis). That it’s not real I know you know otherwise.

Tucker: Oh yeah!! People ask me, especially people from out of town. So we will go back to Texas and the first thing people will ask me is What’s Ray Lewis like? Is he like intense all the time? Yes there is some truth to that he is an intense dude. He likes to work. But also he is not as loud as a rah rah type leader at all times as you would think. His timing is important more than anything as any great leader would probably say. There is a time and a place for everything and a time and a place to address problems and address issues or to address someone one on one. Most of the time he was pretty quiet around the team and when he did speak everyone else was ready to listen.

Lombardi: Let’s talk about the Super Bowl Justin. You guys did something that has never been done in Super Bowl history and that is a fake field goal attempt. Now, I kind of felt bad for you when Patrick Willis hit you but talk about that play; talk about the preparation leading up to that play and if you could go back and do it again what would you do differently?

Tucker: Well to Jerry’s credit our special teams coach we always have an arsenal of well I wouldn’t say a whole bag of tricks but an entire gun range to pick from so we got something dialed up every single week. The situation might not always present itself but when it does the numbers are in our favor we got a guy who is a statistician on every single thing you can imagine. So we had down a lot of research and the numbers were in our favor and if we got to a certain position on the field and it happened to be on the right hash. For any field goal attempt on the right hash if they showed a certain look then the numbers were in our favor. It was like 85-90% chance that we would convert, 75% I would score and 50% chance I would make the dunk over the goal post to celebrate.

(Laughter)

Lombardi: So why didn’t that happen?

Tucker: What happened was they beat the numbers and their backside safety kicked back and made a great read. He got a jumpstart on the ball he took one step forward and straight to the first down marker and he was the guy that tackled me. Patrick Willis, who Ed Dickson was trying to block and he was just doing a good job forcing the play one way or another and basically making me have to slow down. I was basically running off a block and when it was slower to develop because of the way they were playing it, it eventually led to me getting blasted which is cool! We got the rings and that’s all that matters.

Lombardi: Well let’s talk about that. Have you guys seen the rings yet?

Tucker: A couple of us have. I happen to be one of them. I was out on the golf course with a couple of guys at this charity event and Joe Flacco and obviously he is going to have a say in what it looked like as he was the MVP of the Super Bowl. So real casual out on the golf course Joe says “Hey, you guys want to see what the ring is going to look like?”  We were all trying to act real cool and were like “Yeah I mean I guess we will check it out” but on the inside I was yeah!!!!! I want to see it!!!!   It is going to be pretty ridiculous. I don’t want divulge too much information but it is going to rival most wrist watches.

Lombardi: Are you going to wear it or are you going to store it?

Tucker: I will wear it here and there. I am going to wear it that night that is for sure!

Lombardi: I want o do a little word association game with you. Tell me what comes to mind when I mention these players, teams or what have you. John Harbaugh?

Tucker: Leader.

Lombardi: Pittsburgh Steelers

Tucker: We don’t need to talk about them.

Lombardi: Favorite Musical Act?

Tucker: Le Mise’rable, Mumford and Sons and Third Eye Blind right now.

Lombardi: Best stadium to kick in?

Tucker: M&T Bank Stadium because it is my home field and it shows.

Lombardi: Worst stadium to kick in?

Tucker: Last year was certainly D.C. It was brutal. They really didn’t do a good job of taking care of their field for us.

Lombardi: Favorite movie?

Tucker: American Psycho. It is totally creepy but don’t judge me!

Lombardi: Which Raven is the last Raven you want to tick off?

Tucker: Suggs at this point in time.

Lombardi: Black, Purple or White uniforms?

Tucker: I like the black on black uniforms.

Lombardi: If you could play another sport what would it be?

Tucker: Soccer I think. I am sure not a softball player. I found that out at Lardarius Webb’s charity event the other day.

Lombardi: Person you most admire in the NFL?

Tucker: Adam Vinatieri, I admire the way he works at his craft. He was a dude that gave everything up just so he could pursue his dream.

Lombardi: Person you most admire in life?

Tucker: There are a lot of people I admire in life. Inside the NFL I would say Earl Campbell. He has been battling a variety of illnesses these last several years he is grounded and humble for being for one the biggest successes in football history. Person in life? Hmm the big man upstairs. Just like Matt Stover after any attempt he would kick. He would point to the sky and more than anything give thanks for the opportunity and I like to do the same thing. Not to be showy or to get on camera or anything. I know that someone is going to be watching and if anyone can take something positive from that then that’s a win in my book.

Tucker, a undrafted free agent the Ravens signed in 2012 had one of the best NFL seasons by rookie in history. The Texas native connected on 90.9% of his field goal attempts, the second-best mark by a rookie kicker ever and led the team in scoring with 132 total points.

The evening was filled with many laughs and was one not to forget. For some fans it was a great insight as to what a kicker in the NFL endures and for others it was a chance to be close to their favorite player.

Baltimore is lucky to have a guy like Justin and a Sports Legends Museum where it can showcase talents of Baltimore Sports figures.

My bet is that Justin Tucker will find his way into the museum as Baltimore always keeps a special place in their hearts for their prized kickers.

 

 

For more information on the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards please click HERE

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @sportguyrsr

 

 

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About Brian Bower

Brian Bower
Brian Bower is avid football fan who was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Brian has covered the Baltimore Ravens and NFL player positives in the community for the past two years for FootballNewsNow.com. His work has been featured on NFL.com and ESPN blogs. He is also a regular guest...more

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