NOT QUITE YET RIPE ENOUGH FOR REDEMPTION
The field at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida remained damp from the on again-off again showers of this Sunday afternoon in Mid-October.
The inclement weather meant the players wore longer cleats to improve their traction on the grass, made slick by the rain. By the time St. Louis Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein came out to attempt his fifth field goal of the game, the field had already been torn into for more than three hours and now bore the scars of a football game that came down to one final play.
Zuerlein did not know what it was like to miss a kick in professional football, until today.
For the first 21 quarters of his career in the National Football League, Zuerlein’s field goals always yielded the same result: three points for his team. His 15th consecutive field goal made overall, in as many attempts, put the Rams up 6-to-0 over the Miami Dolphins and put Zuerlein into the NFL record books as the first rookie ever to make his first 15 field goal tries. His 16th such kick, however, would be anything but sweet. The first blemish of his young NFL career.
Zuerlein followed that miss from 52 yards out with a miss from 37 yards away, both in the second quarter. The “can’t miss kid” could now do nothing more than that. Zuerlein walked amongst us mortals once again.
And with only seconds left to go in the game, Zuerlein was summoned to do something no mortal had ever done before: make a 66-yard field goal.
The kick, if successful, would put Zuerlein in the record books for the second time on the same day. On the scoreboard, the kick would only be worth three points; enough to tie the game and keep his team’s hopes for victory alive. But making this kick represented much more than that for him.
Zuerlein was kicking for redemption. Had he not missed from shorter distances earlier on in this contest, perhaps his team would not be in this predicament. He knew that, but tried not to think about it as he walked up to where the ball would be placed.
He stared at the goal posts from that record-setting distance and realized that his target looked as small as he felt.
Nevertheless, he relished the opportunity to keep his team in the game. Zuerlein stepped into the kick and struck the ball with every ounce of force his right leg could muster. Astonishingly enough, the ball traveled the required distance, but wide left of its intended destination.
A record-setting 15-for-15 had now become a bewildering 0-for-his last 3, making the kicker known as “Leg-a-Tron,” look surprisingly human. Three errant kicks on the day helped separate young Greg Zuerlein from perfection. Three points separated the two teams at the end of play. The Dolphins coming away with the win 17-to-14 over the Rams.