High Profile -- Tom Tupa
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002
He began his NFL career in 1988 with the Phoenix Cardinals, not as a punter but as a quarterback. In fact, Tupa has 13 career starts at quarterback and is 259-of-505 for 3,340 yards with 12 touchdowns. But it is as a punter that Tupa has made his name. Tupa entered this season with 591 career punts for 25,872 yards (43.8 avg.). The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, who played at Ohio State, has four children.
THE ADJUSTMENT PERIOD
Not only was Tupa new to the Bucs, but he had to get accustomed to holding for kicker Martin Gramatica. Then he had to adjust to holding from three long snappers. The Bucs opened the season with Mike Solwold long snapping, but after he was placed on the injured list on Oct. , the Bucs signed veteran Morris Unotoa. Unotoa struggled in his first two games and was released. The Bucs then signed New Port Richey native Ryan Benjamin. "From the moment I got here, Martin and I had a pretty good relationship, so we worked hard at it in Orlando and it's gone well for the most part," Tupa said. "We have had a few snappers in here, but the transition has been smooth as far as that is concerned."
THE SECRET WEAPON
Through the season, Tupa and the special teams coverage unit have perfected a play where he punts the ball toward one side of the field, aiming at the front the corner of the end zone. The ball is punted with just enough lift to allow flyers like Dwight Smith and Corey Ivy to down the ball inside the 10-yard line. He has 19 punts inside the 20, an NFC-high 13 downed by teammates. "It's just something we practice over and over during the week," Tupa said. "When practice is over we do the drill where we get the two flyers down the sides and we work on getting the ball down to them, and on them learning to get their bearings along the sides and at the edge of the end zone. The key is getting over to them and to their side so they can make a play on it. So far we've done a good job."
In his 14th season, Tupa is again having a solid year, with up and down periods. He has 62 punts for 2,625 yards with a net average of 35.1 yards, ninth in the NFC. "I think every punter and kicker has some of them they would like to get back," Tupa said. "I started off the season quite strong, in the middle I was kind of so-so and now the last few games I have been pretty good. Hopefully, it's a good time to get hot again and I hope I can do that with five games left."
It wasn't quite the way Tupa wanted to be introduced to Bucs fans, but it's already in the books. Against the Saints in the opener, after punting eight times for an average of 43.9 yards, Tupa's last attempt of the game proved disastrous. Attempting to kick the ball out of his own end zone in overtime, Tupa tried to avoid pressure from Saints running back Fred McAfee and threw the ball to linebacker James Allen, who caught it in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
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