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Whether wide or short, every kicker has a friend

Failures such as Scott Norwood's Super Bowl miss remind brethren of the value of empathy, and preparation.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001


TAMPA -- The Ravens' Matt Stover prides himself on being part of the kicking fraternity.

Though other players like to say kickers are flakes, Stover jokingly boasts they are the only real-world people in the locker room and it's the other players who are the psychos.

There was a time, however, when Stover violated one of the cardinal rules of the fraternity. Ten years ago, he actually rooted for a fellow kicker to miss. At Super Bowl XXV in the old Tampa Stadium, Stover was a rookie kicker on injured reserve for the Giants.

As Buffalo's Scott Norwood lined up for a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal, Stover stood next to injured Giants quarterback Phil Simms, fellow kicker Raul Allegre and New Jersey-born rocker Jon Bon Jovi. Needless to say, all four had a singular thought.

"I just wanted to win the game," said Stover, reluctant to admit he broke the fraternity rule. "Do I ever wish for someone to be in that situation and miss it? No. But if it comes down to winning the game, of course, we want to win the game. I was rooting to win the game.

"I was just, 'Let's win, c'mon man.' And when he missed it, of course, I was happy, but I immediately began to pray for him."

The fraternity helps Stover and the Giants' Brad Daluiso have greater empathy for Norwood. Both kickers share an acquaintance thanks to the brotherhood, and they know more than anyone outside their group about the anguish Norwood went through.

Daluiso, a 10-year veteran, was a Buffalo teammate of Norwood's in 1991, the season after the infamous miss.

"That's part of our job, and he knew that going in," Daluiso said of Norwood. "Obviously it was made to be a big deal, and it was a big deal, but my guess would be that with Scott it's less of a deal than it was made out to be."

Having been on the field that night, Stover said Norwood's miss left an indelible impression.

"My whole career, I've thought about that kick and what would happen," Stover said. "My whole career, I've tried to learn from that kick. Have I made mistakes? Yes. All of us try to learn from each other's mistakes. If you don't, you're not very smart."

Stover said he mentally prepares for a last-second field-goal opportunity every week. He describes it "as what you've dreamed of." Daluiso, however, said he secretly hopes the Giants are up 45-0 at game's end.

"Anybody who says they hope it comes down to a kick is lying because that gives you a chance of losing, and if there's a chance at the end of the game of not losing, that's what I want," Daluiso said. "If it comes down to a kick, I'll be ready and I'll prepare for that ... like I do every week."

If the game between these defensive-minded teams comes down to a last kick, both Daluiso and Stover have solid 2000 foundations on which to rely. Stover led the NFL with 135 kicking points and converted 35 of his 39 field-goal attempts. Daluiso missed two games with a stiff back but still scored 85 points and converted 17 of his 23 tries. Three attempts were blocked.

How each will perform Sunday remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: If it comes down to last-minute attempt, the code will be broken again.

"I'm going to sell out one of my fraternity members in a heartbeat right then. I'm going to be jumping up and down doing the voodoo hex on him," Daluiso joked. "No, obviously in that situation you hope he misses, and that's one of those strange times you're wishing failure on somebody, and the only reason I can feel safe doing that is I know he's a strong enough person to deal with it, and I'm the same way."

Meet the kickers

Matt Stover

EXPERIENCE: 11th season.

COLLEGE: Louisiana Tech.

AGE: 33.

2000 SEASON: Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro kicker. Has converted 53 of his past 57 field-goal attempts, including 35 this season. Led NFL kickers with 135 points. Has kicked at least one field goal in 26 consecutive games.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Stover is one of three original Cleveland Browns players still on the Baltimore roster.

* * *

Brad Daluiso

EXPERIENCE: 10th season.

COLLEGE: UCLA.

AGE: 33.

2000 SEASON: Bounced back from 1999 knee surgery to score 85 points. Missed two games with a stiff back. Converted all 34 extra-point attempts and made 17 of 23 field-goal attempts, with three misses on blocks. Is 9-for-10 on field goals in the post-season, his first miss coming two weeks ago.

CAREER HIGHLIGHT: Daluiso has the best field-goal percentage in Giants history at 76.

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