Thursday, January 26, 2012
Giants get a kick out of Steve Weatherford
By Dan Graziano
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn't easy, and it kind of went against everything he's about. But as New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford stood next to kicker Lawrence Tynes on the Candlestick Park field Sunday afternoon and watch Baltimore's Billy Cundiff miss the kick that ended the Ravens' season, Weatherford kept his cool.
"In a situation like that, I'm not going to be like, 'Whoa, Lawrence, did you see that?'" Weatherford recalled Tuesday. "So I was just kind of looking out of the corner of my eye to see if he was watching, and he was, very serious, very quiet. I didn't say anything."
Four hours later, with the Giants about to line up the overtime field goal that would win them the NFC Championship Game, Weatherford (who's the holder for Giants field goals) was not quite as willing or able to control himself. As Tynes tells it:
Kicker Lawrence Tynes, left, celebrates with Steve Weatherford after kicking the game-winning field goal in the NFC Championship Game.
"He was animated. We got that penalty and moved back, which was great because now we had grass, and he's jumping around and pointing and saying, 'Lawrence, this is a Super Bowl spot right here! We're going to the [expletive] Super Bowl! Then he ran over and was yelling the same thing at Coughlin, and Coughlin was like, 'OK, get back out there.' And he comes back and he's like, 'Let's [expletive] make this kick! We're going to the Super Bowl!"
Good thing for Weatherford and the Giants that Tynes had been in this situation before. Neither the sight of Cundiff's 32-yard miss hours earlier nor the hyperactive lunacy of the man charged with securing the snap at the moment could rattle the Giants' kicker. His second career overtime NFC Championship Game-winner was true and sent Weatherford sprinting around the field screaming celebratory profanities into Fox's cameras.
"Just unbridled joy," Weatherford said. "That was my soul. You saw my soul on TV."
This was Weatherford's fourth career conference championship game. He was on the Saints team that lost the NFC game to the Bears five years ago and the Jets teams that lost the AFC title games each of the past two years. So he'd been close before. He says the fact that this year's Super Bowl is in Indianapolis, about 30 minutes from his hometown of Crown Point, Ind., makes it even more dreamlike.
"I'm glad it's with this franchise," Weatherford said.
The franchise is glad, too. The as-it-turns-out-overblown story of the Giants' offseason was the one about all of the needs they didn't address in the draft or in free agency. But the signing of Weatherford turned out to be a big one. He was signed, ostensibly, to compete for the job with Matt Dodge, the ultimate goat from 2010's most painful Giants loss. But anyone who'd followed Weatherford's time with the Jets knew it wouldn't take much for him to unseat Dodge. He did, and went on to have a huge year for the Giants -- a major upgrade at a position that's a lot more important than most fans want to believe it is.
Before he was the holder on the game-winning kick, Weatherford amassed 557 gross punting yards in the NFC Championship Game. Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information, who obsesses about punters, tells me that's an all-time single-game postseason record. And yeah, he punted 12 times, but this was the kind of game that punting can win.
The 49ers' Andy Lee was the best punter in the league this year, and San Francisco led the league in both average starting field position and opponents' average starting field position. You can't beat the 49ers unless you have a good punting game, and Weatherford went quite literally toe-to-toe with Lee on Sunday and came out ahead. It's a major reason the Giants were even in position to kick the overtime game-winner. As the Giants' offense stalled time and again throughout the second half and overtime against the ferocious 49ers' defense, Weatherford kept doing what he could to make sure and pin the 49ers' offense as deep as possible.
"He's been great all year," said Tynes, who's as relaxed and calm as Weatherford is hyper and cuckoo. "I think that was one of the big underrated things we did, bringing in a guy like Steve who does what he does so well and so consistently."