Tynes' toughness is a family trait
Kicker who sent Giants to Super Bowl learned from his dad, a Desert Storm veteran
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the context of human frailty, none of what Lawrence Tynes did that night at Lambeau Field made any sense. He should have been shivering somewhere by a fire, praying that Tom Coughlin would never again call his number, doing something, anything at the NFC title game but exactly what he did:
Throw off his jacket and charge onto the frozen field before Coughlin could go for it on fourth down.
Back in Milton, Fla., four years ago, watching overtime between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, Tynes' father, Larry, was saying to himself, "Hit delete. Hit delete." He wanted the youngest of his three sons to erase from his memory bank the field-goal attempt that went wide left in the middle of the fourth quarter, and then the one that went wide left again as the final seconds of regulation bled from the clock.
Larry couldn't fathom the possibility that an unholy trinity of Tynes misses would send the Giants home, but this was a 47-yarder in Arctic conditions, a distance no kicker had mastered in the long postseason history of the NFL's most storied building.
"I knew Lawrence could handle it anyway," Larry said. "I've seen him handle things all his life."
The old man had jumped out of planes with the Navy SEALs in Scotland, and as a Desert Storm medic in the Persian Gulf he'd stepped into the fiery remains of a crashed C-130 carrying more than 100 Senegalese soldiers, worked his way around piles of crushed and burning bodies, and helped pull the lone handful of survivors from the wreckage.
Larry Tynes was tough enough to hunt down murderers and sexual predators as a detective in Florida's Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office, and he was tough enough to survive the 27-year federal prison sentence handed his middle son Mark, the most gifted athlete of the bunch and the child who wouldn't listen to the family's repeated warnings to stop selling drugs.
Lawrence, the good son, inherited Larry's toughness gene, and so did Jason, the oldest, a staff sergeant in the Army who saw action in Iraq. In his home in Charlotte, N.C., as his kid brother lined up for what could've been strike three at Lambeau, Jason turned away from his TV set, hit the mute button, then changed the channel. He feared the consequences of another hook shot, even if he knew Lawrence did not.
"My little brother," Jason said, "I give him credit for having the balls to run back out there. When I left for the desert in 2005, I left out of Wisconsin and the wind chill was minus-12. So I knew how cold it was that night in Green Bay, when kicking a football had to feel like kicking a brick."
The Tyneses grew up kicking in Scotland, where Larry, the Navy man stationed with Seal Team 2, had met the woman from Port Glasgow who would be his wife. Maggie and Larry raised young soccer stars in a soccer-mad country. When Jason, Mark and Lawrence weren't playing the game outside, they were watching it inside. The Scottish boys had a tough time keeping up with the best of the Tyneses; Jason said Mark was good enough to be named the town's player of the year.
Larry was sent to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola when Lawrence was 10, and the family settled in the panhandle town of Milton, where in his junior year of high school Lawrence would decide to give football a shot. He ended up in a kicking camp at Auburn, beat hundreds of far more experienced boys in a distance contest, and still didn't receive a single Division I scholarship offer, leaving him to walk on at Troy State.
As a pro, Lawrence would be cut twice by the Kansas City Chiefs. He would kick again in Scotland with the Claymores of NFL Europe, play in the Canadian Football League, and finally make it with the Chiefs before a 2007 trade brought him to the Giants, who nearly fired him during the season for not putting enough points on the board.
Lawrence had his reasons for struggling; he'd spent much of the summer at the bedside of his pregnant wife, who suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum -- a condition causing extreme vomiting -- before her twin boys were safely delivered nearly two months premature.
Lawrence had also devoted so much of his time and energy to the cause of reducing Mark's prison term, all of it in vain. Mark had prior felony convictions of marijuana possession when he was busted in 2003 as the ringleader of a network of friends that moved 3,600 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Florida.
The four friends cooperated with the feds and testified against Mark, the one holdout. He got 324 months, and is scheduled for release in 2026. His co-defendants were all out of prison by the time Lawrence made his fateful trip to Lambeau Field.
"It's brutal," Lawrence said. "Mark got locked up on my birthday, May 3, so I never forget the day. It will be nine years this May 3, and we've done everything to try to get a commutation, a lowering of the sentence. But unless you're a CEO with connections to the White House, there's no way you're getting it.
"Mark's not a violent guy. He never hurt anyone. He did sell drugs, and there's no sugarcoating it, and that's why he's in prison. But it's hard, man, because Mark was my best friend, and my dad has put away child molesters who'll get 10-year sentences."
Larry Tynes gave his country 22 years of naval service, and his son Jason gave his country 10 in the Army and some more in the reserves. Larry spent his time in the Persian Gulf living out of tents and foxholes and fearing Scud missiles and chemical attacks, and for six months he had to bathe himself by collecting water in his helmet. But nothing defined the hell-on-earth experience of war like his walk into the devastated shell of that C-130 in the Saudi desert.
"I remember the smell of burning bodies," Larry said, "the smell of burning hydraulic fluid, the moaning and groaning. There were bodies upon bodies, but we were able to get out a few survivors in the back."
He was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal, and yet for all his service and heroism, Larry doesn't believe his country owed him a break in Mark's case. The detective of 17 years wanted only fair punishment for the one son who lost his way.
"The penalty was too severe for what it was," Larry said. "The last guy I put away for homicide, manslaughter, got 17 years. But Mark knew better. He's a man. He should've thought about all of this before he did what he did.
"Mark had a goal to play soccer in college, but he believed what he was locked into was better for him. If he had his head on straight, we might be talking about Mark and Lawrence in sports, and not just Lawrence."
As Lawrence was about to attempt his 47-yarder against the Packers, Mark was a 30-year-old fan watching with fellow inmates at the medium security Forrest City Federal Correctional Institution in Arkansas. Jason had flipped over to ESPNEWS to study the crawler and wait for the score to tell him if Lawrence made or missed the kick.
The son of a homicide lieutenant and World War II veteran, the great grandson of a Texas Ranger, Larry was assuming the role of tough guy. He stayed with the broadcast and the firm belief that his youngest boy would send the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Lawrence booted it hard out of Jeff Feagles' hands, watched it draw right to the left and through the uprights, and then made his memorable dash off the field, through the tunnel, into history, thinking of his family all the way to the winners' locker room.
This was the Giants' biggest 47-yarder since Scott Norwood's wide right, back when Lawrence's father was on the ground in the Persian Gulf. Larry shouted as he jumped out of his chair. "And then I sat back down waiting to see Lawrence," he said. "I didn't understand why the camera went right to Eli Manning and never followed Lawrence off the field.
"But this week I've seen the pictures again of him taking off with his right hand in the air. Next to his birth and his marriage, it's the biggest moment I've ever shared with him."
Afterward, Lawrence's right foot was as swollen and discolored as Coughlin's frozen face, but the kicker got over it. His mother, Maggie, had beaten heart and kidney ailments and surgery on her brain after a fall. His father, Larry, divorced and remarried, would end up beating a stroke caused by a hole in his heart in 2009.
The Tyneses always survive and advance. Four years after nearly blowing his NFL career, Lawrence will return to Green Bay with time still left on his five-year, $7 million contract, and with a drawing of a Giant wearing Tynes' No. 9 made by one of Mark's cellmates, a drawing the kicker has kept with him since the Jets game.
Lawrence has talked to Mark a couple of times already this week, and plans to talk again with Larry, who will be watching Sunday from Milton. The old man would like another trip to the Super Bowl, and maybe another game-winning kick at Lambeau to boot.
If it happens, Lawrence promises to celebrate this time with his teammates. There really is no need to race off the field, not when being a Tynes means being too tough to run from anything.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.