I’ve been pretty honest about the nature of my sports fandom in recent years.
Fatherhood has changed me. That’s probably one of the more cliché things a human being can say, but it’s as honest as I can possibly be. The list of things that concern me in more than just a passing way is quite small anymore. It’s not that I’m not a fan any longer, I’m just not moved by the results of games the way I once was. That’s probably quite healthy, particularly considering the detriment to mental health that overreactions to sporting events have been in my life.
If the Ravens had lost to the Lions this week, I would have thought it a bummer, written a column about how confusing it was that they didn’t stick with Lamar Jackson running the ball and within an hour or so I would have been on with my life.
But that didn’t happen. Not remotely. Instead I was given a loud reminder of why, even as my fervor for sports has died down in adulthood, I’ll never be able to escape my love of watching high-level athletes compete. Because when I woke up on Sunday morning, I could have never fathomed that I was about to watch something that I would never forget for the rest of my life.
This, of course, was a Ravens-Lions game that we were talking about. I couldn’t say with certainty that I was going to remember anything that would transpire during the game for anything more than MAYBE 48 hours.
We watch sports because there’s at least a chance that on any given day, something truly unforgettable might occur. When the stakes are higher (say, a Ravens-Chiefs Sunday night game), we allow ourselves a bit more belief that such an event might transpire. When the stakes are much lower (like a Ravens-Lions Sunday afternoon game), we assume there will be no such magic.
And yet, there I was, eyes watering a bit as our Project Gameday Postgame Show got underway in the aftermath of Justin Tucker’s preposterous 66-yard game-winning field goal to defeat the Detroit Lions, just seconds removed from repeating the words “this is so stupid” over and over again about the Ravens having the audacity to even line up for the try.
There are so many elements to why the moment was so meaningful. The game was over. ESPN’s win probability indicated just three plays earlier that Detroit had a 99.9 percent chance of winning the game.
Even as the Ravens lined up for the kick, history was against them. There had been 48-plus-yard game-winning Hail Mary attempts in football history (you don’t have to remind Lions fans about the Aaron Rodgers-Richard Rodgers conversion from a few years back). There had been 48-plus-yard multi-lateral game winning plays too (see “Dolphins/Patriots, 2018”). What the Ravens were attempting … had literally never happened in the history of football.
Even knowing now that it was successful, I can’t say with even the slightest of confidence that it was the “right” decision.
Oh, and Tucker did it in an ultimate “do-or-die” situation. This wasn’t a 66-yard kick at halftime for S’s and giggles (although the Cardinals certainly weren’t giggling after Matt Prater’s 68-yard halftime miss on the same day). This wasn’t a situation where he could relax because there would be overtime if he missed the kick. If he leaves the kick six inches shorter, the Ravens are 1-2 on the season. This required stones bigger than Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s.
And then there’s Tucker himself. He was already the most accurate kicker in NFL history (although Harrison Butker is right on his heels). He was already well on his way toward being able to retire as the greatest player in the history of the position. And yet he still hadn’t authored his most incredible chapter.
With no disrespect to Prater (who truly is a remarkable talent himself), this is a record that Justin Tucker deserves the chance to hold. As the now nearly undisputed greatest kicker of all time, he deserves to have his name mentioned every time a long field goal is attempted for the foreseeable future.
And it’s not just that he’s a truly great kicker (that much is obvious). It’s that he’s been so good and such a remarkable presence in our community that he’s managed to transcend the almost impossible barrier that exists between specialists and position players in order to be considered among the truly greatest Ravens to have ever put on a jersey.
Matt Stover was good. Matt Stover was popular. But Matt Stover wasn’t an arguable top-five Raven of all time. Justin Tucker is legitimately swimming in that water. (It’s probably Marshal Yanda fifth behind Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden and Terrell Suggs, but I’d have to listen to the argument … at least until Lamar Jackson surpasses them all.)
Tucker has represented our city in a way no football kicker ever has before. If Wade Richey had made this type of kick when he was serving as kickoff specialist/long kick taker back in 2003, it would have been an amazing moment that we wouldn’t have quickly forgotten. But it means so much more that it was Tucker.
A completely random Sunday afternoon just became an eternal, iconic Baltimore sports moment. I’ll never be able to stop watching.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox