So when John Carney, a Carlsbad resident, watches the NFL playoffs with kickers settling games in the closing seconds, it hardly gives him pause.
Or does it?
“It does,” Carney said with a laugh. “I get the same butterflies just watching it because I put myself in their helmet. That draws adrenaline because I know what they are going through.”
Carney, a two-time Pro Bowler, pulls for his colleagues much like the way he kicked: with everything he had.
“I love to see them come through in the clutch because I know how painful the road to recovery is if they miss,” Carney said, minus that laugh. “It is not pleasant but it is the nature of the beast to get back in the saddle and move on.”
The Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals advanced to Super Bowl 56 on Sunday partly because of their keen kicking.
The Rams’ Matt Gay delivered a Pro Bowl season in helping the franchise to its fourth Super Bowl. He’s also an alumni of Carney Coaching, Carney’s post-NFL endeavor in which he trains kickers and punters at his Carlsbad facility.
“Matt came and worked out with us when he was preparing for the NFL draft,” Carney said. “He has a very powerful leg. He was a soccer player and hadn’t kicked all that much, so some of his learning curve overflowed into the NFL. But he is super talented and very competitive, strong mentally and focused. I like him a lot.”
What’s not to like about 22-year-old Evan McPherson of the Bengals? He has earned the nickname, “Money,” as he continues to pay dividends for Cincinnati after being the only kicker drafted last spring.
He tied an NFL record with four field goals in three straight playoff outings, with two of them being game-winners.
“McPherson continues to impress me at such a young age,” Carney said. “His composure and confidence at every stage in the postseason has been remarkable. I love to watch him kick.”
Carney, 57, turns his eye back to Super Bowl 29, when the Chargers and 49ers met and were soon separated: 49ers 49, Chargers 26.
Carney was true on his 31-yard field goal, in a game that was a treat for San Francisco, but not so much San Diego. Those memories come with Carney, a Charger for 11 seasons, recalling how high the stakes were.
“A Super Bowl can change your life, or the course of your career, for better or worse, and that is just the reality of it. When I was playing for the Chargers going into the game week, I thought after this week, my life and career could change dramatically.”
The undrafted but undeterred Carney’s career path was similar to Highway 101 with its twists and turns. He played for eight teams, some more than once, and was a kicker and coach on the Saints’ Super Bowl 44-winning team.
Carney, who was named to the Chargers’ 40th and 50th Anniversary teams and is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame, was the NFL’s third all-time leading scorer (2,044 points) when he retired in 2009.
He survived the life of an NFL kicker, a tortured position in which one must excel with their feet and their head. All while stiff-arming the doubters.
“McPherson and Gay are going to hear from the media is, ‘What if this happens?’ or ‘What if that happens?” Carney said. “But kickers are like magicians in that they don’t want to show you how they pull the rabbit out of the hat. They rather prepare for the game.”
Carney was all about routine and Darren Bennett, his former Chargers holder, agrees.
“We could kick 10 kicks from the same spot on the field and when we looked down there was just one set of steps on the grass,” said Bennett, the ex-Chargers punter. “His technique was so solid.”
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports.