Steve Hauschka Or Graham Gano Could End Up Being The “Loneliest Guy In Baltimore”

August 11, 2009 |

By reading the title of this blog, you’re probably thinking that I’ve suggested whoever loses the competition between Steve Hauschka and Graham Gano, as the Ravens kicker, will be the loneliest guy in town.

Not a chance.

In fact, the guy who gets a visit from the Turk could end up being in an enviable position, or at least a more comfortable spot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain both kickers are trying mightily to be the CHOSEN ONE. It’s probably their sole respective purpose, in the near future.

Hey, it’s the lifeblood of a competitor.

But, be sure of this ….. the guy who wins the kicking competition will have some very BIG shoes to fill, even if Matt Stover only asks for a Size-9, when he orders new cleats. Ahh, Matt Stover – you remember him, right?

Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the remainder of the Ravens braintrust believed a change was needed as the team addressed its needs for the 2009 season, and beyond. Matt Stover was obviously not part of the plan.

I’ve never questioned the personnel strategies and decisions of Newsome, Harbaugh or anyone else with a “life tie” to professional football. These gentleman and their staff are dedicated to building a winning organization.

Their jobs and futures are dependant on it.

However, the prototypical Baltimore football fan is not as understanding, nor forgiving as me. As sure as the Hanover Street bridge is lined with chicken-necking crabbers, every summer day, rest assured “Joe Ravens Fan” does not see his opinion as anything lesser than Coach Harbaugh’s.

And, as soon as the new kicker misses his first 42 yard field goal – AND HE WILL – the supposed bar floor experts will bemoan the reality of someone other than Matt Stover kicking for the Ravens. Oh yeah, it’s coming.

Steve Hauschka or Graham Gano will be the Ravens kicker when the Kansas City Chiefs roll into town to celebrate the start of the NFL season. And, God help ‘em, because these fans won’t …..

We’re led to believe both guys are better suited than Matt Stover, when it comes to kicking duties. They have more range, which leads to longer field goal attempts and kickoffs. In fact, Hauschka covered these respective duties, in 2008.

While Stover was better than consistent from within 42 yards, a 4th down field position between the opponent’s 33 and 38 yard lines drew an uneasy and complicated situation for the Ravens coaching staff and faithful fans, alike. If the ball rested in this general area, 3 options existed …..

A) Give Stover a shot – while everyone holds their breath.
B) Give Hauschka a shot – while everyone holds their breath.
C) Punt

The typical fan hates to punt. And, I can imagine an offensive unit hates to punt, especially if they grind the ball nearly 50 yards and within plausible range of the uprights. And, it’s gotta be equally frustrating for EVERYONE to watch the respective opponent’s kicker knockin’ off 3-pointers, while the Ravens punt from the same spot.

Indeed, watching Jeff Reed, Phil Dawson, Rod Bironas and the kickers of other 2008 opponents kicking field goals from outside the 35 was frustrating, to say the least. Seeing these same teams covering the tasks of all field goals and kickoffs with one roster spot is an absolute disadvantage for the Ravens, as well, right?

Let’s be honest with each other, the Ravens needed to address their kicking situation. All 53 roster spots are coveted, crucial decisions. When a team carries a Matt Stover calibered kicker, the end result is an extra Offensive, Defensive or Special Teams player cannot suit up.

And, somewhere along the way, the decision to forgo a 48 yard field goal attempt will result in an eventual 2-point loss. Either way, eating two roster spots for overall kicking duties puts a team at a disadvantage.

However, there is one key factor to remember. It doesn’t equate into wins or overall success. But, this factor will greatly impact Steve Hauschka or Graham Gano.

The fans in this town LOVE MATT STOVER.

He is the last original Raven.

He lives here and calls Baltimore “home.”

He is an outstanding citizen and community activist.

Yep, the fans in this town really LOVE MATT STOVER.

So, when the winner of the Hauschka/Gano sweepstakes emerges and suits up in that season opener, he’ll have a lot of pressure on his shoulders ….. and foot. The Ravens will be certain to treat him with justifiable patience and in the best interest of molding a dependable NFL kicker.

But, the new kicker will miss. They all miss.

Any missed field goal attempts, on the HOME FIELD, will not be received warmly by the 68,915 Stover-loving maniacs. They might be understanding of a missed 50+ yarder. But, let anything less than 45 yards sail wide left or right, and the “boo birds” will come calling.

And, any subsequent misses will apply mounting fan pressure and criticism. It won’t be pretty.

If any failed field goal attempts figure into a close loss, even in an indirect way, Hauschka or Gano will hear about it. This includes the M&T seating bowl, message boards and the WNST airwaves ….. as well as every other sports talk station in town.

While professional athletes are “fair game” for criticism and hecklers, it can get overbearing. In Baltimore, I’m reminded of Kyle Boller and Glenn Davis. In a larger scope, the names of Kenny Rogers (New York), Scott Norwood (Buffalo) and Mitch Williams (Philadelphia) come to mind.

I hope the gentlemen vying for Matt Stover’s spot are ready for the fan ridicule and constant comparison to the predecessor, if their foot doesn’t measure as consistent as his. It can and will happen.

Perhaps, the blunt reality is BALTIMORE RAVENS football fans have been spoiled. That’s right, I said it. Since the NFL returned to this town, there has been little doubt about who would kick field goals. “In Matt, We Trust.”

Some Ravens fans are too young to remember how the faithful in this city handle a poor kicking resume’. I was 16 years old when the Colts relocated to Indianapolis. Yet, I can vividly recall fans disparaging Colts kickers in effigy, as they struggled with horrendous stats.

You want a prime example? Google “Tony Linhart.” Without searching out the respective numbers, I can tell you he failed ….. and failed a lot. He took a beating in the News American, The Sun and in every tavern and bar, in Anne Arundel County. I can only imagine his detractors, in Locust Point, Highlandtown and areas closer to Memorial Stadium.

Upon checking Tony Linhart’s stats, I found he converted 70% of field goal attempts, ONCE during his six years, in Baltimore. During this time, Linhart averaged slightly above a 50% conversion rate. Indeed, it was a difficult time for football fans in this town.

Matt Stover’s leg has proven to be a substantial lift to the accustomed success remembered by “Old School” Baltimore fans. And, trust me, they’re gonna remember just how good they’ve had it over the last 13 years.

Those who don’t really recall Baltimore’s football history will simply exert the frustration of a customer who enjoys the spoils of success. Some fans haven’t known a kicker other than Matt Stover. These same fans will not be very understanding of anything less than Stover’s overall impressive 85% conversion rate. That’s a far call from the days of Tony Linhart and Mike Wood, huh?

On September 12th, Steve Hauschka or Graham Gano will become the Baltimore Ravens kicker. This town hasn’t endured a “kicker dispute” in more than 30 years. But, if the new guy on the block fails to live up to the Stover-Standard, we just might see one.

The treatment Kyle Boller endured could end up looking like a mild case of hazing. Watch and see …..