Bironas' record eight FGs another stepping-stone on odd journey
The NFL told the Titans' Rob Bironas "no thanks" three times before he kicked his way into the record books with eight field goals against the Texans, writes William Bendetson.
Only three years ago, he was supplementing an Arena League income with work as a security guard in a Charlotte, N.C., Best Buy store. Playing in the NFL was still just a dream. But even he didn't envision that this week, he'd be sending a record-setting pigskin to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.
On Sunday, Bironas set an NFL single-game record when he kicked eight field goals, including the winning points in a 38-36 victory over the host Houston Texans.
No other player in the 87-year history of the NFL has made as many field goals in one game (four others have seven). Bironas made five successful kicks by halftime against the Texans, and his 29-yarder as time expired quieted a Reliant Stadium crowd that had seen a miraculous Texans' comeback from a 32-7 fourth-quarter deficit.
That's pretty heady stuff for a man who decided if he didn't make an NFL roster by age 28, he would quit pursuing pro football. Bironas, 29, failed three NFL tryouts in 2002, 2003 and 2004, before finally becoming the Titans' kicker in 2005.
"That is pretty cool,'' Bironas told the Nashville Tennessean. "[The ball] is going to be up there for a lot longer than I would be able to keep it or to pass it to my family, so it is definitely an honor to have it in the Hall of Fame."
Bironas' successful kicks from 52, 25, 21, 30, 28, 43, and 29 yards (twice) -- plus two extra points -- also set an NFL single-game record of 26 points by a kicker. That eclipsed the 4-year-old record of 23 points set by Billy Cundiff of the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants.
Those are just two more milestones for Bironas, who has six game-winning field goals in his 38-game Tennessee tenure -- including a 60-yarder to beat the Indianapolis Colts last season.Still, Bironas -- whose Titans play the Oakland Raiders this Sunday in Nashville -- remains modest. " When I miss kicks, I like to think it is my fault, but when I make kicks I think it is a collective effort between myself, my holder [Craig Hentrich] and my offensive line," Bironas said. Bironas then asked, "Do you want the names of all my offensive linemen?" He can recite them with ease.
The Kentucky native began his college career in 1996 as a walk-on at Auburn. By 1998, Bironas was on scholarship and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award -- which recognizes the best college football kicker in the nation. In 1999, however, things came apart for Bironas. He clashed with Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville and was one of two players suspended seven games into that season for violating team rules. One of the disputes Bironas and Tuberville had: hair color.Bironas dyed his hair platinum blonde like other members of Auburn's special teams. After Tuberville reportedly told him to change the color, Bironas dyed his hair bright orange. "I was a 20-year-old kid trying to deal with this. It was difficult," Bironas told ESPN.com. "I saw the writing on the wall."
Bironas transferred to Georgia Southern for his senior season and made just 7 of 13 field-goal attempts.
After college, Bironas drew little interest from NFL teams. He joined his father's business, a building automation company in Louisville, Ky. Bironas, who returned to Auburn to complete his marketing degree, showed a knack for business and almost lost interest in football. His dad, though, encouraged him to keep kicking.Finding a place to kick was, however, the challenge. The Green Bay Packers cut Bironas in 2002, and that first rejection might have been the toughest. Bironas, though, picked up a mentor along the way in then-Packers special teams coach Frank Novak. Bironas also leaned from Packers kicker Ryan Longwell. "In a way, you are competing against guys like Ryan, but in a way you are not," Bironas said. "They obviously don't want to lose their job, but they are also hoping that you will catch on with another team." Bironas was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in training camp in 2003 and was once again cut prior to the season. Bironas had a chance to make the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster in 2004, kicking two field goals, including a 48-yarder, in their final exhibition game.
Bironas claims Steelers coaches and players congratulated him and said, "See you on Monday," which he interpreted as code words for making the team. When Monday came, however, the Steelers decided to go with Jeff Reed.Bironas toiled in the Arena League for three years. While playing with the Carolina Cobras in 2004, he took a security job at Best Buy in Charlotte, N.C., for the discounts the store gives employees. Once, he caught a customer trying to steal a large computer. But after a stint with the Arena League's New York Dragons in 2005, Bironas had an impressive workout at a special teams combine in Reno, Nev., and received interest from the Titans and Chicago Bears. Both teams were impressed with his leg strength, after watching most of his kickoffs go out of the end zone. Ultimately, Bironas chose the Titans because the competition at kicker was wide open. The Titans' incumbent kicker, Ola Kimrin, had played in only six NFL games, and was cut in the middle of the preseason. Bironas also had to beat out Jay Taylor to become the starter. The cautious Bironas, however, did not take anything for granted. He stayed at an extended-stay hotel for the entire season, fearing he would be cut at any moment. "A hotel has its advantages," he said. "There is no electric, heat or television bill."
In 2005, Bironas converted 23 of 29 field-goal attempts. He also finished with the seventh-most touchbacks. Bironas connected on 22 of 28 field-goal attempts last season, but he was especially good in the clutch. He set a franchise single-season record with four game-winning field goals. He hit a 49-yard attempt with 11 seconds left to cap a 21-point comeback against the New York Giants, and connected on a 60-yard field goal, tied for the fourth-longest in NFL history, to beat the Colts. Bironas also nailed game-winning kicks against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins.
Bironas, who turns 30 in January, is constantly refining his technique.
All six of Bironas' misses last season were to the right, so this past offseason, he worked on keeping his left side more square to the ball and his alignment more open.
Bironas is 16-for-18 this season, and his only misses were ones that sailed left. Bironas is also third in the NFL on average kickoff distance, at 69.2 yards per boot.But how does Bironas practice making kicks in the clutch?
Each Wednesday and Thursday at the end of Titans practice, Bironas has to make a kick from a different distance, and he says the coaches tell him, "If you don't make the kick, we will lose the game." He treats the situation as if it were a real game.
"Before he hit the 60-yarder against Indianapolis, he came over to the coaches on the sideline and said, 'I can do this,'" Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry said.No surprise there. "I can do this," is also what Rob Bironas kept telling himself in his five-year journey between college and the NFL.
William Bendetson covers pro football for ESPN.com.
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