GREEN BAY – The kick that arguably ranks as the most memorable miss of Ryan Longwell’s career with the Packers is the one he calls “one of the biggest blessings.”
That in itself says a lot about how Longwell put together such an impressive career, which began with nine seasons in Green Bay from 1997-2005, when he set a bunch of franchise scoring records.
But, on the day it was announced he’ll be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame this summer, to hear Longwell describe all the post-processing of that moment reveals just how much he took it to heart.
It was Week 2 of Longwell’s rookie season in 1997, in Philadelphia, and everything to that point had gone as smoothly as he could have asked for, given the situation he was placed in.
Undrafted and competing with third-round pick Brett Conway for the job, Longwell’s approach as training camp started was “to try to get to next week,” and he eventually beat out the more highly touted prospect.
He made every kick in the preseason, and all three field goals (he still remembers the first one was 38 yards) against the Bears in the Monday night season opener.
He had hit three more at Veterans Stadium in Philly the next week, running his streak to 12, when he lined up for a 28-yard chip shot in the waning moments with the Packers trailing, 10-9.
He missed it, handing the defending Super Bowl champions a stunning loss, and in a conference call Tuesday with local media to discuss his selection to the Packers Hall of Fame, Longwell took it from there.
“The plane ride back was basically the turning point of my career,” he said. “I had Reggie White and (Brett) Favre come up separately, and told me how lucky and blessed I was.
“I had just stood in front of the media for 45 minutes, missed a short kick for the team’s first loss in a long time … how am I blessed?
“Both said everyone goes through this in their career. You’re so fortunate it’s in Week 2 of your career. If you bounce back from this and kick well next week, you don’t have to deal with this again. You get an opportunity in Week 3 of your career to end this whole thing. Can he deal with the pressure? Can he deal with this position?
“From that point on, I wouldn’t say my attitude changed thinking ‘get to the next week,’ but it made it more real the next week is tougher to get to when you miss a short kick. It totally transformed my approach and gave me a chance.
“Hindsight being 20-20, if I make that kick in Philly, I don’t think I last 16 years. I don’t think I would have learned the lesson early enough to get out of my own way.”
Longwell would go on to become the Packers’ all-time leading scorer, posting 1,054 points – a record since surpassed by Mason Crosby – before joining the rival Vikings in 2006.
Longwell went on to kick six seasons in Minnesota, plus one more in Seattle, before retiring after the 2012 campaign.
Along with that first field goal in ’97 against the Bears, Longwell ranks the 2004 Christmas Eve game-winner against, ironically, the Vikings at the Metrodome as the biggest of his Green Bay career.
He had beaten Minnesota a month earlier with a late field goal for an identical 34-31 final score, two wins that gave the Packers the NFC North title that season.
Leaving to play for a division rival two years later was an unexpected adjustment, but much like Favre would admit as well, the change formed a more complete picture of the first nine years of his career.
“I would not have the perspective I have on the whole Packers machine – meaning the team, the sellouts, the fans, Lambeau, the whole package, the whole state of Wisconsin – had I stayed there my whole career,” he said. “It gives you an appreciation when you go elsewhere.
“I just don’t think you get that unless you see it from the other side of the tracks.”