Professional football place kickers rarely become household names, and it’s not just because most of their last names are as difficult to pronounce as they are to spell.
Scan the sidelines left to right during a game and it’s normally not difficult to pick out the kicker – he’s typically the shortest, least muscular player out there, and sometimes he’s even the dumpy looking one who seems out of place in his helmet and pads, like maybe he’s a contest winner that got to suit up for his favorite team.
But then when it’s the fourth quarter with five seconds left on the clock and the score is tied with the ball on the enemy’s thirty, out of all those highly athletic and skilled players to choose from, it’s the itty-bitty, roly-poly place kicker who’s called on to win the game.
It’s just as much a mental game as it is a physical one for kickers, and on Sunday football fans will get to watch two of the best.
On Sunday, February 3 at 5:30pm EST, Super Bowl LIII kicks off in Atlanta at the futuristic Mercedes-Benz stadium, with the New England Patriots taking on the Los Angeles Rams in a slightly controversial [Are the Wrong Two Teams Playing in Super Bowl LIII?] yet highly anticipated battle of the two-seeds.
One of the many 1:1 battles that we did not investigate in Super Bowl LIII: 5 Top Matchups to Watch is the one between the place kickers, New England Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and Los Angeles Rams’ Gret Zuerlein.
Both men have had excellent regular seasons and post seasons, so let’s take a closer look at how these two kicking specialists compare.
34-year-old Stephen Carroll Gostkowski (aka Meat, aka Ghost) grew up in Madison, Mississippi, where in the early 2000’s he was an All-State honoree in baseball, soccer and football, holding his high school’s longest field goal record, a 55-yard kick.
Gostkowski college football walk-on player for the University of Memphis Tigers, and in 2005, his senior season, he kicked off 68 times and had 39 touchbacks, and that was using a 1-inch NFL tee instead of a 2-inch college version in order to give scouts a better of idea of how he would do in the NFL.
In 2006, the Patriots drafted Gostkowski in the fourth round of the draft with the 118th pick overall, and though he struggled in his rookie season, he’s since been to four Pro Bowls, was First-team All-Pro twice and Second-team once, holds the NFL record for consecutive extra points made (479) and is a 2x Super Bowl champion.
31-year-old Greg Zuerlein (aka Greg the Leg, aka Legatron) grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he earned Nebraska All-State and All-Class honors his junior and senior year of high school, setting a Nebraska state record for field goals in a season, going 12-of-16, his longest a 52-yarder.
Shortly after Zuerlein set the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) record of 61 consecutive PATs, UNO cancelled its football program so Zuerlein moved Missouri Western State University, where he set a NCAA Division II record of 21 consecutive field goals, nine of which were 50+ yarders and two of those were 58-yarders.
In 2012, Zuerlein was drafted in the sixth round by the St. Louis Rams (171st pick overall) and since has become the first player in NFL history to make a 60-yard and a 50+ yard field goal in one game, he’s kicked the longest file goal in Rams history (61-yards), and in 2017 made both First-team All-Pro and the Pro Bowl.
If you go by career field goals made, the clear winner would be Gostkowski, but that makes total sense since his 13-year NFL career is almost twice as long as Zeurlein’s 7-years in the league.
Gostkowski has made 367 total field goals in his career after attempting 420 of them, which puts him at 15th on the all-time NFL cCareer leader board.
Zuerlein has made just 177 total field goals in his career after attempting 212 of them, which puts him tied for 81st on that same leader board.
Gostkowski comes out the clear winner in this category, too.
Gostkowski’s field goal percentage is 87.4, which puts him 3rd best on the NFL career lLeader board.
Zuerlein’s field goal percentage of 83.5, which has him down at 27th on that same leader board.
The longer the kick, the bigger the leg, the better the kicker, or so goes the logic of some, and in this category the two kickers are almost even.
Gostkowski’s longest kick was the 62-yarder he made last season in the high altitude (7,300-feet) of Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium in Week 11 during a 33-8 win over the Oakland Raiders.
Zuerlein’s longest kick was the 61-yarder he made in 2015 at the TCF Bank Stadium in a Week 9 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings, 18-21.
For perspective, the longest field goal ever kicked in a Super Bowl was 54 yards, by Steve Christie of the Bills against the Cowboys in XXVIII.
Stephen Gostkowski’s longest kick in a Super Bowl was in 2016 when he kicked a 47-yarder while going 7-for-7 for the day and making 7-for-9 extra point attempts.
Zuerlein has not been to a previous Super Bowl, so every one of his kicks on Sunday will be a new personal record.
Zuerlein had the most recent clutch kick for a playoff win during the overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Conference Championship Game two Sundays ago when he booted a 57-yarder to win the game and send his team to Super Bowl LIII.
Gostkowski’s last clutch kick in the playoffs was during the 2006-07 playoffs against the San Diego Chargers when he kicked what turned out to be a game-winning 31-yard field goal with just 1:10 to go on the game clock to send his team to the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Gostkowski narrowly edges out Zuerlein in this important category, especially with extra point attempts not a given anymore now that since 2015 they’re attempted from the 15-yard line instead of the 2-yard line in order to make that part of the game a little more interesting.
In Gostkowski’s 13 NFL seasons, he’s made 642-of-649 extra point attempts for a 98.9 extra point percentage, which is good enough to rank him 32nd best on the NFL career leader board.
In Zuerleing’s 7 NFL seasons, he’s made 222-of-228 extra point attempts for a 97.4 extra point percentage, which is good enough to rank him 82nd best on that same leader board
Here’s one final look at the two kickers’ main numbers next to each other, the winner is in bold:
Across the board it’s Gostkowski over Zuerlein, the veteran’s numbers are arguably Hall-of-Fame worthy.
That’s not to take away from what Zuerlein’s accomplished in about half the time, because when push comes to shove, he’s fully capable of making a game-winning 60+ yarder.
But so is Gostkowski.
The numbers say bet on the Ghost in this one, but if it comes down to a last-minute field goal for a Super Bowl LIII win, Legatron could just as easily be the man.
For a much closer look at Super Bowl LIII, check out: Super Bowl LIII Odds and Predictions: New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams
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Mike Lukas is a retired standup comedian turned freelance writer now living in Dallas, Texas, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. His love for the game of football and all things Cleveland Browns turned Mike into a pro blogger years ago. Now Mike enjoys writing about all thirty-two NFL teams, hoping to help football gamblers gain a slight edge in their pursuit of the perfect wager. Email: [email protected]More info on Mike Lukas
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