After Lawrence Tynes kicked a 47-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Green Bay Packers and send the New York Giants to the Super Bowl in 2008, he left a phone message for the general manager who once gave him a shot in the CFL.
The place kicker called Eric Tillman to say thanks for bringing him to the Ottawa Renegades in 2002, after he had been cut by the Kansas City Chiefs.
A short but solid showing in the CFL had earned Tynes another shot in the NFL. Such persistence has been a theme throughout his career, from making the Troy University football team as a walk-on, to playing in his second Super Bowl with the Giants against the New England Patriots on Sunday in Indianapolis.
“Lawrence is a player I remember so vividly,” said Tillman, now GM of the Edmonton Eskimos. “His story is a classic example of how many players get cut from the National Football League, come and enjoy great success in the CFL, and then get a second chance in the NFL, where they have a long career.”
Tynes was born in Greenock, Scotland, while his father was stationed there with the Navy Seals. Along with two older brothers, he was raised there until he was 10, and first built his kicking leg playing soccer.
The family moved to Milton, Fla., where he played high-school soccer and football. Despite routinely booting field goals of more than 50 yards, he didn’t get any scholarship offers. But that didn’t stop him from earning a spot at Troy.
“He knew he was good enough to be on scholarship, but he never complained,” said Larry Blakeney, head coach at the Alabama-based school. “He worked to impress everyone, so we couldn’t help but put him on scholarship eventually.”
Tynes became a reliable starter, never bothered by poor weather or pressure-filled situations. He set school records for career field goals (45), and points (262).
“He’d look you right in the eye with real confidence and say ‘I can definitely make that kick,’ and he would,” Blakeney said. “What a luxury it was to have a guy like L.T.”
Some NFL scouts looked at Tynes, but he went undrafted. In April of 2001, Kansas City signed him as a free agent but shortly released him. They signed him again after that season but waived him again.
He spent some time in the now-defunct NFL Europe league kicking for the Scottish Claymores, before Tillman gave him a shot with the expansion Renegades.
American kickers were a CFL rarity, but the struggling Ottawa squad “couldn’t kick a can in the sewer,” Tillman recalled. They “needed a difference-maker.”
Tillman remembers Tynes coming to his first practice straight from the airport and making field goals with ease from various distances as the team circled him and applauded.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been at a practice with more enthusiasm than I saw at L.T.’s first practice, because nothing deflates a team more than continually driving the length of the field only to miss a short field goal, which we were doing every week,” Tillman said. “He was a hero in Ottawa before they even knew his name.”
Playing half the 2002 season and all of 2003, Tynes set franchise records for most field goals in a single game (six) and a single season (51), along with most points in a career (277). He was a CFL all-star in 2003, and made 82 per cent of his field-goal attempts, which earned him another tryout with the Chiefs prior to the 2004 season.
“You could just see how much his confidence level had improved,” said Frank Gansz Jr., who was the Chiefs special-teams co-ordinator at the time. “You had to respect how the guy had paid his dues. He came in and beat out Morten Andersen for the job, a future Hall of Famer.”
After three seasons, the Chiefs traded Tynes to the Giants, where he beat out Josh Huston for the starter’s job. In the memorable 2008 NFC championship game in Green Bay, Tynes missed two field-goal attempts in regulation before the persistent kicker booted the winner. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl XLII, 17-14 over the previously-undefeated Patriots.
Fast-forward to 2012, and 33-year-old Tynes once again put a gem through the uprights in overtime (this time, against the San Francisco 49ers) to win the NFC title and send the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI versus the Patriots.
“He has always had a real competitive fire,” Blakeney said. “He’s guy with a deep understanding of how far hard work will take you.”