PHOENIX — He was inspired by watching Adam Vinatieri kick through slush and snow in the Snow Bowl against the Oakland Raiders, and commemorated the game with a poster in the bedroom of his Needham home.
He owned Robert Edwards and Corey Dillon jerseys and became a huge Patriots fan when he watched Scott Zolak fill in for Drew Bledsoe against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 20, 1998, and lead the Patriots to a 24-21 win. Pete Carroll was the coach of the Patriots.
You think Sunday’s game means a little bit to talented Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka?
“I figured because they’re so good that we’d be facing them at some point,” Hauschka said. “It’s a dream come true, really. Winning the Super Bowl last year was incredible and now getting back here against the Patriots is special for me and my family.”
A family of Patriots fans.
His parents — Barbara is a dentist, Peter is a retired scientist — will be rooting for their son. Hauschka’s childood friends will be rooting for him, but not for the Seahawks.
And that Vinatieri poster? It is signed by Vinatieri.
Hauschka played soccer, lacrosse, and trombone at Needham High, but not football.
“I always thought about it, but it was the same time as soccer, so I chose soccer,” Hauschka said.
Hauschka then went to Middlebury College, a neuroscience major with designs on going to dental school. He was accepted at Tufts and UCLA, but his kicking took off and he never had to make that choice.
At 19, when Hauschka said he was “getting too slow” for a professional soccer career, his college roommate, Scott Secor, told him he should start kicking a football.
That’s when Hauschka hired kicking coach Steve Wolf, who ran an ice skating rink in Rutland, Vt., to help him with mechanics. Hauschka took to it like nobody’s business. He made his first field goal attempt for Middlebury, a 42-yarder. He missed his second, from 47 yards, but the rest was all good.
Hauschka did a postgraduate year at North Carolina State after turning down a chance to punt for Northwestern. From there, Hauschka started to get NFL tryouts.
He started with the Vikings, got cut. Went to the Ravens, got cut. He did stints in Atlanta, Detroit, and Denver.
Now 29, and wearing No. 4 (just like Vinatieri), he has become a mainstay with the Seahawks, signing a three-year, $9.15 million deal last year.
So how did he get to this point? That’s the amazing story. Even Hauschka can’t completely wrap his head around it.
He remembers Vinatieri’s kicks in the snow, even though Hauschka never had one in college. His first snow game came in Baltimore while kicking for the Ravens (he also kicked for the Broncos), but to this day, Vinatieri’s kick in a blizzard against the Raiders is embedded in Hauschka’s mind as the ultimate example of a tough kicker who had ice water in his veins. Hauschka wanted to be that kicker.
Hauschka said that kicking a soccer ball prepared him for football.
“A pretty natural transition,” said the former midfielder. “I’ve been kicking a soccer ball since I was 3 and a soccer ball has a huge sweet spot. In football, you have a smaller spot to hit with the right part of your toe.”
Once Hauschka started working with Wolf, it came pretty easy.
Hauschka still remembers his first time in football pads. The pads were for a linebacker, and they felt awkward.
Hauschka’s said his kicking style has “evolved over time as my body has changed.” He still has phone conversations with Wolf to help him with the mental side.
Hauschka wouldn’t have gone anywhere had Wolf not put the idea in his head to go to a Division 1 school.
“I applied for a masters program [at North Carolina State],’’ Hauschka said. “There were no guarantees. I was a walk-on, had a good year and kind of got myself on the map.”
The last time Hauschka played at University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLIX and home of the Arizona Cardinals, was Week 15 of the regular season. He missed three field goal attempts in Seattle’s 35-6 rout of the Cardinals.
“It had nothing to do with the stadium,’’ Hauschka said. “In fact, it’s a great place to kick. I just had a mechanical thing going that day that I corrected, but in terms of kicking here, I think it’s a great place to kick.”
Hauschka hit 94.3 percent of his field goal attempts in 2013 but fell to 83.8 percent in 2014, largely because of the misses in Arizona. He admires the 42-year-old Vinatieri, who was an All-Pro this season, for “doing that at that level at his age.”
Hauschka said Father Time doesn’t take a toll on kickers as much as positional players, but the physical and mental aspects do.
“You can kick too much,” Hauschka said. “You have to balance your body, so I do a lot of kicking with the opposite leg, just so you don’t wear down physically.”
The right-footed Hauschka said he can kick a 45-yard field goal left-footed if he had to.
The NFL is considering narrowing the uprights to make field goal attempts more difficult, but Hauschka doesn’t go along with that.
“What if you made the hole in golf smaller?” Hauschka asked. “Less putts made. Same with kicks. Coaches would adapt to it and call fewer long field goals. You wouldn’t see field goals longer than 45 or 50 yards.
“Personally, I think there’s excitement with a long field goal made. A team should be rewarded if they get to the 20. They should have an easy kick for points.
“Fourth-quarter comebacks would be limited. That 60-yard drive before halftime, those would go away. I don’t think they should change it.”
That’s all in the future; what he is concerned about now is beating his childhood team.
There won’t be snow in Arizona, as there was in the Snow Bowl in Foxborough, but if winning or losing comes down to his right leg, “I think that’s what we all hope for,” Hauschka said.
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