This past weekend I had planned to attend the Dolphins away game in Cincinnati, however the opportunity to interview one of NFL’s most distinguished and notable place kickers popped up. I hopped on a flight from sunny south Florida and flew to a 38 degree freezing, windy, nose biting cold New Hampshire where place kicker Nick Lowery was attending his alma mater’s homecoming game; Dartmouth verses Harvard.
In the past, Mr. Lowery and I have discussed many topics in regards to football: NFL’s lack of kickers in the Hall of Fame, the controversial lock out, and the massive attention NFL referees are getting on recent calls. However, I had never heard the full story on his relentless determination to make his dream of kicking in the NFL come true. So with a pen in hand and apparently not enough layers of clothing, my frost bitten toes followed him around the entire weekend to meet several of his Dartmouth classmates and friends.
Nick Lowery graduated from “Big Green” in 1978 and went undrafted. With a strong will to follow his dream and live by his motto to “never give up”, Lowery decided to take a chance and try out for the New York Jets. He made it through pre-season with the Jets, but when he missed 2 field goals against the Chargers in their 3rd pre-season game he was cut.
Lowery went to work as a waiter at Bulls Eye Restaurant, but still had the itch to make a debut in the NFL. With his motto in mind and the determination Lowery decided to keep trying, and boy did he try.
Lowery tried out for 11 teams over two years; Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Bengals, Red =skins, Browns, Falcons, Cardinals, Patriots, and the Chiefs. When he told me this I was blown away; “Oh my God, seriously, I don’t think I would have kept at it.” “Jillian, I didn’t want to be that guy saying I was in training camp and I coulda woulda”, not that “couch potato”. Nick wanted to confront the fear of not knowing if he “coulda woulda”, and that I could definitely identify with and respect.
I think of the whole interview, the funniest and most memorable part of interviewing him was the humor in which he told me about his short stint with the Falcons. Lowery played with the Falcons in 1979, but once again was cut; he missed their 3rd preseason 23 yarder. Lowery was cut on that Monday and by Friday of the same week, he was asked to sign a day contract for the Falcons pre-season game 4. Nick had missed practice that entire week and just shows up on game day when players all stared and Joe Lavender says, “Man, this guy’s got it down. We practice all week and he just shows up for the damn game.” I about died laughing listening to him mimic Lavender’s voice, about hit the floor in tears.
Lowery see’s me cracking up and said, Jillian that’s not as funny as when he tried out for the Chiefs.
After his day contract was up, Lowery was flown out by the Redskins, but once in General Manager Dick Nolan found out Garo Yepremian was cut by the Dolphins the Redskins went in that direction. Then he headed to Arizona and went 3-6 against Mike Woods 0-6 kicking into 40 mph wind, but the Cardinals went with Woods. After that the NY Jets flew him out where he was just 1 ½ before. Lowery out kicked Carson Long the whole pre-season, but it’s like Lowery said “the idiot was dumb enough to go with him just because I was there a year and a half earlier”.
After two years and 11 teams, Lowery went to work with the Senate Commerce Committee, working with aviation. He just started working as the only non lawyer on staff with Senator Chafee, when one evening he received a phone call at his parents’ house from Chiefs President Jim Schaff. Schaff was in the hospital recovering from back surgery, and was trying to recruit Lowery to try out for the 1980 training camp, but Lowery said “no thank you” and hung without getting a number. After he hung up he called his mentor, Dick Johnson. Johnson said, “Nick needed find out what they had to offer or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
Lowery hadn’t written down a number to contact Schaff at, but after calling the operator and triangulating where the closest hospital would be for back surgery in accordance with the two Schaff’s listed, he had success. Lowery call Schaff back at the research hospital and after inquiring about the offer found out he would start try outs just 4 months later for a signing bonus of 2500 dollars.
Lowery finally made his NFL dream come true that summer and I was taken by the way he explained it to me. Lowery told me that every time he was cut it was a chapter closing, another fear extinguished because each time he tried out he kept the fire of his dream alive and knew that he was not going to be that would coulda couch potato on Sundays in front of the tube. He was pursuing his dream, because he never wanted his dream to be just a dream.
That summer Lowery out kicked the only remaining player left from Super Bowl Champ (IV) team, Jan Stenerud, and went through a lot of harassment being that he was the newbie at training camp and a nobody. Lowery cracked me up with his animated account of how the pressure of him out performing Stenerud caused some waves. As a result of the pressure, the Chiefs players made Lowery the brunt of a joke, which I thought was hilarious but nauseatingly cruel. Lowery came in from practice and smelled a foul, strong putrid stench. So following the rancid smell, pulled back his sheets and there laid a pile of manure on his bed! He then opened his closet to find more manure!
Lowery started with the Chiefs in 1980 after two years and 11 tryouts. He was on a real NFL team, in a real NFL season, walking the NFL grass, smelling the official NFL air and this time he was ready.
In his first game of his first official NFL start Nick kicked 2 field goals over 50 yards setting a team record. His first attempt was at a 50 yard field goal, which he thought “screw it I’ve already been cut” before. He made the 50 yarder with a 4.6 hang time, then his 23 yarder. Later in the 4th quarter his coach sent him out with a shot to make a 57 yarder. He jogged out to the field and Efren Herrera, the Kicker from Seattle yelled “you’re crazy”, but it was worth a shot. Lowery proudly accounted the moment and mimicked the announcer Jack Patera’s report of the play; “He hit the ball so hard it looked like it coulda went through the stadium.” That was just the beginning of a long 18 year prosperous career.
Lowery retired in 1999 and was ranked number one at that time. He was selected Pro Bowl three times, All Pro 7 times, recipient of the Byron Whizzer White Award in 1993, kicked 15 game winners, played in 2 playoff games, played 262 games in his career and was nominated for 2007 NFL Hall of Fame.
Other Noted Stats:
- most field goals all-time (384)
- most accurate all-time (from 1984-1997 Lowery held the all-time accuracy mark for 10 of those 12 years)
- most 50 yard field goals
- most games with 2 or more 50 yarders
- Lowery also held the record for best PAT percentage since the goal posts were moved back 10 yards and PAT’s became 20 yarders, not 10 yarders.
- Lowery kicked more than 15 game-winners during his career, including in 2 playoff games vs. the Raiders in 1992 and Steelers in 1994, and also kicked the game-winning points in all 3 Pro Bowls in 1982, 1991 and 1993.
Stats provided by: Wikipedia