No doubt there is a large chunk of Bengals fans out there hoping that Shayne Graham becomes the biggest New England sports goat since Bob Stanley, Grady Little or, dare we breathe it, Bill Buckner. But the man who replaced Graham as the Bengals kicker won't be thinking such bad thoughts when he watches the Patriots play this postseason.
Not after Graham called Nugent back on Nov. 15 to see how he was doing The Day After he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his kicking knee.
"That goes a long way with me when a guy does that," Nugent said this week. "That's pretty cool. I think it speaks to the fact that a guy has a lot of character when he does something like that."
The good karma seems to be spreading to Nugent's knee, the one connected to the foot that set a club record this season when he hit his first nine field-goal attempts as a Bengal. Five of them took down the Ravens for the only Bengals points in a 15-10 win and if you don't think the world of a kicker is whacky, consider this:
After missing two field goals against the Jets in the playoffs last season, Graham left Cincinnati in a cloud and free agency and was supposed to be Baltimore's kicker this season. But he lost a training camp battle to Billy Cundiff and Cundiff went on to a Pro Bowl season. Graham reappeared off the junk heap when New England lost its kicker to injury and Nugent ended up in the training room, his reward for pulling off a perfect onside kick that nearly beat the Colts in Indianapolis.
Things have become better. This past Wednesday marked the sixth week since Nugent's surgery. He's got full range of motion and he can start informally kicking a ball next month. But now he may have to get through another obstacle if the collective bargaining agreement expires March 4. A lockout would close down Paul Brown Stadium to the players and take Nugent out of a regimen with Bengals head of rehab Nick Cosgray that has him a little bit ahead of schedule and on track to be kicking in May.
"It's something I just began thinking about," Nugent said. "It's one of those things that just shows the reality of the situation and if it happens, you have to work through it."
Although Cosgray can't work with Nugent without a CBA, he can send him some place that will and he couldn't do much better than Nugent's alma mater of Ohio State. But there's no question Nugent and Cosgray have a good thing going. Cosgray, the former wrestler from Twin Lakes High School in Monticello, Ind., and Nugent, the All-American kicker from Centerville, Ohio, are becoming a pretty good team.
"Three hours a day," Nugent said of his rehab. "Obviously Nick knows what he's doing and I've talked to a lot of people since I've done this who have given me advice. Basically, you let the surgeon do his job and the rest is up to you. Your rehab is all up to you."
So far, so good. Nugent and Cosgray open each session working on his range of motion. The most recent trips to the weight room have Nugent doing the leg press with four sets of 10 reps at 125 pounds. A series of drills with a rubber band that provides resistance is making sure the other parts of his body don't atrophy, such as his hips and the other leg.
That other leg, his plant leg, may be the most important leg. From what Nugent can gather, he's starting to think he got a break by not hurting his plant knee.
"You're thinking, 'Gosh, tearing your ACL in your kicking leg can't be good,' '' he said. "But, as little as I know about it, it sounds like it's better it was my kicking leg. The plant leg is the one where you put all the pressure. It absorbs all the force."
Nugent isn't going to be kicking field goals or anything like that next month. He says he'll start out kicking a soccer ball and then maybe move up to a small football. Until then, he's glued to the TV through the playoffs. The big kick he got out of the Jets win over the Colts wasn't that his old team won in Indy on a last-play field goal, but it was Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal that appeared to win it for the Colts.
"He just smoked it; you had to expect it," Nugent said. "No one wants to see him out there with the game on the line, except his teammates. I don't know where his percentage is all time, but his clutch kicks in the playoffs take it all."
"I'm not rooting for anybody," said Nugent, who kicked for the Jets from 2005-2008. "It's to the point where I associate my football with Cincinnati. I'd like to see (the kickers) do well. I know some of them just from talking to them after games."
Nugent is pulling for Seattle's Olindo Mare, a guy he knows from a bunch of Jets-Dolphins games. He once spent a few days in Florida working with Mare and taking notes on his kickoff abilities.
And, yes, he's wishing no ill will for Graham.
"Kickers have to stick together," he said.