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Doug Pelfrey Kicks Around History, Clutch Kicks And The Wind While Predicting McPherson To Own All Bengals Records

Doug Pelfrey, hoisted by head coach Dave Shula after one of his game winners, predicts greatness for Evan McPherson.
Doug Pelfrey, hoisted by head coach Dave Shula after one of his game winners, predicts greatness for Evan McPherson.

You bet Doug Pelfrey saw it.

He always watches his old Bengals when he can. With each wincing miss in regulation and overtime, he felt for both Evan McPherson and Mason Crosby when last Sunday's Bengals-Packers game imploded into some three-for-a-nickel-county-fair-field-goal competition.

But Pelfrey, who killed more ghosts at the gun in the 1990s than Cemetery Man, hurt more for McPherson, his text chain partner.

 As one of the leading scorers in Bengals history who stuck around his town staying active in community outreach while offering advice to his successors, Pelfrey found himself on this last Draft Day linked to McPherson. As well as the man Pelfrey unseated in 1993, Bengals all-time leading scorer Jim Breech. All were connected via Shayne Graham.

Graham, who broke every Bengals kicking record but that one a decade after Pelfrey closed down Riverfront Stadium, coached McPherson at Florida. So when the Bengals picked McPherson in the fifth round back on May 1, Graham made sure he gave him access to the two guys that helped him become the most accurate kicker in Bengals history.

But Pelfrey has no plans to reach out to the rookie just yet after his 57-yarder glanced off the right upright with 21 seconds left and his 49-yarder a few minutes later in overtime grazed the flag at the top of the left upright at the last, agonizing instant.

Darrin Simmons, the Bengals special teams coordinator, figures Paul Brown Stadium's gentle but tricky winds had Sunday's final say. But Pelfrey isn't going to bother with such vagaries.

"I'm not going to bother him. He's doing great. I was just telling somebody the other day that he's going to break every record that me and Jim and Shayne set," Pelfrey says.  "He's already hit some from 50 and he's got two winners. He's going to be one of the greats.

 "The thing about Evan is that everyone expected him to make those kicks. That's the blessing and the curse," Pelfrey says. "How cool would that have been? They would have had four wins and he would have won three of them."

Pretty cool. But maybe not as cool as when Pelfrey won every Bengals game in 1994 on the last play of the game. And the day after two of those three games the opposing coach got fired.

Pretty cool? Even cooler, Pelfrey became the only man in NFL history to kick a tying and winning field goal in the final three seconds to end that 1994 season with such good cheer on Christmas Eve that the Eagles players came across the line of scrimmage to thank him for winning it before overtime so they could make their flights home.

And then he got Dennis Green's Vikings home on time, too, when he ended the next Christmas Eve finale a year later on a 51-yarder as Santa came down the chimney at 0:00, midnight Riverfront time. He ended 1995 the way he began it, with a last-play kick in the opener under the Indianapolis dome.

What's very, very cool is that from Nov. 6, 1994, when he got Jeff Blake his first win on his sixth field goal of the day in overtime underneath Seattle's dome, to Nov. 3, 1996, when he solved ancient Memorial Stadium's creaky winds in their first game ever against the Ravens, the Bengals won 13 games. And Pelfrey was 6-for-6 at the gun.

None of those were his toughest kicks. Try his rookie year at what he calls "old Riverfront." They rolled him out to make a 46-yarder, down 38-0 to the now defunct Houston Oilers.

"It meant nothing," says Pelfrey, who made it. "I always liked the ones where there was pressure. Or it was long and no one was sure I could make it. Those are the ones I liked. I'd lose focus on the other ones. Like if the game had been decided or I was already 3-for-3. Those were the ones I really had to focus on."

But it worked out because, "when I was kicking for Kentucky and the Bengals, every kick counted."

Like all kickers of all shoe sizes, Pelfrey had to bounce back from a miss. His most visible clutch kick would have been in Shula Bowl II in 1995 at Riverfront, the second meeting between Bengals head coach Dave Shula and his father, legendary Dolphins head coach Don Shula, in an encore of North America's first major sports event coached by father and son.

With eight seconds left, Pelfrey could have put it into overtime on a 45-yarder he shoved left and then out of his head.

"Hooked it," Pelfrey says. "Breech helped me with that. He was in my ear like a swing coach in golf. When you make it to the NFL level like Evan, 99 out of 100 times there's nothing wrong with his technique. I would say it's what's going on between your ears. You stay positive. You stay upbeat. He's got great people around him. When you start listening to everybody else, you get in trouble."

Simmons is going to change not a thing. Especially when he watched the Pelfrey-like veteran Crosby miss four kicks on the other side.

"He'll learn from it. He'll grow from it and he'll be fine. I don't worry about him one bit," Simmons says of his prized rookie. "I think the wind was a little bit different up above than maybe what we felt down below. It is what it is. It was the same for both sides."

That's going to happen at The Paul. The legend is it's not so much kicking to the urban end of the downtown buildings or the other way to the river. No matter how slight the wind is (on Sunday it was about five miles per hour with gusts to 12), it can do funny things above the goal posts.

"It depends on where the wind is coming from. If it's from the north or south. It depends a little on that," Simmons says. "Sometimes it's hard to know which way the wind is blowing, especially when you can't feel it. You're used to feeling the wind. When you don't feel a lot down on the field, it's different what was actually happening up above. I think the ball got affected more on top of the upright than it did down on the field."

(When Pelfrey was kicking at UK, he says he picked out the Vanderbilt flag at as the one to watch how the wind took it at what is now known as Kroger Field.)

Simmons says McPherson can put that in the memory vault. Certainly Pelfrey did. It was no urban legend at Riverfront when he kicked to the river end that the turf would get icy in certain spots late in the year because of a leak in the concrete.

In that '95 Christmas Eve game, Pelfrey recalls Vikings kicker Fuad Reveiz slipping twice in the fourth quarter on misses, the last one with 2:06 left to give the Bengals a shot. Pelfrey says Breech thinks that's what happened to Washington's Chip Lohmiller when his miss allowed Breech to kick the Bengals to home field advantage for the 1988 AFC playoffs.

"With all these new stadiums being built," Pelfrey says, "the old guys can't help the young guys much anymore on that stuff."

Breech was able to counsel Pelfrey on the whims of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium back in '96, the first year Paul Brown's Cleveland Browns became the Ravens.

"Going away from the locker room toward the scoreboard," Pelfrey says of a grumpy 16 mile-per-hour wind on a 48-degree day. "In warmups I couldn't hit one past 42. Head coach Bruce Coslet sent me out there for a 49-yarder. It was actually the only time I didn't think I could make a kick."

With 1:49 left he drilled it to tie it at 21. Then, when Vinny Testaverde threw three straight thank-you-very-much incompletions, Blake microwaved a drive with the help of two throws to running back Eric Bieniemy and Pelfrey hit the winner with no time left from 34 yards.

Pelfrey sees more of those in McPherson's future.

"He's got the leg. The Bengals are on an uptick. They've got three wins. He's got a coach that believes in him. He's got a coach in Darrin that knows more about kicking than most NFL special teams coaches," Pelfrey says. "He's got a great long snapper in Clark Harris and a great holder in Kevin Huber. The fans are with him."

Don't underestimate the snapper and the holder. When Pelfrey had Greg Truitt snapping to Lee Johnson holding, he hit 81 percent of his kicks. Starting when Truitt blew out his knee in 1998, Johnson's last year with the Bengals, Pelfrey hit 68 percent of his kicks in '98 and '99 and he was out of the league in 2000.

"I was playing ring around the rosy with different holders and snappers and two years later you were talking to somebody bigger and better," Pelfrey says.

But no one as clutch. Although he thinks McPherson is already on his way.

"He'll probably make his next 20 kicks," Pelfrey says. "No problem for him."