How A Local Phone Call Helped Kevin Huber Go Long Distance To Reach His 200th Game

Kevin Huber: Cincinnati all the way.
Kevin Huber: Cincinnati all the way.

Kevin Huber continues one of the most remarkable hometown stories in NFL history Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Las Vegas when he punts in his 200th game for a franchise that has had just two players get there in 54 years.

What are the odds?

What kind of a roll of the dice or spin of the slot machine or shuffle of the cards would flip out a kid from the eastern fringe of Cincinnati mentioned in the same breath with Ring of Honor inductee Ken Riley and his 207 games and His Honor of two Super Bowl defenses, Reggie Williams, and his 206 games?

"We were just so thrilled he got drafted," Ed Huber is recalling the other day, his father who was on the East Side's California Golf Course with the rest of the Draft Day outing of family and friends when everyone got the call in 2009. "Then we thought it would be great if he just could hang around for three or four years."

But what are the odds the deck would be stacked with even more of a hometown story than you think?

What are the odds it would involve a hometown college that hasn't had football going on 50 years now? Or a left-footed, flat-toed kicker?  

"It's a small world," says Ed Huber, one of those car salesmen that shoots you straight.

Go back about five years before the phone call from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' Draft Day call on Cali's 17th tee. Even before Huber walked-on from Anderson Township to become the University of Cincinnati's first two-time first-team All-American.

Go back to when he finally got into a game as a red-shirt sophomore after sitting for two years behind scholarship punters in between drilling shots in pregame and practice and Ed Huber and his friends wondering what they were missing with each moon shot.

When new head coach Brian Kelly's special teams coach, Mike Elston, arrived to coach the International Bowl, he figured he'd find out what he had in this left-footed walk-on in the second half of a bowl game in Toronto.

After watching him practice, Elston just assumed Huber was the starting punter and asked him which way he wanted to warm up.

"I'm the backup," Huber told him.

Not after his two second-half missiles. As they were coming back from Toronto, father and son knew they had to find somebody to help him get the job for good next year.

"After that game," Kevin Huber says, "I knew I could do it."

Ed Huber needed the name of someone that knew punting inside-and-out. The next day he called an old student coach from his days as one of Xavier University's last kickers before the program died with the Flower Generation in the early '70s.

Jim Lippincott just happened to be the Bengals director of football operations. And the Bengals just happened to have one of the NFL's bright, young special teams coaches in Darrin Simmons. Lippincott called down to Paul Brown Stadium's mezzanine level and got a name from Simmons.

The next day he called back Ed Huber with the name.

Bill Renner, a former Packers punter.

The name Huber?

"No idea who he was," Simmons says.

Why would he? Huber was not yet a junior and, besides, he had barely kicked in college.

But now there was Bill Renner.

"I felt that was the turning point," Ed Huber says. "He just reinforced what we knew."

Ed Huber knew something about kicking. He was a lefty, too. When Kevin and his brother were punting footballs down Benham Court, Ed could talk about getting the proper drop and timing whenever they were putting the ball all over the place.

"I probably had it better than most kids growing up," Kevin Huber says of the advice that would float down the street with the kicks.

Ed Huber was an old-fashioned straight-away PAT and field goal guy best known as basketball Hall-of-Famer Dave Cowens' teammate on that one-loss Newport Catholic High School team in the early '70s. So he was a good enough athlete to cross the river and play wide receiver for the Musketeers while also trying to get a struggling team on the board with a kick if he could.

"No idea," says Ed Huber of his longest field goal on a team that was winning one game a year.

Lippincott was a few years older. He showed up on the Xavier campus from Lima, went straight to the football office and told head coach Ed Biles he wanted to go into coaching for a career and was volunteering. By the time he was a senior, he was coaching the freshmen defensive line.

"Eddie was a good athlete. He was probably one of the bright spots. We weren't very good," Lippincott says.

Lippincott and Huber would bump into each other after school and by the time of the phone call, kicking hadn't evolved very much from the Xavier days when Ed scored in the famous Marshall Game. Even when Kevin Huber was in college, that was back when punting and kicking camps weren't as common as the emerging passing camps.

Remember, Huber is 36, 15 years older than the guy for whom he holds the ball.

Evan McPherson, the Bengals rookie kicker, grew up bonding with his family on trips to massive kicking camps throughout the country. This one, plucked from the rolodex of an NFL special teams coach, maybe had 20 kids at tiny Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

On the last day of the camp, Renner approached Ed Huber and told him his son was good.

"Thank you," Huber said.

"No," Renner said. "I mean really good. He's got a chance to go to the next level if he wants to."

He wanted to.

"I was a little more raw then," Kevin Huber says. "He honed my form. He helped give me better guidance, a fresh set of eyes. Something else he did was tell me what I did after a bad kick, instead of just saying it wasn't a good hit. I was able to recognize what I did wrong and correct it."

Renner opened up a new world to Kevin Huber. He had him refine his leg swing. It would be more straight down field and not across his body as much. He levelled out his drops.

"Not major things. But little tweaks taken as a whole, they brought everything together. They all made sense," Kevin Huber says. "I just didn't know what I didn't know."

Simmons ended up knowing about Huber, of course. Probably some time that next season, when Huber was leading the country in punting. Lippincott, who scouted Cincinnati for the Bengals, loved what his stop-watch told him whenever he worked Huber's Bearcats games and became an instant fan. Even better, he noted how Huber seemed to be able to get the thing to go side-to-side.

Simmons became interested enough to request him as his punter for the North team when the Bengals coached the 2009 Senior Bowl.

That week in Mobile, Ala, did for Simmons what that camp a couple of years before did for the Hubers. It proved the hometown kid could do it. While Lewis and Simmons called Huber from the draft room in the fifth round, Lippincott slipped into his office to call the family at home.

Ed's wife Kathy gleefully took the call and gave Lippincott her husband's cell phone. He was a couple of carts away from Kevin at the golf course.

"He was ecstatic," Lippincott says.

He still is.

"He's still hitting it well," Ed Huber says. "Who knows how long he can go?"

Lippincott wonders, too.

"He still gets it high in the air. He still works the sidelines. He doesn't do anything dumb with the ball," says Lippincott, the retired student coach now only timing golf foursomes.

Simmons gave Huber the bye week off. Huber admits his left hip joint has bothered him the last couple of games and he's not using it as an excuse for the recent up-and-down hits. But after getting an injection and the rest, he feels like he should be refreshed enough.

"If we go where we want to go, I've got to play better," Huber says, "and help us where ever I can in the last eight games."

And Huber has been huge in stretch drives long before many of his current teammates were in college. The 48-yard punt out of his end zone at hostile Heinz in '09 that helped tilt the War of 18-12 as the third quarter turned into the fourth during the year of AFC North sweep. The 48-yard net game in '12 in Pittsburgh that helped win the Wild Card. The 57-yard screamer that beat Tom Brady and the rain on the way to the '13 North title.

"That's a long time ago to remember," Huber says. "I mean, that's got to be 150 games ago. That's a lot of games."

But not enough to forget one local call from a flat toed kicker to a student coach.

"Now you think it's 200 games later," Kevin Huber says. "That's wild."