GLENDALE, Ariz. - He took just one snap Sunday night, but punter Kevin Huber gave Bengaldom one of its best Pro Bowl moments ever at University of Phoenix Stadium as he helped Team Irving post a 32-28 fourth-quarter victory.
With his team down, 28-25, and about 11 minutes left, Huber finally got his shot and drilled a 56-yarder that the Falcons' Devin Hester caught at his own 5. He then forced Hester, the greatest punt returner of all time, to give up the ball on a trick play when he tried a long lateral to the Cards' Patrick Peterson. The nine-yard gain got erased with Hester's illegal forward pass, so Huber ended up putting Bengals teammate Andy Dalton at his own 3.
Huber's good friend, Colts punter Pat McAfee, rescued Dalton after a four-play drive with a 59-yarder of his own, but it was Huber's punt that helped get the win and the $55,000 share.
"We tried to give it a little splash. It didn't work out. We tried to bring some excitement," Hester said. "Huber probably has the strongest leg in the league. You know that you're going to get a big kick from him."
Before that, Huber had been on the sidelines thinking about how he's never had a game in his six Bengals seasons without a punt.
"It felt kind of funny. I've had only two games where I've had just one punt," Huber said. "I just wanted to get a good hit, get it up in the air and it felt good."
In the first Pro Bowl they handed out two MVPs (Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford got it on offense and Texans lineman J.J. Watt on defense), Huber was looking around for another truck.
"Maybe if they had one for special teams I would have got an award," Huber joked.
Because, he also contributed to McAfee's moonshot.
"Huber's always good. In a Pro Bowl you never know how many times you're going to be used," McAfee said. "We were in the Big East together. He was at Cincinnati and I was at West Virginia and when we came out together, he got drafted (two) rounds before me he was so damn good. Kevin Huber is the man. Cincinnati is so lucky to have him."
McAfee took good notes.
"I've been trying to learn from Huber ever since I was a freshman in college," McAfee said. "If you look at his drop, he hangs on to the ball for so long. I'm just trying to keep up with that. He's a lefty, so he's backward for me. I have to turn it around as much as possible. He's so talented."
But as a holder, Huber found himself as a supporting actor in the biggest drama of the night. The NFL narrowed the goal posts from 18 to 14 feet to go with longer extra points. While Huber held for future Hall-of-Famer Adam Vinatieri of the Colts, Vinatieri missed two extra points and a 38-yard field goal at the end of a season he missed only one field goal.
"The thing was," Vinatieri said, "it was good conditions and a good field and, really, no wind. You hate to think what it's going to be like in December when it starts flying. What I think you'll see is a lot more two-point conversions because extra points are not a guarantee. If they have 35-yarders on skinny posts, they are going to be missed half the time…Not a big fan. Not a big advocate."
But the 42-year-old Vinatieri, who looks like your math teacher in the student-faculty game, is a big Huber supporter and absolved him and Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos of any blame.
"He's great. He was awesome all week long," Vinatieri said. "He's just a good dude. I just enjoyed spending time with him. I think he had only one punt and he smashed it. He did his job today. He's a heck of a guy and a great asset for the Bengals."