Jim Breech makes another call. -AP Photos, Ben Liebenberg
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. _ Bengals all-time leading scorer Jim Breech, who quite conveniently called out Memphis kicker Jake Elliott's name to the fans gathered at Paul Brown Stadium when the Bengals announced their fifth-round pick back in April, called his number again this week.
He figured that Elliott, the Eagles rookie kicker in Sunday's Super Bowl (6:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5), had about as much time on his hands as he did in Miami nearly 30 years ago during the week leading up to the Bengals' appearance in Super Bowl XXIII.
Which is to say plenty. Enough that Breech spent one media session kicking back and shooting the breeze with Hall-of-Fame kicker Jan Stenerud, in town with Scandinavian TV.
"Jan said the whole week goes so fast. And on top of that, so does the game," Breech said. "You try so hard to approach it as just another game and sometimes it gets away from you. He told me to make sure at some point I just step back and slow it down. From a mental stand point."
Step back. Slow it down. Breech says Stenerud's words were the last things floating through his mind as he went out to drill his MVPish third field goal of the game, a 10,000-Lakes-ice-cold 40-yarder that put the Bengals ahead of the 49ers, 16-13, with 3:20 left.
The lead didn't hold up but the advice did. Breech made sure he texted it to Elliott this week.
"You never know," Breech said. "What a ride for the guy. To get cut, be on the practice squad and now in the Super Bowl. He got back to me and said how excited he was. How could he not be?"
You never know.
Remember when Breech was on the other side of this story in the Bengals' first Super Bowl? XVI in Detroit? In the 1981 Wilmington College training camp, Breech, the Bengals' veteran kicker, matched up against sixth-rounder Rex Robinson, the kid everyone thought would be the kicker. It turned out to be a precursor of the last Bengals' training camp when the fifth-rounder Elliott opposed veteran Randy Bullock.
Just like this one, the veteran surprised and won that one by enough to knock out the rookie. Except Breech is the guy that ended up kicking in the Super Bowl at the end of that season.
"Not that long ago," said Elliott this week of that Draft Day as he sat for a Super Bowl news conference. "Getting drafted by Cincinnati was one of the ultimate high moments in my life and then go a couple of months, don't win that job unfortunately, and here now."
Breech can see it. Heck, he lived it. He wasn't surprised the Bengals kept the veteran Bullock in the final cut and let go one of those draft picks Bengals president Mike Brown covets.
A long way from Draft Day: Jake Elliott at the Super Bowl.
"No. Not when you understand how well Randy kicked," Breech said. "From what I understand, Randy was up by a big number of (percentage) points and had an unbelievable camp and Jake had a good one. I thought it was great because it was a real competition. I've heard about some competitions (teams) say it's open when it's really slanted to one guy. I'm sure Jake probably came in with a bit of an edge. But I think everyone knew both were going to be in the league this year. And Randy had a good year. He just didn't have as many chances as Jake."
Bullock missed one of his 20 field-goal tries. One got blocked. His one try from 50 went down and won the Detroit game from 51 yards out with 4:42 left. He hit four of five between the 40s while Elliott bombed five of his six tries from 50 and 12 of 13 between the 40s. Fifty percent of Elliott's kickoffs went for touchbacks, 46 percent for Bullock.
"I thought Randy had a solid year and you have to be happy for Jake," said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. "You think back to a year ago at this time and he had just kicked in the Senior Bowl. He had no idea where he was going or when. Now to be there. I just hope have savors it. You just don't realize how hard it is to get back to another one."
The Bengals put Elliott on the practice squad but as everyone figured it didn't take long for another team to poach a drafted rookie kicker. When Caleb Sturgis got hurt in the opener, the Eagles called.
"Our personnel department felt strongly about him coming out," said Eagles special teams coach Dave Fipp. "We looked at him at the (scouting) combine. I think that's what it came down to. It didn't hurt that he was with Darrin. He does a great job with those guys as a former specialist himself and is well respected."
This thing may have come down to 60 or so yards. It will be recalled the last snap of the Bengals' preseason was Elliott's try from 60 to beat the Colts in Indy. It barely missed wide left. By that time Bullock had put up those commanding numbers in the spring and preseason, but how do you cut a guy that hits a walk-off 60-yarder?
"No kidding," Fipp said. "We found that out, too."
That's because Elliott got carried off the field in his second game as an Eagle when he hit, you guessed it, a 61-yarder at the gun to beat the Giants, 27-24. At that point Sturgis, who got also got the job by injury the year before, could have kicked with both feet and he wasn't getting the job back.
But Breech, who follows this stuff, thought Elliott's tying 46-yarder with 51 seconds left did as much to keep the job as anything.
Elliott, still the same even-keel-no-drama-unassuming rookie on his introductory conference call back in April, shrugged when asked if he ever wondered what would have happened if the 60-yarder went through in Indy.
"I never had a season like that before," Elliott said. "You never know. I don't really think like that. I'm pretty much moment to moment."
What he does know is that the 61-yarder went down in Philly and the Eagles were off and flying to the Super Bowl.
"It gives you confidence in our team. It gives your teammates confidence in you and you think this team is pretty special," Elliott said. "Ever since then I've had a lot of confidence in myself going out there."
Elliott is the same guy. He's talking about his one-minute rule. Make or miss, he gives it a minute to move on. He credits the mindset he had as a high school tennis player for his resiliency. He says he has the same approach to a Bengals training camp as he does in a NFC post-season game. He says that Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, his fellow Memphis alum, is a mentor that has checked in on every milestone of his career.
"It's really cool that I'm matched up with him," said Elliott, who wondered if two kickers from the same school had ever kicked against each other in the Super Bowl. "He's always been there to support me."
He can stop wondering. Breech dueled fellow Cal kicker Ray Wersching in Super Bowl XVI, ending another season that began with the vet beating out the rookie kicker. 49ers quarteback Joe Montana swiped Breech's MVP in '88 and gave it to Jerry Rice and before that took Wersching's MVP in '81 himself when Wersching had four field goals.
"Slow down the game," Breech said.
You never know.