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A few unlucky seconds will haunt Baltimore Ravens kicker

Updated: February 25, 2012 8:15AM

After Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff hooked that “easy” last-second field goal attempt that would have sent the AFC championship game into overtime, I tweeted my sympathies.

“I always feel bad for a kicker who misses a season-defining FG,” I said. “Five seconds of your life haunts you for the next 50 years of your life.”

Some folks invoked the names of other kickers who missed crucial field goals e.g., Florida State’s Dan Mowrey, who became known as “Wide Right” after missing a 39-yarder against Miami in 1992, and the Buffalo Bills’ Scott Norwood, whose 47-yard attempt sailed wide right in Super Bowl XXV.

That Norwood’s kick was outdoors, on grass, and was hardly a chip shot, doesn’t matter. What matters is he missed.

Or consider Gary Anderson, who in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings had arguably the greatest season ever by an NFL kicker. Anderson attempted 59 extra points and 35 field goals — and made them all. In the postseason, Anderson connected on another four field goals and eight extra points.

And then he missed a 38-yarder in the NFC championship that would have effectively clinched the title for the Vikings, and the Falcons went on to win in overtime.

That “becomes the one that most football fans remember from Gary Anderson’s 22-year career,” wrote Michael Lewis of the New York Times. “The man spends 600 million seconds kicking brilliantly in the NFL and winds up being defined by a couple of seconds of catastrophe.”

It was years before Scott Norwood would attend any Bills functions. He still dreads the build-up to the Super Bowl, because he knows that missed FG will be replayed.

Now, we add Billy Cundiff to the list of infamous missers.

“Let’s keep this simple,” said Cundiff. “That’s a kick I’ve kicked 1,000 times in my career, but today I didn’t convert. That’s the way things go, but there’s no excuse for it.”

At 31 and having been traded by eight different teams before joining the Ravens in 2009, Cundiff is hardly a kid who doesn’t understand the ups and downs of the game. But in the immediate aftermath of that devastating miss, when just about every player on both sides of the field was already thinking about overtime, there’s no way Cundiff can truly absorb how much his life is going to be defined by that moment. Even if he makes a 55-yarder to win the Super Bowl for the Ravens next year, some fans will grumble, “Yeah, well he owed us that one.”

Laughter, or sympathy?

So I felt bad for Cundiff. Maybe you did, too. Or maybe you were one of the fans who laughed about it on social media and began taunting Cundiff, like fourth-graders mocking a kid who suffers an embarrassment on the playground. (Other noble souls actually sent death threats to Cundiff or to Kyle Williams of the 49ers. We have a new definition for “pathetic.”)

Some readers and followers took me to task for my seemingly innocuous tweet.

“Seriously, you feel bad for a man paid millions to kick a ball?” wrote one woman. “Most people won’t make in 50 years the amount he made this year.”

True enough. Cundiff has a five-year, $15 million deal with the Ravens. Today’s the worst Monday of his career, and he’s still having a hell of a lot better day than the single mom who’s been out of work 18 months and counting, or the guy who’s working 12-hour days and bringing home $700 a week. We all get that.

And unlike a heart surgeon or an air-traffic controller, when a field goal kicker has a horrid five seconds, it’s not going to result in loss of life. We all get that, too.

Still. When it comes to our athletes and pop culture figures and other newsmakers, we can be very forgiving. (See Gingrich, Newt. See also Vick, Michael. See also Downey, Robert.) You get a second act.

But there are certain moments that can never be lived down, no matter how unfair that might be.

Billy Cundiff will be reminded of that for the rest of his life.

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