Stephen Gostkowski is still waiting for that special Adam Vinatieri playoff ‘moment’
|01.09.14 at 6:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s no secret that kickers live in their own little world and usually only show themselves when the pressure is on.
Stephen Gostkowski gave a little insight to his world and what he might be thinking should Saturday night’s playoff game against the Colts come down to his right foot.
“I just go into a game trying to make a kick,” Gostkowski said. “The times that I’ve gotten into situations where it’s in the fourth quarter, it’s a kick that you know if you don’t make it, you’re not going to necessarily get another opportunity, I try to just treat it like any other kick. I’ve made kicks, I’ve missed kicks and I’m still here. I just try to take each kick one kick at a time.
“There could be a kick that I make in the first quarter and we could end up winning by three. So me just sitting there and worrying about a kick at the end of the game I feel like would do a disservice to the other kicks. Each game is different and each mentality is different. I remember my first couple years, you’re just waiting and waiting and waiting for that moment. But you have no control over it. All you can do I prepare yourself to be ready for that moment. We’ve had a lot of them this year and hopefully we can take the same approach and have the same success we’ve had if we get into that situation.
TV crews love to show kickers on the sidelines late in close games. What is thinking when the camera is on him and does he visualize the mental aspect of every kick while getting ready?
“Yeah, you do little things like I’ll watch a five minute cut-up of some big kicks that I’ve made to a song that I like,” he said. “Just like little visual things and then when I’m on the sideline I’ll sing that song and then in my head I see the ball going through the uprights.
“Sometimes there are days you don’t feel good or things haven’t been going well and you might have in your mind, ‘Don’t miss this kick.’ But then when it’s going good, you go out there, ‘I’m going to make it.’ It’s just that difference between confidence and cockiness, just going out there to make the kick instead of to not miss. Mentally to me that’s a big difference. I always just try to visualize myself doing well and not getting overexcited or too hyped up in the moment.
“Most of those guys are banging heads. I’m trying to like listen to Enya before the game to calm myself down. All I do is just try to ‘ the worst thing you can do in situations where, for me personally, where the situation gets bigger is get too excited. You have to try to slow your heart rate down, turn that nervousness and tightness into focus and if you just try to do that and do what you do on every other kick then most of the time you’ll be successful. That’s just the approach that I take.”
Gostkowski, who later clarified that he does not listen to nor sing Enya songs on the sideline – is yet to have that definitive moment that Adam Vinatieri enjoyed three times in the 2001 playoffs, including the game-winner in Super Bowl XXXVI. Vinatieri also won Super Bowl XXXVIII with a last-second field goal.
He will, of course, be going against Vinatieri on Saturday night in a matter of speaking as the Colts come calling to Gillette Stadium.
“Most kickers and punters and snappers are pretty cordial with each other throughout the year,” Gostkowski said Thursday when asked about his predecessor. “You kind of pull for each other when you’re not playing [against] each other kind of thing. Most guys have respect for each other because some guy who is knocking heads every play is not going to have as much respect for what we do as other guys that go through what we do on a day-to-day basis.
“You always have a fond respect for a guy that there’s only 31 other in the league. He’s the best of the best. As far as does it matter that he’s playing? It doesn’t matter. Unless he’s trying to come block the kick or he’s going to be back there returning it, it’s just another game.”
Does Gostkowski see himself lasting till he’s 41, like Vinatieri?
“I don’t know, man. I’m just trying to make it to the next game,” Gostkowski said. “Whatever I do is bonus. I had no idea I would even be in the NFL, let alone play eight years. A short-term goal is 10 [years]. This is all bonus. Here we focus on a day-to-day kind of thing. If I were to get the chance to do that, that would be great.
“The guys that have been good, like Gary Anderson, Morten Andersen, a lot of guys that kicked well into their later careers, John Carney. You hear stories about, I remember Junior Seau told me John Carney was the most in-shape guy he’s ever been around. I was like, ‘No, get out of here.’ This is Junior Seau, one of the best linebackers of all-time, he said he’s a good buddy. You hear stories about Adam working out and being in shape,” Gostkowski said. “As long as he’s out there producing, there’s no reason. Age is just a number. If he feels good and it looks like he’s doing good then more power to him.”
Here is the rest of Thursday’s Q and A with Gostkowski:
Q: There’s a 60 percent chance of rain Saturday. Does that impact your mentality leading up to the game?
SG: The weather does a little bit but trying to chase the weather and predict what’s going to happen and what’s not, I remember a couple weeks ago it was supposed to rain and we went over all these things about what to do in the rain and it didn’t rain. Two weeks ago, it rained the entire time. I just try not to worry about anything. We practice outside and we get to work in most conditions that you’ll ever get in a game. Sometimes there are really severe conditions like super, super wind or crazy wind or something like that that you don’t really get to practice for. But it’s kind of you just show up and whatever you get in warm-ups, you kind of adjust to it and play as you go. I try not to worry about things that could negatively affect how the game goes. It’s my job to be able to deal with adverse conditions as well as kick well in good conditions. I just look to prepare to go out to do well no matter what it is. Worrying about the weather, if that’s going to worry you, you’d be worried every week in New England. There’s always something: the wind, cold, rain, snow. It’s always something. So getting out and practicing [in] it three days a week definitely helps you going into it.
Q: How has your relationship with Ryan Allen evolved as a holder? What goes into that operation?
SG: There’s a lot. It’s a big trust thing. If you don’t think about where the hold is going to be, if you miss the ball by inches or if it leans a little bit forward or back or left or right or the laces are pointed toward the right or the left and the way the ball is, the laces and the weight of the ball in the wind, there’s so much stuff that goes into it. A lot of that has to do with how good the snapper is; the snapper giving the holder laces out. There are so many little things that go into it. It’s almost like a pitcher prefers one catcher over the other. To some, it’s like the guy is just catching the ball but he’s not really ‘ he knows what the guy likes, he knows how to frame the pitches, he knows what pitches he likes to call. Ryan knows when it’s a certain wind to lean it a little more or to open up his body a little more. Maybe if the wind is blowing right to left to put the laces a little bit more to the right so it will hold longer. With playing outside and in adverse conditions, there’s a lot more adjusting that goes into it. You can miss a kick on a good hold and you can still make kicks with bad holds but the more the operation is perfect, the percentages go up and up. It’s 1.3 seconds from when the ball is moved from the center is when you want to try to get the kick off. By the time my first foot hits, you want to see the ball. If it’s late or something like that, it can just throw your timing off. Getting a rapport with them and getting in rhythm and timing, it’s very important. He’s done a great job.
Q: Is he at the point where he’d be your preferred catcher?
SG: Yeah, we’ve done a great job. It’s a week-to-week thing. A lot of it is about focus and putting the focus and the attention to detail in. anybody can just catch it and throw it down there, but to get it down to where you want it every time ‘ when you do something that’s such a skill, a skilled position, little things can throw you off, like in a golf swing or a baseball swing or a football swing. It’s kind of a thing where little things can throw you off and the less you have to deal with that, the better. Ryan has an absolute tremendous job this year, as well as Danny [Aiken], which makes his job a lot easier too.
Q: Their special teams, are they are a bigger type team personnel-wise or are they smaller and quicker?
SG: From what we’ve heard, it’s kind of like they’re trying to get big and tough. There’s good skill and big and tough players on every team. We prepare for both. The coaches try to match up guys on certain guys. This is all from stuff ‘ it’s not like I’m an expert or anything like that. I think we just feel like we match up well against a lot of teams in coverage and returns and stuff like that. We have confidence going against anybody. We go against the best returners week-in and week-out and all the kickers and all the punters are really good in this league. We just have the utmost confidence in our coaches and our players that whatever challenge is thrown our way ‘ and obviously they’re good. They’ve had a lot of success in their special teams and they’ve made it to the divisional round of the playoffs. To take any team lightly at this point or say they’re not a tough team or they’re soft, that would be not giving them credit. From what we’ve seen so far, they’re a very good group and we’ve got a challenge ahead of us.
Q: Did you watch the kickers this past weekend? Is there anything you can take from other kickers? Do you notice their routines?
SG: They don’t show ‘ I worry about myself and each situation is different. All the kickers and punters are really good in this league. To get the opportunity to help your team win a game is something that, that makes a huge difference. It’s very fun to be in those situations. That’s what you help for, is to help your team win. Seeing other guys be successful and seeing other guys do well, I think it adds to the confidence, like if I get my shot, I want to do well too.
Q: What’s the song you sing to yourself on the sideline?
SG: It’s a secret.
Q: Is it Enya?
SG: No, not Enya.
Q: Can you tell us when you’ve sung in the past?
SG: I just started this a couple years ago. It’s just little tricks of the trade just kind of mentally to get yourself in the game. Other guys, other positions will watch plays of themselves. You see highlights of college teams, throwing highlights up just to get positivity going. I don’t try to overdo it, I’m not just sitting there trying to admire my work. I just try to get positive thoughts going into the game, maybe the day before, day of, just for like five minutes.
Q: You mentioned turning tightness into focus. You’ve played in a lot of playoff games, but is that something you’ve gotten better at as you’ve gotten older?
SG: I think you’re just more comfortable with the day-to-day, week-to-week things. I’ve never been one to be too nervous before the game. I always get butterflies and I’m antsy. Some of my worst games is where I show up and I don’t feel anything at all. The nervousness and the anticipation builds up. You can’t turn the TV or radio on without hearing about the game. It’s the playoffs, it’s one and done. We all know that, we’ve been through it. You kind of just let it happen naturally instead of trying to force it. Like I said, if I feel nervous and tight and anxious before the game, I feel like if I can turn that into focus then I’ll have a good day. It’s the days I show up and I just feel like it’s any other day are the days I get most worried. If I can turn that anxiousness into focus then I feel pretty confident going out there.
Q: What does mental toughness mean for you? How has it manifested itself on this team this year?
SG: Mental toughness ‘ I can only speak for a specialist position ‘ is being able to do it when the conditions are tougher, not making excuses and when you screw up and when things are going bad and the spotlight is on you, can you bounce back from it? It’s easy to make kicks when you’ve made 10, 15 in a row and you’re feeling good. The hard thing is to miss a kick in the first half and then to come back and make a big kick later in the game or to have a bad game the week before and to come back and go out there with the same confidence. Stuff happens, mistakes happen. The best of the best miss. It’s the good ones that can shake it off and move on that end up being good consistently time and time again. That’s what I strive to do is if I go out there and have a bad play, if I sit down and sulk and feel sorry for myself and blame the wind and blame the snap or blame the hold and act like a little baby, that’s probably going to carry over to the next kick. If I try to learn from what I did when I screwed up and move on and say, ‘It’s not going to happen again.’ That’s mental toughness. The coaches make it so tough on us in practice, they’re always putting the pressure on us, they’re always making it hard for us ‘ that’s why we practice outside every day. Just being able to handle the situations and not let the moment get the best of you too is a little bit of mental toughness.
Q: Do you look back at your first few years, because of your position you don’t get development time to make mistakes, do you look back and say, ‘How did I get to this point? How am I still here?’
SG: I ask myself that all the time. It’s just something I was given the talent to do. I’ve worked hard to try to be good, as good and consistent as I can. It’s not an easy thing when the pressure is on and the lights are on but it’s just something that you have to find a way to work through and deal with it. It never gets easier. Whatever happens this year, it won’t have any effect next year. If I kick 100 field goals in the playoffs, that first kick in the regular season next year it will be starting over again. It’s a daily grind to be good when you’re doing something so monotonous that you just have to do [it] over and over and over and over and over again just to kick one kick in a game. A lot of it is about focus and keeping your eye on the prize kind of clichÃ© kind of thing.