January 24, 2012
Giants punter and Terre Haute North grad headed to Super Bowl
Thank God for slow motion. Without the benefit of slo-mo, it would be much harder to appreciate the impact New York Giants punter and holder Steve Weatherford had on the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
And his unbridled celebration afterwards.
As Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes attempted a 31-yard game-winning field goal against the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, the slo-mo cameras showed what Weatherford – a Terre Haute native – saw live in the flash of a nano-second.
The ball off the snap from Zak DeOssie arrived at Weatherford’s hands perpendicular to its intended position – flat to the grass.
No worries though. Weatherford calmly put the ball into proper position for Tynes – who slightly delayed his approach to give Weatherford time to adjust. Tynes then calmly booted his second championship overtime game-winning field goal in four years as the Giants won a taut 20-17 thriller.
Reached Monday by the Tribune-Star, Weatherford was still reveling in the moment.
“It’s kind of surreal and it hasn’t set in yet. I don’t think the gravity of it will until the Super Bowl is over and I hopefully have a Super Bowl ring. It’s a blessing to get to do what I do. I’m excited for myself, my family and my hometown,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford told the assembled media after the game that he had no recollection of his recovery of the snap and hold. On Monday, Weatherford reflected on his role as the holder, a job that is usually done in anonymity unless something bad happens.
“It’s a thankless job. You usually get noticed when you screw up. [Holding] is not a job I’m thrilled to do, but it’s what I have to do to help the team,” Weatherford said.
Tynes' field goal sent Weatherford into unhinged ecstasy, also revealed in slow motion. Chin-strap partially obscuring his face, Weatherford took off on a celebratory sprint across the wet Candlestick Park gridiron as he yelled, “I’m going to the Super Bowl!” … with a few unprintable newspaper words tossed into his jaunt for good measure.
“I still don’t believe it right now, so you can’t imagine what it’s like in the heat of the moment. It’s like hitting the lottery,” Weatherford said.
Television viewers the world over lived the Giants’ NFC championship through Weatherford’s jubilation.
And why not? For Weatherford, who starred at Terre Haute North and the University of Illinois, championship game glory was a long time in coming. After three previous championship game appearances – he was with the New Orleans Saints in 2006 and the New York Jets in 2009 and 2010 – that left Weatherford one stop shy of the Super Bowl, Weatherford was finally going to the promised land.
In his home state, no less. The Giants will meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XVLI on Feb. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, an added bonus for the long Super Bowl wait Weatherford endured.
The gregarious Weatherford – who takes part in Terre Haute charity events and who hosts his own free football camp in Terre Haute during the summer – said he would love to accommodate everyone who would like to see him play, but he knows he has to draw a line somewhere.
“I’m going to keep my entourage – if that’s what you want to call it – to my immediate family. I’m keeping it close-knit. If you get beyond that, you begin to hurt people’s feelings and I don’t want to do that. I’d love to bring the entire city of Terre Haute, but I know I can’t do that,” Weatherford said.
In a game where defense reigned supreme – the Giants and 49ers combined to go 8-for-34 on third down conversions – Weatherford loomed large over the proceedings. In wet and windy conditions, Weatherford punted 12 times with an average of 40.6 per punt. He had a long punt of 57 yards.
Weatherford punted four times in the fourth quarter – twice with less than two minutes to play – when the margin was a possession or less. One slip up by Weatherford could have proved fatal to the Giants.
“It was tough being a holder, kicker or punter yesterday. It was raining sideways,” Weatherford said. “But in my opinion, our special teams did a great job. The 49ers had the number one special teams in the NFL this season.”
It was the 49ers who blinked. Two of Weatherford’s punts were muffed or fumbled by 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams, who played in place of injured Ted Ginn Jr. The first, a muff that grazed Williams’ knee, allowed the Giants to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. The last, a fumble by Williams in overtime, ultimately set up Tynes’ game-winner.
Weatherford, who has never averaged less than 42 yards per punt in any of his six seasons, was signed by the Giants – his fifth NFL team since 2006 – on July 29, 2011, after he had played the two previous seasons with the Jets.
While with the Jets in the 2009 playoffs, Weatherford had to overcome adversity as an irregular heartbeat caused him to miss a wild card playoff game against Cincinnati.
Weatherford was cleared to play in the Jets’ 2009 playoff victory over San Diego and the AFC Championship game loss to Indianapolis. Weatherford ultimately had a cardiac ablation in 2010 to fix the condition.
For Weatherford, however, those moments are in the past. He fully intends to live in the moment and enjoy his long-awaited Super Bowl experience to the fullest.
“I’m going to videotape everything. I know I won’t remember everything when I get to be an old man, so I want to make sure I enjoy every minute of it,” Weatherford said.