Each Wednesday we'll bring you a Q&A with a Ravens player to help you learn a little more about the team. Today's guest is kicker Billy Cundiff, who has connected on six of seven field-goal attempts in two weeks with the Ravens, including the game-winner in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. Cundiff broached the pressure of replacing a kicker in midseason, longevity in the NFL, and taking a joy ride with the Blue Angels.
QUESTION: Knowing the turmoil the Ravens have gone through with the departure of Matt Stover and the struggles of Steve Hauschka, does that put an enormous amount of pressure on you?
ANSWER: I don't think it does, to be quite honest. No matter where you go in the NFL, the expectations are really high. So whether the guy before me messed up or had a great career, that doesn't matter. When you come into a game, you've got to make field goals. Everything's pretty cut-and-dry for kickers.
Q: Are you worried about playing for a city starved for a quality kicker?
A: I think every town that has an NFL team is hungry for a consistent kicker. They're also hungry for a consistent quarterback, they're hungry for a good defense. Yeah, this town had a really solid kicker, but you go down to Charlotte where John Kasay has been rock-solid and has been with the organization since it started, and whoever takes over for him, he's going to have to decide whether to look at it as a lot of pressure or carry the torch. When you look at [Matt] Prater in Denver [succeeding Jason Elam], same thing there. Look at Detroit, where Jason Hanson has been there for something like 17 or 18 years. These guys have set the bar real high, but that's just the way it is.
Q: In your introductory news conference Nov. 18, you said the NFL is a replacement business. How did you come to that realization?
A: My second year when Coach [Bill] Parcells took over [the Dallas Cowboys], that was one of the first things he said. He said: "It's a replacement business. We will all be replaced - myself included. So you either perform or you're going to be replaced." It's that simple.
Q: Isn't that a shocking realization in the second year of what you hope to be a long and prosperous career?
A: Yeah, in my second year, that was tough [to hear]. But it made me grow up really quick. I took that and found a way to wrap my mind around it and not obsess over it and just kind of accept it. Since then, life's been good. This is my ninth team. So I've been a product of being in a replacement business, and it's a case where you're just trying to find the right situation and take advantage of it.
Q: Do you ever get frustrated with the love-hate relationship that fans have for kickers?
A: No, because if you don't like it, you're in the wrong business. You have to want that. When I'm sitting at home watching games, I'm wishing that was me. It takes a special mind-set where you can't really worry about that. You've got to lay it all out there and accept it for what it is.
Q: But you could make 20 in a row, and if you miss a potential game-winner, you get killed by the media and fans. That doesn't get tiresome?
A: Look at Gary Anderson. He had a perfect season [35 of 35 with the Minnesota Vikings] and then he missed a [38-yard] kick in the [January 1999] NFC championship game [against the Atlanta Falcons]. Everybody remembers him for that one kick when he hadn't missed a single kick all season. But that doesn't define him as a person or as an athlete. It's just the way it is. You've got to accept it.
Q: Where is the toughest place to kick and why?
A: Probably Heinz Field [in Pittsburgh] because the field is one of the worst in the league. I mean, seriously, it's bad, really bad, and it's fairly windy. I've only played there earlier in the year. I've never played there in December, but it's got to be Heinz just because the field is so bad.
Q: What was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment?
A: My rookie year, when I showed up to training camp [with the Cowboys], we had "Hard Knocks" there. I had played in front of 12,000 or 13,000, which was the biggest crowd at Drake University, and the Cowboys had 15,000 at practice on the first day. I walked onto the field and there were 15,000 people, all these cameras, HBO. It was just a different experience.
Q: What was it like to fly with the Blue Angels, as you did in 2003?