Billy Cundiff's curious NFL odyssey took him to eight teams and through countless trials before he arrived in Baltimore in November, 2009. A year later, Cundiff's destination includes coveted hot spots like Hawaii and the playoffs.
Cundiff was one of five Ravens named to the AFC's 2010 Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, another high-water mark in a fast-rising career as an emerging kicking star.
He is joined on the all-star team by perennial Pro Bowl selectees Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, as well as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Lewis, the team's iconic middle linebacker, has been named to the Pro Bowl in 12 of his 15 seasons. Reed's selection was his seventh in nine years.
"It's an amazing honor," Cundiff said Tuesday night. "To think back to when I came to Baltimore to this day today, it's been a great trip. Obviously, I've reached a place I wanted to be, and I felt I could get to this place. But there were a lot of lessons I had to learn."
Cundiff's ascension from a journeyman kicker to Pro Bowl player -- seemingly overnight -- was clearly the highlight of the Ravens' Pro Bowl announcement. Cundiff, 30, is anything but an overnight success, though.
After spending most of four seasons in Dallas, Cundiff was cut after six games into 2005 by the Cowboys. A year later, he was cut by the New Orleans Saints after five games. Thus began a vagabond existence in which he went more than two full seasons without attempting a regular-season field goal in the NFL and, he said, considered preparing for a post-football career.
After a short stint with the Cleveland Browns last season, he signed with the Ravens. He not only made good on that opportunity, but, after signing another one-year contract last summer, he beat out an established kicker in Shayne Graham in training camp.
This season Cundiff capitalized as few kickers ever have. He has converted 24 of 27 field goals, including the 38-yard kick that beat the Buffalo Bills in overtime in October, and scored a career-high 110 points through 15 games.
Perhaps more significant was the impact he made in field position. Cundiff hammered 38 touchbacks this year to lead the NFL (Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski is a distant second with a 29). He already holds the single-season record for touchbacks outdoors with 32. If he hits two in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, he will tie Mitch Berger's 1998 record of 40 touchbacks from the 30-yard line. The league moved kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30 in 1994.
"This is a testament to Billy's hard work and determination," said Jerry Rosburg, special team coordinator, in a statement released by the team. "Billy has shown incredible perseverance throughout his career and he has always remained dedicated to becoming a great kicker in the NFL. I believe that the other players in this league not only respect what he has done, but also how he has done it. He never lost faith in himself, and he continued to improve. He is richly deserving of this honor, as is his wife, Nicole, who has been tremendously supportive."
Cundiff credited long-snapper Morgan Cox and holder/punter Sam Koch with "making my job easier." He celebrated the announcement Tuesday at a dinner that included Cox, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Sunday.
From a coaching standpoint, Cundiff got help from a variety of sources, including Rosburg and head coach John Harbaugh. He was aided by Randy Brown, a part-time kicking consultant with the Ravens who refined Cundiff's approach to the job.
"Coach Rosburg does a great job of handling the game," Cundiff said. "He and Coach Harbaugh rarely put Sam or I on the field where we can't be successful. Randy has taken what I bring to the table and polished all the edges."
Cundiff, Lewis, Ngata and Reed all are scheduled to start in the Pro Bowl game on Jan. 30 in Honolulu, a week before the Super Bowl in Dallas. Votes were compiled from coaches, players and fans.
"This never gets old," Lewis, 35, said in a statement." This is the greatest honor ever, because this is from the fans, the coaches and your peers. You can never take anything for granted, and I never take this for granted. I am blessed with great teammates and I wouldn't be here without them. I feel this is a team award."
Suggs will go to Hawaii as a backup. This will be his fourth Pro Bowl -- each in even-numbered years: 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. He needs one sack Sunday to match his career high of 12, set as a rookie in 2003. He has 7.5 sacks in the last eight games.
"This is awesome," Suggs said. "The only thing that would be better than this is a Super Bowl. ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â… This is something you can't do by yourself; it takes a unit. I have to thank my teammates, especially the defense ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â– and particularly Haloti ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â– for pushing me to do the little extra things when I didn't want to."
Thirteen Ravens were recognized in the Pro Bowl announcement. Sam Koch, whose 37 punts inside the 20 ranks second in the NFL this season, is a first alternate along with left guard Ben Grubbs and fullback Le'Ron McClain.
Third alternates were quarterback Joe Flacco and left tackle Michael Oher. Four alternates included running back Ray Rice, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Dawan Landry.
If the Ravens were to make the Super Bowl, none of these players would compete in the Pro Bowl.
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