Even as the Super Bowl’s final minutes wound down and the possibility of an overtime-forcing field goal ratcheted higher, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker didn’t feel the nerves.
“Not really,” said Butker, the celebrated graduate of Westminster and Georgia Tech. “A big game’s a big game. So I don’t really think about the fact that, what, 100 million people were watching.”
Still, playing and winning the Super Bowl for the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday did have a mind-bending element.
“I guess seeing David Beckham up there – I grew up a soccer fan – that was just really cool,” Butker said in a phone interview this week with the AJC. “When I’m out there kicking, I’m like, Man, David Beckham’s watching me right now. That was pretty surreal.”
This much is real – after three seasons in the NFL, Butker has much to celebrate beyond his contributions to the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl title in 50 years. He contemplated that reality after the game as he clutched his 1-year-old son James on the trophy presentation stage amidst a swirl of confetti. (The moment was captured on video and has been viewed on Twitter 1.5 million times as of Thursday.)
“I think I’ve just come a long way since leaving college,” Butker said, revisiting his thoughts in that moment. “Just, getting married and now I have a 1-year-old son, I’m kicking in the NFL.”
While his role may not have been dramatic, Butker was highly effective in the Chiefs’ 31-20 win over San Francisco. He made a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter and all four of his extra points. When the Chiefs were down 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter, he said he did realize that he could potentially be called upon to make a game-tying kick to force overtime, perhaps not unlike his signature field goal at Tech, a 53-yard, overtime-forcing bomb against Georgia in 2014.
However, the Chiefs drove for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to overtake the 49ers.
“I was ready,” Butker said. “That’s what I was expecting, but, obviously, touchdowns are going to be probably the best thing you need to win the game, not field goals.”
Butker did make a clutch kick in that fourth-quarter comeback, though – his kickoff after Kansas City had taken a 24-20 lead with 2:44 to play.
Butker said that, before the game, special-teams coordinator Dave Toub told the kickoff coverage unit to play for a touchback on the first kickoff of the game and then challenge the 49ers to return the ball after that.
“We felt pretty good about our kickoff coverage team,” Butker said. “We didn’t want to just hit a touchback and they get the ball on their 25-yard line.”
Butker saved his best for the kickoff after the score to go up 24-20, with the 49ers now needing to score. Butker’s kick lifted high into the air and came down at the goal line. A hang time of 4.0 seconds is good; Butker said he was told that he had the kick in the air 4.56 seconds.
At the team’s game-video review Tuesday, it was pointed out that there were three players near the 25-yard line when the kick was fielded at the goal line and a couple more near the 30. Normally, having a single player inside the 30 when the kick is caught is “huge,” Butker said.
Before the kick, “Coach Toub looked at me, and I don’t know what he said, but he was like, Man, we need your best kick here, and I thought I was able to do that,” Butker said.
Returner Richie James was brought down at the 49ers 15. They made it only to the Kansas City 49 before turning the ball over on downs. Of Butker’s four kickoffs that the 49ers returned, none got past their 20.
Not long after, Butker was celebrating on the field with his son, his wife, Isabelle, and his parents, Harrison and Elizabeth Butker. Upon return to the team hotel, Butker joined the team and his extended family at a team party.
“I spent a lot of the time eating just because I was so hungry,” Butker said.
After cutting out gluten for the season and tightly monitoring his intake, Butker indulged.
“This season, I never went to team snack, but after the game, they had Haagen-Dazs, which is coach (Andy) Reid’s favorite ice cream,” Butker said. “Had a big ol’ spread out there, so I treated myself with that.”
It was a treat well-earned. Simply, beyond playing for the Super Bowl champions, Butker is at the top of his field. He has set numerous club records and finished his third NFL season with 426 points, the most scored by any player in league history in his first three seasons. Playing for a team with a high-powered offense helps a lot, but it’s more than that.
By reaching his 100th career field-goal try this season, he qualified for the NFL’s career accuracy record. At 96-for-107 (89.7%), Butker is second all-time in field-goal percentage, behind only Baltimore’s Justin Tucker (90.8%). Butker’s ambition is to pass Tucker, a player whom he has admired since college.
“I’ve put three good seasons, and just keep improving upon that,” said Butker, who in June signed an extension through the 2024 season worth $20 million.
The 2020 season will come soon enough. For now, there’s time to relax with family, oversee renovations to his family’s home in the Kansas City, Mo., area and celebrate his and his team’s spot upon football’s pinnacle, the reward for dedication and effort.
“Because normally after the season’s over, you’re like, Man, what could I have done to help this team more so that we could have won the Super Bowl?” Butker said. “Well, now we did it.”
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