The sixth season of former Georgia Tech star Harrison Butker’s NFL career has been in many ways a disappointment. The Kansas City Chiefs kicker injured his left ankle in the first game of the 2022 season, missed four games and then turned in the poorest regular season of his career.
But, as Yellow Jackets fans know well, Butker was at his best when it counted most. Butker’s 45-yard field goal with three seconds left in the AFC championship game Sunday night lifted the Chiefs to a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals for their third Super Bowl berth in the past four seasons. Butker’s primal scream after making the kick was a celebration of his personal triumph in a trying season.
“It was a tough year with a lot of ups and downs,” Butker told WDAF-TV Sunday night. “I missed more kicks than I ever have this season compared to other years. But I tried to keep the faith, kept working on my technique, didn’t give up and just so thankful for that kick to go through. Very blessed to be in this position, very thankful to God for kind of being with me along the way. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Butker concluded the game 3-for-3 on field-goal tries and 2-for-2 on extra-point attempts, making his first two field-goal tries from 43 and 24 yards. As fate would have it, Butker and the Chiefs will return to State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., for the Super Bowl, where he rolled his left ankle on his first kickoff of the season, setting in motion his underperforming season. With a Chiefs win against Philadelphia in the Super Bowl, he’ll become only the third former Jacket to win two Super Bowls, joining two Tech legends – Bill Curry and Butker’s Jackets teammate Shaquille Mason.
By NFL standards, it was a pretty rough regular season for Butker after the injury to the ankle that he plants and places heavy force on to stabilize his body for the explosive swings of his right foot. Even as late as mid-November, Butker conceded that his ankle was not yet 100% healthy. After missing four games, Butker made 18 of 24 field-goal tries for a career-low 75%. Of NFL kickers who attempted as many or more than Butker’s 24 tries this season, 24 made more than 75% and only two made less than that rate. (He did make a 62-yarder against Buffalo, the NFL long this season.)
The Westminster graduate has performed when it has counted most, though. Including his 3-for-3 effort against Cincinnati, he is 5-for-5 in the playoffs this season.
“As a kicker, you dream about those moments, right?” Butker said. “That’s what everyone remembers – those big kicks, not necessarily their field-goal percentage during the regular season or whatever.”
As a case in point, he brought up Adam Vinatieri, who was a three-time first-team All-Pro in his career for his regular-season excellence but is most remembered for his series of clutch postseason field goals.
“I grew up a big Vinatieri fan, and he was a very accurate kicker, but you think about all those big kicks he had throughout his career, and that’s what comes to mind when you think of kickers,” Butker said.
With the Chiefs, Butker has his own growing collection. Last year, in successive playoff games, he made last-second kicks of 49 and 44 yards to force overtime. He can add a powerful blast that arced through the frigid night air Sunday night, descending safely between the goalposts. Two weeks from now, he has a chance for another.
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Credit: Doug Roberson/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution