News that a Chris Boswell abdomen injury forced the Steelers to sign Randy Bullock sent shockwaves through Steelers Nation just 24 hours before the Steelers critical matchup with the New York Giants at Heinz Field.
- And so it should, Chris Boswell has proven to be a very accurate kicker and beyond that, a pretty good clutch kicker.
But Steeles Nation’s collective trepidation is also felt so deeply because past history of Steelers emergency kickers has been pretty dismal. Or it should say, history of “Steelers emergency kicker” because in the modern era, the Steelers have only had to go to their “Spare Parts” list to sign a kicker once.
Steelers Emergency Kickers of Yesteryear
It happened in mid-November 1998, when a Norm Johnson strained calf muscle forced the Steelers to sign Matt George, and it is not an experience Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Danny Smith or anyone else in Steelers Nation would wish to repeat.
- There were red flags around this move even before Matt George’s foot touched the pigskin.
The Steelers had brought Matt George to training camp with them that summer, but cut him in late August. In other words, they’d seen enough of him to know that he wasn’t their first choice of a “in case of emergency break glass” kicker.
The Steelers brought Brett Conway to Three Rivers Stadium, gave him a tryout, and negotiated with him for two days, thinking they had a deal in place. Then suddenly, Brett Conway left the building.
Brett Conway left on the advice of his agent, after the Washington Redskins offered him spot on their practice squad, infuriating Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher.
The Steelers signed Matt George, who, after missing several kicks during pre-game warmups, kicked low on a 36 yard field goal kick which the Tennessee Oilers blocked.
- The poor kick so spooked Bill Cowher that The Chin opted not to try a 42 yarder that could have given the Steelers a 17-13 lead with 4 minutes remaining.
The Steelers instead went for it on 4th down, only to have Kordell Stewart stopped. The Titans took the lead on the next drive on an Al Del Greco field goal. In desperation, the Steelers tried to lateral their way to retake the lead with time expiring, but the Oilers ran in a loose ball to score an insurance touchdown.
For the record, the Tennessee Oilers won the game 23 to 10 thereby completing their first (and only, at least as the “Tennessee Oilers”) season sweep of the Steelers. Norm Johnson returned the following week and kicked through the end of the 1999 season. Although Matt George wasn’t the only reason the Steelers lost the game, he never played another down in the NFL.
- As Bill Cowher candidly confided after the game, “I now realize how important it is to have a kicker.”
It is safe to say that, if he didn’t already know that, Mike Tomlin learned that lesson last season as he stood with an injured Ben Roethlisberger watching Michael Vick and Josh Scobee struggled in the Steelers Heinz Field loss to the Ravens.
Hopefully Randy Bullock’s tenure as Steelers emergency kicker won’t force him to relive those memories.