At precisely the moment when 70,000 fans — give or take a few thousand, depending on the location — hold their breath, Rob Bironas lets his out.
“It just happens naturally when you punch the ball,” Bironas said. “It optimizes the oxygen level of the muscle at the point of impact. … I take a breath in on my way to the ball and then keep my fingers crossed that it goes through.”
There’s been no shortage of breathless moments in Bironas’ six-year career (see story below), during which he has made nine game-winning kicks — including a franchise-record 60-yard field goal against Indianapolis in 2006.
Everything that happens before Bironas empties his lungs is the result of reduplication. The manner in which he lines up in relation to the holder, the timing required with the snapper and holder (1.3 seconds from snap to kick), the stride he takes into the kick and the spot on his foot with which he strikes — none of it allows for much wiggle room.
Bironas’ ability to do the same thing over and over has much to do with a different kind of consistency: He is set to start his seventh consecutive season as the Titans’ kicker, an unusually lengthy stay at that position.
“Some teams go through three or four in a year,” special teams coach Alan Lowry said. “… There’s a lot of guys with really good legs, but consistency is going to separate them. I think that’s where he has excelled — he has been really consistent over the years.”
Bironas has led the team in scoring each of the past six seasons. If he does so again this season, he’ll tie Hall of Famer George Blanda for the second-longest streak in franchise history. Blanda was the Houston Oilers’ top point-producer in their first seven seasons of existence. Only Al Del Greco (nine seasons) has had a longer run.
Already, Bironas is only the second player in franchise history with more than 100 points in at least four straight seasons, a streak he carries into this fall. He ranks second to Del Greco in all-time scoring, and enters this season fourth all-time in the NFL for field goal percentage at 85.6 percent.
Bironas has missed just two of 207 career extra-point attempts and none since his rookie season. He has not missed a field goal attempt from inside 30 yards in the past three seasons and has made at least one from 50 yards or more in every one of his six campaigns.
“He has made the big kicks for us,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We have put a lot of pressure on him the last so many years, especially the last couple of years when we were not finishing drives.”
Bironas has been able to breathe easier during the current training camp because — even with an expanded roster — franchise officials opted not to bring in anyone to kick against him. Other than regular consultation with Lowry — the only position coach Bironas has had — he often is left to his own devices.
As with everything else, though, Bironas keeps the same mindset every time he takes the field.
“If I don’t do my job, they’ll replace me — bottom line,” he said. “If receivers don’t catch balls, they replace them; if the quarterback doesn’t do his job, they’ll replace him; if the running back doesn’t pick up yards, guys miss tackles or miss blocks, there’s going to be somebody standing there waiting to take your job.
“I’m always trying to do better out there and do my job well,” Bironas said.
Rob Bironas was 27 years old when he pondered retirement. Then he ended up with the Tennessee Titans.
When he set out to become a kicker in the National Football League, Bironas gave himself a deadline, based on age, at which point he either would be established or pursue something else.
“In my mind, 28 years was the age,” he said. “I was taking steps each year to get closer to being in this league. So 28 was the number, but it could have been extended past that.
“I was glad to get on here with the Titans when I was 27.”
Bironas secured the job in a 2005 training camp battle with Ola Kimrin, who came in as the favorite. Kimrin had kicked in five games for Washington the previous season. Bironas had been in training camp with three different teams (Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) during the previous three years, but his only actual game experience was with the Arena Football League and AF2.
Now, at age 33, Bironas is poised to start his seventh season with Tennessee, and retirement looks farther away than ever.
The man he replaced, Al Del Greco, kicked until he was 42. Three of the NFL’s top six scorers last season were 35 or older, and several veteran kickers well on their way to 40 got new contracts for the start of this season.
“[David] Akers and [Adam] Vinatieri and [Ryan] Longwell … guys are 37, 38 years old and signing three- or four-year deals. So teams are signing [kickers] into their 40s these days. I’ll keep playing as long as they want me on the field doing my job well.
“We’ll see how well I’m doing, how the body is feeling. I’d like to do it as long as I love doing it and I am having fun.”
— David Boclair