Things Bigger than Football: Steelers Kicker Chris Boswell, “Young Money II”
When wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were drafted in 2010 they joined speedy 2009 draftee Mike Wallace on the Steelers roster. The three young men soon became excellent friends as well as good teammates, and dubbed themselves “Young Money.”
For the first time since then none of the Young Money crew will take the field for the Steelers on Sunday night. Mike Wallace is on the Vikings squad which is currently cleaning out their lockers after a heart-breaking loss in the Wild Card game. Emmanuel Sanders will take the field, but as part of the opposition. And Antonio Brown will miss his first game since 2012, courtesy of Vontaze Burfict. As much as this sucks, at least AB got an apology out of Pacman Jones:
But fortunately for the Steelers, Young Money II will be playing in Denver. This is none other than place kicker Chris Boswell.
The Steelers went through a traumatic time early in the 2015 season when they lost veteran kicker Shaun Suisham in a preseason game. It seemed to be a great deal more difficult than one might imagine to find a kicker who was a) available, b) could manage to not injure himself, and c) was able to reliably nail more than 50% of his field goals.
Enter Chris Boswell, stage left. I am will to bet that the only people in Steeler Nation who had heard of Boswell before the Steelers signed him were those who were fans of the Rice Owls, the Rice University team. And maybe not even them, unless they are very keen fans indeed.
After initial worries as to how Boswell would respond to the pressure of kicking in an NFL game (and then the pressure of kicking in an NFL game with the game on the line) Boswell has become someone Steeler Nation has come to depend upon. He may have already won the title of “Most Productive Rookie Kicker in Steelers History.” But whether he has or not, he has established himself firmly in the lore of this most trying and unusual season.
The young man is extremely reliable. He made over 90% of his attempts in the regular season, 100% of his attempts so far in the post season, and all of his attempts over 50 yards. And to look at him, nothing fazes him. Not even being asked to kick a last-ditch field goal in a long and ugly playoff game. As Tribune-Review reporter Chris Adamski noted in an article earlier this week:
Boswell’s knack for the clutch field goal has manifested itself in many ways:
• He is 9 for 9 in the fourth quarter.
• He is 12 for 13 when the game’s margin is within seven points.
• And he is 2 for 2 on field goals that decided a game during the final 90 seconds, including Saturday (14 seconds to play).
That was a 35-yard attempt, but ask Minnesota whether any field goal with a playoff game on the line is a gimme. Vikings veteran Blair Walsh missed Sunday from 27 yards in a one-point game with 22 seconds left.
And it isn’t just a facade. Whether he has ice water in his veins or not, he sure looks like it. He didn’t even give a fist pump after making the winning field goal last week. When asked about his season so far he said, in a Yahoo Sports article from December 18:
”I’m not really worried about what I’ve done so far,” Boswell said. ”You just have to worry about the next one. You can’t think about the last one or worry about what you’ve done in the past. You have to keep it up and stay consistent.”
Craig Wolfley, part of the radio team for the Steelers, mentioned to Boswell that “the Turk up in the booth”—that would be Tunch Ilkin—calls Boswell “Money.” As in, you can bank on the field goal being good. You would think a very young player, on his first NFL roster other than as a camp body, would find this pretty exciting, but according to Wolfley he tipped his head to the side and said “Really?” As in “that’s nice.” So what’s the secret to his imperturbability?
After winning numerous honors during his college career he went undrafted in 2014 (not a big surprise for a kicker) but was picked up by the Texans. He failed to win the job and was cut after camp. The Giants picked him up last summer, cut him, signed him again, and cut him after camp. He was unemployed (at least by an NFL team) until the Steelers came calling, the day after Josh Scobee proved his previous inaccuracy wasn’t a fluke.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote an article shortly after Boswell was signed:
Boswell’s father lived in Brazil before he was born, which meant Boswell played soccer “as soon as I could walk,” around age 3. This taught Boswell the art of placing the ball where he wants it, which helps him now. Boswell was a defender who played in high school but gave up the sport when he got a football scholarship to Rice.
He told Fowler kicking is “90% mental:”
Boswell has worked this offseason with Giants kicker Josh Brown (10-for-10) and Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (coming off a 7-for-7 game against Cincinnati)…Boswell talks with these friends about the mental side of kicking, getting your mind right before each attempt.
“How to go after every kick,” Boswell said. “Each kick stands on its own. You have to have that down before you kick the ball.”
When Jeff Reed was embroiled in his unfortunate final season in Pittsburgh I wrote an article titled “Kickers and the Role of the Psyche in Performance”. Later, when Shaun Suisham had a bad game or two in his second season, I wrote “Place Kicking and Other Head Games.” As you can see, this is a subject which fascinates me, since the same issues plague musicians.
It seems clear that young Mr. Boswell has figured out how to eliminate the distractions and focus on the task at hand. In fact, he is so focused that he was apparently completely unaware of the whole drama occurring on the field after Antonio Brown’s injury, as he was busy at the net getting ready to kick if need be.
Perhaps this singular focus is more necessary to him than to most. He has a lot riding on his shoulders. Jason Mackey of DKonPittsburghSports wrote an article about Boswell in mid-December. In it he explained that Boswell’s father, a pastor in Fort Worth, fell off a ladder and suffered severe brain damage while working at his second job as a house painter:
Doctors haven’t been able to determine exactly what’s wrong. Chris Boswell said his dad, born in 1959, sometimes thinks it’s 1950. His short-term memory is shot. He doesn’t remember being in the hospital, when he was unconscious for two weeks. And he occasionally doesn’t understand that his son kicks for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It’s hard to explain to somebody like that, who basically went to sleep and woke up two weeks later and has no idea about anything,” Chris Boswell said. “The opportunity with the Steelers definitely came at a good time. If it was last year, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. It was hard on my family. I wanted to be around them. I wanted to be around family. I wanted to clear everything up.”
It’s been tough for Boswell to focus solely on kicking, however. His dad had to resign from his position as pastor at a local church. Though he still does some consulting work on the side, it’s not the same.
As Mackey wrote:
“It’s been tough for Rick and his family,” Baccarini [Boswell’s former high school coach] said. “Chris getting this opportunity and doing what he’s done has been a blessing for them.”
Boswell’s motto on Twitter is “Let go and let God.” From all the evidence, it would seem he understands that there are lots of things bigger than football…