GREEN BAY – It’s easy to forget that Ryan Longwell was the underdog.
Twenty-one years ago, in the summer of 1997, Longwell was battling Brett Conway to become the Packers’ kicker. Conway was a third-round draft pick, and Longwell was a rookie free agent already cut once by the 49ers. Many times, that’s a stacked deck.
But nine years later, Longwell left Green Bay as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and on Saturday night, an unexpected-turned-decorated career was honored with a Packers Hall of Fame induction.
Ryan Longwell and Mark Tauscher shared memories with each other and members of the media on July 21, prior to their Packers Hall of Fame induction ceremony
“Ryan was just such a consummate pro,” said former long snapper Rob Davis, who was on hand to present Longwell for induction. “It’s a term in the locker room that’s the highest compliment, when a guy says, ‘That guy is a good pro.’
“Those of us that played the game, we know exactly what that means, the DNA of those guys we call pros.”
Longwell called it a “no-brainer” to choose Davis, his lone long snapper from midway through his rookie year through 2005, to present him on Saturday night. He mentioned the two went through seven holders together, but as a duo they were the constant.
They shared an outlook on the game, their jobs and their careers that mirrored one another’s. Longwell spoke as though, in many ways, he was sharing this honor with Davis.
“We were successful in some of the most tough, pressure-packed situations you can possibly imagine, and when you go through that many situations like Rob and I did, you have a kinship that goes far deeper than just teammates,” Longwell said.
“It’s a dream come true that never really was part of the dream. I was trying to get from one week to the next week, and Rob and I had a very similar approach, which is why we became such close friends and good teammates, in that, we were trying to do well enough on Sunday to get to the next Sunday.
Former Packers become 160th and 161st inductees into Packers Hall of Fame
“Talking about two, three, five, 16 years later was never in the equation for us, because we knew every kick, every snap, basically our job was on the line. We relished that. Humbly, we were good at it, and then you just start piling up weeks and years, and the next thing you know we’re here today.”
Davis stressed that the two strove to be respected and accountable, players their teammates could depend upon.
That certainly was the case as Longwell piled up 1,054 points on 226 field goals and 376 extra points – all career franchise records that have since been surpassed by Mason Crosby – before leaving to join the Vikings, for whom he played six seasons (2006-11).
He admitted he wasn’t sure if the Packers Hall of Fame was in his future at the time he left, but he did grow to have a greater appreciation for the Packers and their fans when playing elsewhere.
“If this was my one and only team, I don’t think I’d have it to the level – you certainly know that you’re part of something special – but not to the level I definitely have now,” he said.
Davis added it’s also worth appreciating how reliable the Packers’ kickers have been over the last three decades. Beginning with Chris Jacke in 1989, followed by Longwell and then Crosby, the Packers have benefited from the three most accomplished kickers in the franchise’s history, in succession. Only one season, 2006, has interrupted the run of the trio.
Of the three, Longwell’s career likely ranks as the biggest surprise, given how it started. For all those pressure-packed situations he mentioned, none was bigger than his initial one.
“At Lambeau, a 38-yarder against the Bears, my first kick,” he said. “I remember looking up, seeing that thing fly straight after I hit it, and thinking, I did it.
“Whatever happens from here, whether they go back to Conway or whether they stick with me, I did it.”