Super Bowl 2013: Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker is no Billy Cundiff

Harry How

Last year, the Baltimore Ravens fell short of a trip to the Super Bowl because of their kicker. This year, John Harbaugh should have no hesitation with his kicker, as rookie Justin Tucker has been nothing short of sensational.

What a difference a year makes.

Rewind the calendar to 2012. The Baltimore Ravens have a chance to upset the top-seeded New England Patriots and advance to Super Bowl XLVI. After Lee Evans dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass, Billy Cundiff had a chance to at least partially atone for Evans' mistake, and send the game into overtime.

For more on the story, visit Baltimore Beatdown

Cundiff failed, hooking a 32-yard field goal, sending the Ravens home losers, and the Patriots to the Super Bowl -- again.

One year later in 2013, the script was different. New England took a 13-7 lead into halftime, but failed to score in the second half. Joe Flacco led the Ravens offense, throwing three touchdown strikes, sending the Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII -- without any kicker drama.

Still, had the Ravens called upon rookie kicker Justin Tucker, there's no reason to think he wouldn't have risen to the occasion.

Tucker has been there, done that against the Patriots already in 2012. In Week 3, with the Patriots leading 30-28, Tucker was called into duty for a last-second field goal attempt. Though the kick was only a 27-yarder, Tucker belted it through the uprights (barely), giving the Ravens a thrilling 31-30, come-from-behind win over the Patriots -- and helping cement Tucker as Baltimore's placekicker.

Tucker spent his college career playing for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns, serving as Texas' kicker and punter. Tucker wasn't spectacular during his college career, but was very solid, converting 85.2% of his field goals in 2010 (23-of-27), and 81% (17-of-21) in 2011.

Despite his solid collegiate career, Tucker went undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft, while four other kickers were selected. The Houston Texans selected Texas A&M kicker Randy Bullock, the St. Louis Rams selected Greg Zuerlein, the Minnesota Vikings selected Blair Walsh and the Buffalo Bills selected John Potter, all the while Tucker remained on the board.

Certainly, the Rams and Vikings don't regret either of their picks, as Zuerlein enjoyed success with St. Louis, while Walsh was sent to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Undeterred from being undrafted, Tucker went on and signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in late May, as John Harbaugh looked to bring in competition for the incumbent kicker, Cundiff.

The rest is history.

Tucker went on and beat out Cundiff for the starting job, and the Ravens ultimately cut Cundiff during training camp. Baltimore's new kicker didn't disappoint, either. Tucker converted on 30-of-33 field goals during the regular season, and is a perfect 2-for-2 so far in the postseason -- including a game-winning field goal in double overtime, lifting the Ravens past the Denver Broncos in the Divisional round.

If Tucker is called on in Super Bowl XLVII to kick a potential game-winning or game-tying field goal, it wouldn't be the first time a Baltimore football team has asked a rookie kicker to win a Super Bowl.

Jim O'Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal in Super Bowl V, lifting the Baltimore Colts past the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, and giving the Colts their first-ever Super Bowl title in franchise history. Of course, the Colts' history left Baltimore for Indianapolis, but the fact remains: a rookie kicker propelled a Baltimore football team to a Super Bowl win.

O'Brien isn't the only rookie kicker to capture a Super Bowl ring. Doug Brien earned a Super Bowl ring in his rookie season, when the San Francisco 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Unlike O'Brien, Brien wasn't called upon for a go-ahead field goal, as the 49ers comfortably defeated the Chargers, 49-26.

Like Brien, Lin Elliott won a Super Bowl ring during his rookie season, when the Dallas Cowboys clobbered the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, 52-17.

Rookie kickers haven't always come up winners in Super Bowls. Adam Vinatieri was signed as an undrafted free agent in 1996, and was a part of New England's Super Bowl team that season. Unfortunately for Vinatieri and the Patriots, New England lost Super Bowl XXXI to the Green Bay Packers, 35-21. Packers kick returner Desmond Howard returned one of Vinatieri's kickoffs for a 99-yard touchdown, helping Green Bay capture the Lombardi Trophy.

Still, Vinatieri's career turned out to be just fine.

Tucker will certainly hope to come up on the same side of history that O'Brien, Brien and Elliott did -- at least for their rookie seasons.

In a sport where kickers are far from certainties, it certainly seems like the Ravens found a kicker who has ice in his veins. Tucker has been there, done that -- kicking game-winning kicks during his rookie season on prime time and in the playoffs in double overtime.

There's no reason to think the Super Bowl will be any different.

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