I have a curse. A recurring nightmare.
On Tuesday this past week, in what has become a monthly occurrence, I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thrashing and screaming.
Unable to sleep, I called my girlfriend. She picked up the phone and without hesitation asked, “Was it Gary Anderson or Blair Walsh this time?”
“Blair Walsh”, I reply.
I am haunted by the ghosts of Minnesota Vikings field goal kicking past, present, and future. Heartbreaking missed field goal after missed field goal led me down a road of studying field goal prospects and free agents, special teams coordinators, and even long snappers and holders.
Recently I was looking at league-wide field goal percentage to determine if the Vikings were as bad at field goals as l thought, and to my surprise they weren’t one of the worst field goal kicking teams, they just always choke when it matters.
The silver lining of this of course was finding out there was a team considerably worse at field goals than the Vikings.
It can always be worse, my friends.
In discovering who the worst field goal kicking team of the last 20 years was, I decided to base it primarily on finishes, or more specifically lack thereof, in the top-10 of field goal percentage league wide.
Why did I judge this primarily on top 10 appearances and not overall field goal percentage? If you judge purely on field goal percentage it doesn’t tell the full story. Let’s run through a hypothetical.
Team A had an 82% field goal percentage every year for three years.
Team B year one went 38 for 36 (94.7%), year two went 27 for 20 (74.1%), and year three went 31 for 21 (67.76), for a three-year total of 80.2%
Are these teams close to being equal? Both their three-year percentages are close, but any rational fan would give you an emphatic NO. The league wide average in field goal percentage for the 2019 season was 81.6%. Given that number, team A could have potentially been in the top 10 all three years, and team B only once.
Team B had one outstanding year and two putrid, shameful years. That one year kicking at 94.7% doesn’t mean you can tout your three-year 80.2% number around like you are simply a slightly below average kicking team. That means you got lucky. That means you have to wear your horrendous, ineffectual kicking game like a scarlet letter. The punishment fits the crime as you have also given an entire generation of fans clinical-grade PTSD. The sounds of helicopter blades and CCR will be ringing in their ears every time the team attempts a field goal over 20 yards.
Now, without further ado, introducing the worst field goal kicking team of the last 20 years..
THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been the worst field goal kicking team this century, and frankly it wasn’t close. The Buccaneers had two finishes in the top 10 of league wide field goal percentage this century. Two. Top teams like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta had 14, 11, and 9 top-10 finishes, respectively. Hell, even the Vikings had seven top-10 finishes. Two top-10 finishes in 20 years is atrocious, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
As you can see above, the most jarring aspect of those numbers is the Buccaneers as a team averaged a field goal percentage of 77.8% for 20 years.
Let me say that again: they AVERAGED A FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE OF 77.8% OVER 20 YEARS.
Kickers who post a 77.8% over one season may not be back to their team the next year. Kickers who post a 77.8% could have their jerseys burned by rabid, bloodthirsty fans after a failed season. An entire organization posted a 77.8% over the course of 20 years.
How did they get there?
Let’s go back to the beginning.
Starting the century off, they drafted Martin Gramatica in the 3rd round of the 1998 NFL Draft.
The early 2000s was a rough time for field goal kickers as the league average wasn’t above 80% until the 2004 season. Taking that into account, Gramatica was one of the best kickers the Buccaneers have ever had at the start of his career and can be attributed for three of the seven years the team has beaten league average over the past 20 years. His career peaked in 2002, when he finished the season at a field goal percentage of 82.1% and won the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for Gramatica.
Gramatica came out for the 2003 season with a Super Bowl hangover. The thing is, it wasn’t a normal hangover. A normal Super Bowl hangover for players or teams is underperforming the next year. Starting out slow, playing sluggish and losing winnable games, and in a lot of cases missing the playoffs. That hangover is a; going out all night with your friends slamming $3 tequila shots, waking up the next morning without a phone, wallet, and having only one of your shoes type of hangover.
No, Gamatica’s Super Bowl hangover was a; waking up every morning and reaching for the liter of $5 vodka on your nightstand, being the first one waiting outside for the liquor store for it to open, friends and family’s search history is variations of “How expensive is Passages Malibu?” type of hangover.
Gramatica started the year 3/7(42.8%). He managed to turn the ship around mid-season, albeit very slightly, and finished the year hitting field goals at 61.5%. Yikes
Inexplicably, he kept his job for the next season. Was it loyalty? Respect for being part of the Super Bowl winning team? Gross incompetence by the organization?
The next year Gramatica came out and rewarded Tampa Bay for their loyalty by going 57.9% from field goals and finally getting the boot mid-season.
Martin Gramatica’s career with the Buccaneers can best be summarized by this infamous moment from his brother, Bill. Success followed by crashing and burning seems to run in the family. (If you’re wondering yes, he did just tear his ACL)
The next few years were a series of dangling carrot moments for the Buccaneers. Success was so close, but they couldn’t quite sustain it. In 2005 they signed Matt Bryant, who kicked over 84% for three of his four years on the team, but soon became too expensive for them to want to re-sign. Bryant signed to Atlanta for the 2009 season, and he has kicked field goals at above 85% for eight of the past 11 years with the Falcons, including five years above 90%.
Next in 2009 came Connor Barth who achieved the teams’ best field goal percentage of the century with a 92.9% in 2011. Similar to Matt Bryant, the team inexplicably parted ways with arguably their best kicker of the past 20 years after the 2012 season (but he did make a short guest appearance in 2015).
Finally, with the conclusion of the 2015 season, after 3 straight seasons of kicking field goals at below league average, the team owner had enough and decided once and for all to end the kicking woes. So, in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft the Buccaneers traded up to select Roberto Aguayo, a kicker from Florida State.
Aguayo (or, ‘Mr. Perfect’, the listed nickname on his football reference page) was the third most accurate kicker in the history of college football. He never missed a kick inside of 40 yards and was awarded first-team all-American in each of the three seasons he played with the Seminoles.
What better way to save yourself from your kicking woes than a player like that, right?
His first year with the Buccaneers was nothing short of an absolute train wreck, as Mr. Perfect went 22/31 on field goals, good for 71% and a ticket to the unemployment line. He has bounced around team to team since then but has never made a kick in a regular season game since his rookie year.
Admittedly it is a very small sample size, but Aguayo’s field goal percentage (71%) would make him the worst kicker to ever step foot on a football field this century.
What a way to spend a second-round pick, right?
Since the departure of Mr. Perfect after the 2016 season, the Buccaneers have trotted out five kickers in the past three seasons, with their 2019 rookie Matt Gay being the only kicker to play a full season since Aguayo’s 2016 rookie campaign.
So, the question must be asked, what has gone wrong with the Buccaneers? Are they cursed? Poor staff? Poor decisions? It seems like a combination of all three.
Consistent turnover with both the staff and the players seems to play a large part. In the past 10 years, the team has had eight different special teams coordinators. The kickers who have given them consistency, Connor Barth and Matt Bryant, ended up moving on in their career rather than staying with the team.
The Buccaneers haven’t kicked field goals at above league average since 2012, so something drastic needs to be done to get them out of this tailspin.
Maybe it’s all Dan Marino’s fault? If he had held the ball, laces out, like he was supposed to, they wouldn’t have missed all those kicks.
So cheer up, Vikings fans. We have some serious PTSD and heartbreaking field goal misses, but at least we don’t have the field goal kicking woes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.