Lindell is making a point

Commentary: Matt Calkins

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

 

The 11-year-old who hopped the fence of the local high school stands on the 10-yard line, stares at the football he propped up on the kicking tee, then boots it between the uprights.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” the child screams. “The crowd’s going wild! Johnny has just kicked a game-winning field goal to make the Cowboys 4-3 on the season!”

What? Not buying that boyhood fantasy? Don’t think athletes dream of making key plays to gain momentum heading into a November road game?

Buffalo Bills placekicker Rian Lindell doesn’t either. And that’s what has been so frustrating for him.

Now in his 12th NFL season, the former Vancouver resident has yet to play for a team that has reached the playoffs. The Seahawks didn’t take him there in any of his first three years, and the Bills have fallen short over his past eight.

As a result, his glory-day tales for future grandchildren are a touch limited.

“You don’t hear a lot of great football stories that start out with ‘I remember in Week 3 …,” said Lindell, who played high school football at Mountain View. “You hear about playoff games with Franco Harris or something — not Week 12 stories. So yeah, I do I feel like I’m missing out on the full experience.”

It’s not as if a career on the postseason periphery has Lindell popping a Zoloft with breakfast each morning. The 34-year-old’s achievements have soared well above the crossbar he set for himself as a teenager.

In high school, Lindell just hoped that his leg would earn him a scholarship — which it did a year after he walked on at Washington State.

After college, he felt the football sent by an agent, along with the T-shirt and hat the Kansas City Chiefs gave him following a workout, were more than enough to satisfy his ambitions as a pro athlete.

And after going undrafted in 2000, Lindell’s decade-plus run in the NFL has been the ultimate kick.

Still, it would be nice if, just once, his feet were standing on football field in mid-January instead of resting on a coffee table.

But to that, Bills fans can relate. Buffalo’s last trip to the playoffs came in 1999, the season before Lindell’s NFL debut.

And in a city where Outback Steakhouse is the leading source of nightlife, playing for an unsuccessful franchise can make for an uncomfortable existence.

“Things get embellished here whether it’s good or bad,” said Lindell , whose 18 consecutive field goals with Buffalo is a franchise record. “If you do something good, you’re the greatest guy ever. But if you do something bad and you lose, it’s like ‘this is the worst guy ever.’ It’s not like ‘Friday Night Lights’ where they’re coming at you with a pitchfork. But the people are pretty passionate about their Bills.”

Lindell has felt that passion through both jeers and cheers.

With Buffalo leading Pittsburgh by six in the final week of the 2004 season, Lindell missed a third-quarter field goal that many feel was the turning point of a loss that cost the Bills a playoff spot.

But then there was two Sundays ago, when Lindell punched in a 28-yarder as time expired to give Buffalo a 3-point win over the Patriots and improve to 3-0. It’s unlikely he had to pay for a Bloomin’ Onion all week.

Despite a 3-point loss to the Bengals this past Sunday, the Bills (3-1) have emerged as one of the NFL’s more endearing story lines. But before all of Buffalo starts to shuffle, fans should remember the 2008 squad, which began the year 5-1 and finished 7-9.

But it’s not as though Lindell needs to sniff the postseason in order to leave his imprint on the league. His streak of 321 consecutive extra points, which ended last year against the Bears, is an NFL record for consecutive PAT’s to start a career.

Then again …

“Somebody also probably has the record for most consecutive times tying their shoes correctly,” said Lindell, who is 7 for 8 on field goal attempts this year and has a career percentage of 80.8. “Having the record for most consecutive PAT’s isn’t something I wanted when I started my career. But hey, why not? It’s kind of cool that I have it.”

Lindell, now the proud father of a 17-month-old girl, visits family in Vancouver every summer.

He said that he keeps tabs on the Mountain View football team, annually donates a $3,500 scholarship to a Clark County athlete through the National Football Foundation, and feels today’s kickers are so good that he can’t afford to miss.

He also had this to say about former Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica infamously injuring himself while celebrating a field goal 10 years ago.

“You know, it’s too bad he got hurt, but it’s always funny to me that when a receiver scores, he can pull a cell phone out of his padding or something, but we just kind of have to get out off the field,” Lindell said. “For me and my family, that field goal is a big deal.”

Typical Lindell. Just had to add one more point.

Matt Calkins is a sports reporter for The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com