FAB 4. An Extra Point With Murray
To help further acclimate our PewterReport.com readers to new Bucs kicker Patrick Murray, I’ve decided to rerun a segment from a previous SR’s Fab 5 column in March of 2015 where I chronicled one of my chats with Murray near the end of the 2014 season. The Irish kicker is an absolute trip, and you can’t help but root for this guy. Enjoy.
One of the best parts of my job over the past 20 years has been meeting some of the more interesting Buccaneers. You would be surprised that some of my favorite Bucs to talk to weren’t Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks or Warrick Dunn. Some of Tampa Bay’s legends were actually kind of boring to interview.
Alstott and Dunn avoided the media every chance they got and just didn’t have much to say. Brooks was such a company man towing the company line that he would often spout clichés.
Some of the Bucs I really enjoyed talking to were backup safety John Howell, reserve defensive linemen Tyoka Jackson and Ellis Wyms, and punter Mark Royals. I found them to be more enlightening, more forthcoming and more interesting. Royals was a great source for years because he would listen and observe everything in the locker room and he admired my reporting style at Buccaneer Magazine.
In fact, some of the best interviews have been Tampa Bay’s special teamers. I remember when Martin “Automatica” Gramatica was one of the Bucs’ most beloved players, hitting 82.1 percent of his field goals during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl season and making the Pro Bowl. Gramatica really struggled in 2003, costing the Bucs a few games with missed kicks and only connecting on 61.5 percent of his kicks, including going 3-of-6 from 30-39 yards, and going 3-of-8 from 40-49 yards.
If I recall correctly Gramatica had gotten injured that year. Maybe it was a groin injury or a sports hernia, but I remember going up to him in the locker room when he was in the middle of his slump in 2003 and talking to him during the open locker room one day. The Argentinian-born kicker was sitting in front of his locker slouched over with his head in his hands.
Gramatica was an All-American kicker at Kansas State, which is my alma mater, so I had watched him for years prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay. Gramatica had never been in a slump before in high school or college, and when I asked him how was he going to get out of his first-ever slump he looked up at me with a very scared look on his face and said, “I don’t know. I’ve never been here before.”
I got the chills and sensed that Gramatica’s days in Tampa Bay were ultimately numbered. Because he was injured, he had lost his confidence, and that’s deadly for a kicker. Gramatica was cut during the 2004 season after hitting 11-of-19 field goals (57.9 percent) and bounced around between Indianapolis, Dallas and New Orleans before retiring in 2009.
The old saying goes that kicking is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Confidence is everything for a kicker or a punter. Every time you kick or punt the ball it’s the cold, stark reality of pass-fail. It’s either a field goal or a miss. It’s either a good punt or a shank.
I had the opportunity to spend a good 10 minutes with Bucs rookie kicker Pat Murray at the end of the season last year interviewing him about his incredibly successful rookie season in Tampa Bay. Murray didn’t get enough media attention from PewterReport.com or other beat writers after making 20-of-24 (83.3 percent) of his field goals in 2014, but that will change in 2015. His rookie season stacks with that of other great Bucs kickers like Gramatica and Connor Barth.
I found Murray to be incredibly interesting and engaging, and in honor of St. Patrick’s Day this past week, and Murray’s Irish heritage, I wanted to include his story in this week’s SR’s Fab 5. What you know is that the unheralded kicker out of Fordham beat out Barth during training camp and the preseason, which sent shockwaves through the Bucs fan base, and surprised some in the media, including myself.
What you don’t know is that Murray may be the most confident player on the Buccaneers. The 5-foot-7, 160-pounder is borderline cocky, but in an engagingly fun way.
“He has a fighter pilot mentality,” Bucs punter and holder Michael Koenen said. “I’ve always said you have to be a little bit like a DB and have a short-term memory. You have to think that the next time you’re going to win. He’s got a real quiet cockiness about him.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s got the physical ability to do his job, and he does it well. A lot of it is between the ears and just being confident and putting good kicks up. He’s not lacking any confidence – that’s for sure.”
Murray’s first NFL field goal attempt – a simple 24-yarder in Week 2 – was blocked by St. Louis in a 19-17 loss. It could have proven to be the game-winner, and it could have ruined the start of a promising career if not for Murray’s resolve.
“It would have rattled some people, but he did a great job of coming back composed,” Koenen said. “It’s all about the next one and forgetting about the last one. That’s what he does so well.”
Murray encountered his second blocked kick of the season in Cleveland and missed a 55-yarder in a game Tampa Bay lost 22-17. But he finished that game with a 40-yarder and didn’t miss a field goal for the rest of the season, finishing on a hot streak with 13 consecutive field goals.
“The goal was to end on a high note,” Murray said. “Obviously you want to be 100 percent, but that’s not going to happen during the season. I’ve just tried to consistently improve and take advice from the coaching staff. They have put me in different situations in practice so I’ll be comfortable in games and it has worked and it will continue to work.”
“Making consecutive kicks is always great whether it’s at the beginning of the season, the middle of the season or the end of the season,” Koenen said. “But this will definitely give him confidence entering next season.”
Confidence can be a fragile thing, but the cocksure Murray has plenty of it. When I asked him about his remarkable leg strength after making 5-of-6 from beyond 50 yards, including a 55-yarder, Murray said he got stronger as the season progressed.
“The strength and conditioning staff has really helped me gain leg strength,” Murray said. “It’s made me a better athlete and in turn a better kicker, so it’s a credit to those guys. I was confident from 60 yards before the season started. Now I’m comfortable beyond 60.
“I’m not scared to kick any ball. That’s just the way it is.”
Koenen said that Murray’s leg strength is quite remarkable, and that fans have yet to see what the Irish kicker can really do.
“He hasn’t showcased it yet, but I’ve seen him hit some really deep balls in practice,” Koenen said. “I saw him hit two 65-yarders in practice, so he definitely has the leg strength to move back if he needs to.”
Murray has yet to kick a true game-winning field goal in the NFL, and that’s one of his goals. But let’s face it. The Bucs finished 2-14 last year, so he didn’t have too many opportunities.
The best chance Murry had to nail a game-winnner was in Week 13 in Tampa Bay’s 14-13 loss to Cincinnati. The Bucs had moved close to the Bengals’ 20-yard line, but the infamous 12-men on the field penalty negated a big catch by wide receiver Louis Murphy and pushed the offense back out of Murray’s range in the closing seconds of the ball game and he never got the chance.
Aside from kicking a game-winner, the diminutive Buccaneer also wants to go down and make a tackle on kickoffs.
“Without a doubt, I can’t wait to do kickoffs and go down and make a tackle,” Murray said. “That’s just the mentality I grew up with. We grew up hitting each other, so I’m certainly not scared to go in there and mix it up. I’m ready to handle kickoffs whenever they need me to. I want to show them that I have a very strong leg and I can kick the ball through the back of the end zone or put the ball wherever they want me to. I did that throughout college and high school. I can do it at this level, too.”
Koenen snickered at Murray’s un-kicker-like desire to make a tackle on special teams.
“It is a bit different to want to go down there and mix it up on a kickoff,” Koenen said. “I can admire that, but that’s my job and he can’t have it yet. He does enjoy the competition that football brings, though. That’s for sure.”
Despite his size, Murray is both mentally tough and physically tough due to his upbringing. Murray didn’t play soccer as a child like most NFL kickers did, nor did he play American football.
“Gaelic football is actually where my background is,” Murray said. “My two uncles, Brendan and Ciaran Murray, were national-caliber Gaelic football players. My dad wasn’t a bad player himself. Gaelic football is a combination of rugby and soccer. It is the national sport of Ireland, and it’s all over YouTube. I showed a couple of the guys here and they couldn’t believe that’s what I grew up playing. It’s full contact, no pads and a lot of fun.
“My dad got me into American football. He came over from Ireland about 25 years ago, and if he would have tried out for an NFL team when he came over here he would have definitely made it as a kicker. There’s no doubt about it. He’s 53 years old and he can still make 45-yard field goals. He can punt the ball over 50 yards. He has a cannon for a leg. He got me into kicking during my freshman year of high school. It was an outlet to see if it would lead somewhere, and fortunately it did. I’m blessed to be doing it now.”
Murray not only got his kicking leg from his father, but also his confidence.
“My father is a blue-collar, hard-working guy that is never going to take no for an answer,” Murray said. “That’s the way he grew up and raised my brother and I when we were younger. It’s a never-say-die attitude that he’s passed along to us.”
It’s that confident attitude that allowed Murray to bounce back from two blocked kicks in 2014 and end the year on such a promising note. Keep in mind that two of Murray’s four misses were blocked due to poor blocking up front. He also had a miss from 55 yards in Cleveland. Murray was so close to connecting on 23-of-24 kicks (95.8 percent) during his rookie campaign in the NFL.
Bucs fans love a good kicker, and I’ve had the good fortune to cover some big legs in Michael Husted and Gramatica (in his “Automatica” days), watched Matt Bryant nail a franchise-record 62-yard field goal in 2006 and have four good years in Tampa Bay, and witnessed “Barth Vader” rise to prominence from 2009-12 before tearing his Achilles tendon in 2013. I think 2015 is the year when Murray becomes a breakthrough star in Tampa Bay and winds up being a fan favorite.
“Obviously the goal is to be the best kicker in the history of the NFL,” Murray said. “But I want to make a difference off the field as well as on the field. It’s what you do with the position that you hold off the field in the NFL that I think makes the greatest difference. Guys like Vincent Jackson and Gerald McCoy – they are so involved in the community and I hope to follow in their footsteps and make my own path and help people any way I can.”
With another strong season in 2015, Murray is going to help the Bucs turn their franchise around.
One of the best lines from Tampa Bay kicker Patrick Murray that I just had to get in this week’s SR’s Fab 5: “I was a finance major at Fordham and I graduated with a 3.8, so I’ve got a brain in my head. That’s what my mom is most proud of. My dad likes my leg.”