NEW ORLEANS (AP) — No one selected Justin Tucker in the 2012 NFL draft, so he had to wait until late May before the Baltimore Ravens extended an invitation to the former Texas kicker to join them at training camp.
Tucker then had to beat out veteran Billy Cundiff, who scored 122 points one season earlier.
Although Cundiff missed a short field-goal try in the 2011 AFC championship game, he was the odds-on favorite to retain his job. As the saying goes, there's no substitute for experience.
Tucker beat out Cundiff in a competition that lasted deep into the summer, and now the rookie will be kicking in the Super Bowl for Baltimore on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.
Who'd have thought it?
"I definitely did," Tucker said. "In this whole season, dating back to last year when I was just out of school, it's been kind of a whirlwind. But it's nothing we can't handle. I've never really thought like a rookie because I can't afford to at my position."
Tucker was one of the three rookie kickers in the NFL this season. Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings and Greg Zuerlein of St. Louis were both drafted in the sixth round.
And here's Tucker, in the Super Bowl.
"(Special teams coach) Jerry Rosburg did a great job of finding Justin Tucker," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He wasn't a highly ranked kicker. He wasn't one of the top guys coming out on all the pre-rankings and those kind of things. Jerry did a tremendous job of evaluating Justin. He saw talent; he saw a gifted guy, went down there and worked him out, loved his personality. He felt like with a few adjustments technique-wise he could become really consistent."
It didn't take long for Harbaugh to realize Tucker had the potential to excel.
"The first time I liked him was the very first kick," Harbaugh said. "Standing behind him, hearing the ball come off his foot, and seeing how straight it tracked, you could tell that he's just a really talented guy. When we finally decided to make him the kicker, it was really right at the end. Billy Cundiff and he had a really great battle. Both those guys kicked incredibly well. We just felt like at the end, kind of a gut decision, that Tuck would be our guy."
Tucker went 30 for 33 on field-goal tries during the regular season, including four of 50 yards or longer — a franchise record. He kicked three game-winning field goals, including a 47-yarder in the second overtime at Denver to thrust the Ravens into the AFC title game.
Now he's in the biggest game of his life, and showing not the least bit of concern. Heck, if he can put it through the uprights with the game on the line in chilly Denver, then kicking in the Superdome should be a snap.
"The Superdome is unique in and of itself," Tucker said. "We had a chance to go kick a little bit. It's nice to more or less take the elements out of the game and just focus on hitting a straight ball."