Both coaches in the Super Bowl, brothers Jim and John Harbaugh, have taken their share of risks going into the big game Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
John, coach of the Ravens, took the first one when he settled on an undrafted rookie kicker in Justin Tucker over veteran Billy Cundiff.
It seems like a no-brainer now. Tucker, 23, has made 30 of 33 field goals in the regular season (91%), with a long of 56 yards. He hasn't missed beyond 50 yards. In frigid temperatures at Mile High Stadium in a divisional playoff game, Tucker drilled a 47-yarder in double-overtime for a 38-35 upset of the Denver Broncos.
“We trust what we know,” said Tucker, referring to his rapport with long-snapper Morgan Cox and holder Sam Koch.
On the other side is David Akers, 38, who is having a miserable season with the 49ers. He has made just 29 of 42 attempts (69%) in the regular season. Last week, he shanked a 38-yarder with his team trailing 24-21 in the NFC title game vs. the Atlanta Falcons Fortunately for him, they were able to pull out the victory.
The 49ers briefly signed Cundiff, who was cut by the Washington Redskins earlier in the season, before releasing him a week ago.
The moment has yet to prove to be too big for Tucker, who routinely kicked in front of bigger crowds when he played college at Texas. He is unique not only because of his leg strength, but his accuracy doesn't suffer because of distance.
“It’s crazy how much can happen in just a year,” Tucker said.
In Week 3, he hit a 27-yard field goal as the Ravens came from a 9-point deficit to knock off the New England Patriots 31-30 as time expired.
In Week 12, Tucker’s field goal from 38 yards sent a game with the San Diego Chargers into overtime. He hit another one from the same distance to win it on the road.
“I've been fortunate that the three misses that I've had have not had any significant bearing on the outcome of the game or the season,” Tucker said. “I've been able to learn from my failures.”
All three misses have come outdoors, at Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. In the Super Bowl, he’ll be in the cozy, climate-controlled Superdome. Tucker only kicked indoors once, at Houston when he went 2-for-2.
“The stadium is going to be a lot warmer. Won’t have to deal with a whole lot of wind unless the A/C kicks on just real hard,” Tucker said. “To be able to take the elements out of it for what Morgan and Sam and I do is really nice.”