Alive and kicking

The nine formative years of Steve Christie's career were spent in Buffalo where only biting cold surpasses swirling wind. He kicked in two Super Bowls for the Bills and holds the record for the longest field goal in the game's history, a 54-yarder against the Cowboys in the first quarter of Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta. <BR><BR>

If unfavorable elements or pressure situations influenced his performance the NFL likely would have figured it out by now.

For that reason, Christie, in his 15th season, wasn't interested in accepting convenient excuses for his performance Oct. 3 in Green Bay. He missed all three field goals (49, 30 and 33), the last two into a breeze that had the goalposts at Lambeau Field leaning and swaying.

"The wind was strong, but I still expect to make those kicks," Christie said. "I need to be able to deliver when the team needs me."

The Giants survived his poor aim to beat the Packers, although converting either of his final two in the fourth quarter would have provided a comfortable margin. As it turns out, the victory was largely responsible for Christie getting the chance to redeem himself in Dallas Oct. 10 because it put the boss in an unexpectedly jolly mood.

"As disappointed as I was after the Green Bay game, I realized that we had won," Tom Coughlin said. "That gave me a different perspective. Coming off a big win on the road put it in a different light for me. Steve's a veteran kicker who has been through all this before. Based on all that, I felt like he ought to have another opportunity. Earlier in my coaching career, it probably would have depended on what the situation was."

On the plane back from Green Bay, Christie sat next to Kurt Warner, a guy with first-hand knowledge of how breaks and perceptions can sometimes knock you off-balance.

"I could tell he was very disappointed," Warner said. "But I just continued to try and harp on him, ‘Hey, we're going to need you and you're going to come back and be big for us.' "

When the Bills were as good as you could get in the AFC, Christie was accustomed to the sympathetic approach of Marv Levy and special teams coach Bruce DeHaven, guys with championships pressure on their shoulders every season.

"I had times like this when I was there," Christie said. "And they gave me the opportunity to work things out."

Given a similar chance by Coughlin, Christie went to work. And produced big results, resulting in his capturing NFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

Christie made all four field goal attempts – 31, 51, 47 and 26 – to help the Giants defeat the Cowboys Oct. 10 and enter the bye week 4-1. The Giants hadn't started that strong since 1993 when Dan Reeves' first team won five of its first six and made the playoffs.

"We worked hard to get better, more comfortable," Christie said. "I just had to work hard and fight through it and I was just fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do it. Everything was an emphasis. We put a lot of good work in to prepare to be confident."

During his career, converting from 30 to 39 yards hadn't been a particular problem. He made 8 of 9 from the distance with the Chargers during the previous two seasons and had been 106 of 134 in his career.

"I wouldn't call it a slump," Christie said. "We're human and things happen. You keep working on consistency, that's all you can do."

Coughlin obviously sensed this because he's been steadfast in his support.

"We are encouraging Steve," Coughlin said. "He's been there before in circumstances like this. I don't think there's a guy in the league, a veteran kicker, who has not been in this situation. We're encouraging him to go ahead and to put the past behind him. We will work extra long and hard in practice to correct what went wrong and hopefully we will."

Coughlin was right. But Christie wouldn't have been surprised had Coughlin released him before he had his chance to atone.

"We talked and I told him the longer you're around the more situations you face," Christie said. "It's happened to me before. I've worked through it. That's what I do. I don't get too high or too low. Again, I've been through this many times.

"It's good that he's showing patience with me. I've been through this before in different situations with different teams and different coaches. I just have to work through it. I can't control what they ultimately decide to do, my responsibility is to go out and sort out what's going on and work hard to correct what needs to be corrected."

As Coughlin knows, the Giants have already had tumultuous time with kickers this season.

They cut Matt Bryant, recently released after a very short stint with the Colts, before training camp began because of a persistent hamstring injury. They released Bill Gramatica Aug. 31, who was signed to compete with Bryant, after he struggled to recover from a back injury.

And then kicker Todd France was released five days before the opener against the Eagles, two days after Coughlin told him he'd made the team. The reason France was cut was Christie, who had been released Sept. 3 by the Jaguars.

Christie was 9 of 14 this season, with three misses from 47 yards or longer. He began the season with a 53-yarder in Philadelphia, the team's first field goal from 50 since 2001 and longest since Brad Daluiso's 54-yarder in 1993. He attributed his brief tremor to the lack of work he's had with snapper Ryan Kuehl and holder Jeff Feagles.

"I feel great for him," Feagles said. "He wouldn't be around this long if he couldn't bounce back from adversity."

Christie concurred in the low-key style that's characterized his chat time with the media since he arrived.

"(That) wasn't my greatest hour," Christie said. "But I had to prepare as if they weren't going to [cut him] and come back and do my job.

"We worked on our rhythm and timing and to make sure I hit the ball solid. It's all about concentration on a smooth follow-through and solid contact. And the only way you can fix that is with time and repetitions, something that we didn't have in training camp because I wasn't here.

"But I understand this is a business and like I've said, I've seen a lot of things happen in my years. Nothing would surprise me. All I can do is worry about me and what I can do better. I can't worry about things I can't control."

Fortunately the man in charge of Christie's fate had all the confidence in the world in him. If not, the Giants might not have entered the bye on such a high.


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