Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us and Minneapolis will play host as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles battle for a “world championship” at US Bank Stadium. A lot of fans’ attention will be focused on matchups like Tom Brady vs. Nick Foles and Bill Belichick vs. sleeves. But the really interesting matchup, especially from a soccer perspective, will be between the two kickers: Patriots veteran Stephen Gostkowski and Eagles rookie Jake Elliot.
Even though they throw on a helmet every Sunday for a living, both players actually honed their skills as soccer players early in their athletic careers. The beautiful game built a technical foundation for them to become sensational kickers and one of them will be a champion very soon. Get to know the two men behind the legs ahead of Sunday’s game.
Stephen Gostkowski: New England Patriots
NFL Seasons: 12 College: Memphis
Longest FG: 62 yards (2017, T-6 in NFL history)
Gostkowski has been kicking for the Pats his entire career, helping them to two Super Bowls in the past three seasons. He developed his kicking skills during an extensive soccer career in his early years. With soccer being a winter sport in his home state of Mississippi, Gostkowski was able to kick for the football team in the fall and take the pitch in the winter. He was a varsity letter-winner all four years in both sports.
Gostkowski was drafted by the Patriots in 2006 and quickly became one of the top kickers in the league. Gostkowski was the first player to ever score 1000 points in his first eight seasons in the league, and went nine seasons without missing an extra point. According to Pro Football Reference, he is the third most accurate kicker in league history. He made his career long sixth 62-yard field goal earlier this year against the Oakland Raiders in a game played at Azteca in Mexico City as part of the league’s international series — a fitting venue for a former soccer player.
As a kicker, he’s always under a lot of pressure to succeed — failure is very obvious in his line of work. Maybe this is why Gostkowski has always had a soft spot for the beautiful game. In a 2017 Sports Illustrated article, he said, “Soccer was probably the most fun game I’ve played because I never walked away feeling like I had a bad game. If you play a position in soccer where you can out-hustle or out-work or out-prepare somebody, it is a lot easier to walk away from the game and say, I gave it my all. I could always try. I could always hustle.”
Jake Elliot: Philadelphia Eagles
NFL Seasons: 1 College: Memphis
Longest FG: 61 yards (2017, T-9 in NFL history)
Elliot has been one of the feel-good stories of the year in the NFL. The rookie sensation has booted the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance in 24 years with several clutch field goals throughout the season.
But it almost didn’t happen. Elliot was an excellent soccer and tennis player growing up and didn’t take up football until his junior year of high school. A coach on the team encouraged him to join after he saw Elliot win a field-goal kicking contest at homecoming the previous year.
Elliot went on to kick for Memphis where he broke several school records, including longest field goal which was previously held by Gostkowski. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, but was put on the practice squad. He was signed by the Eagles after an injury to their starter in Week 1.
He became a hero in Philadelphia just two weeks later. The Eagles were tied 24-24 with hated rivals the New York Giants after falling behind earlier in fourth quarter. With one second left on the clock, Elliot smashed a 61-yard kick just inside the uprights to win the game. His teammates carried him off the field on their shoulders, and he (probably) hasn’t had to pay for a cheesesteak since.