He scored more points, kicked more field goals and converted points after touchdowns than anyone in franchise history and today, Ryan Longwell strolled around Lambeau Field one last time as a Green Bay Packer. Longwell signed a one day contract so he could retire in the Green and Gold. He met the media today at the stadium auditorium with his wife Sara and two children along for the occassion.
Longwell joined the Packers as a free agent in 1997 after getting cut by the San Francisco 49ers late in training camp. Coming off the Super Bowl XXI Championship, the Packers parted ways with Chris Jacke but drafted Brett Conway out of Penn State in the third round. Conway got hurt in camp and Longwell won the job. He held the job for nine more seasons and 1054 points. He was the most accurate placekicker as well. After the 2005 season, Longwell had a feeling his days in Titletown were numbered as the team didn't reach out to him about a contract extension. He considered Tampa Bay and Minnesota and obviously rubbed some Packer fans the wrong way when he decided on the Vikings and played in the Metrodome through the 2011 season. Longwell was let go and stayed by the phone and hooked up with Seattle for the 2012 playoffs. A native of Bend, Oregon, Ryan grew up a Seahawks fan, his father taking him to the Kingdome often and he dreamed of kicking there one day. His final kicks came just down the street in Seattle's new stadium but it was then, Longwell knew his career had arrived at the perfect ending. At his 25 minute session with reporters, Ryan talked about his favorite Green Bay memories.
You can understand why Longwell wanted this day, his career began and blossomed here, both his kids were born in Green Bay and his longest lasting professional friendships were struck inside Lambeau. Longwell said he also appreciates what the "Packer Family" is all about. It extends way beyond the locker room and front office to the entire fan base. That's why it felt odd to cross the state's western border to play for the Pack's rival, that's why an off the cuff remark about dining at Applebee's grew legs and became a never ending sore spot with fans. But time heals all wounds and Longwell said he spoke with Brett Favre this morning about his retirement ceremony, much more composes than number 4's original, tearful goodbye. Favre was happy for Longwell and Ryan got the feeling that the cold war between Favre and the organization continues to thaw and when the time is right, Brett will have this same kind of moment, albeit on a much grander scale. Longwell said kicking in Lambeau was always a challenge prior to and after the original renovations but he marveled at how the winds might swirl now with the imposing upper deck on the south end. His kicking routine throughout his career never wavered, his mental approach is what kept him consistent. After making his first career attempt, that 38 yarder against Chicago, he endured one of his most agonizing misses in his second career game. He booted three against the Philadelphia Eagles but the Packers still trailed late 10-9. Favre drove the team in position for a chip shot game winner, from 28 yards but just as Longwell trotted onto the field, it began to rain at old Veteran's Stadium and the ancient Astro-Turf got slick enough for Ryan to miss and the team lost. Longwell said from that moment on, he knew he had to rely on his mechanics and hone his mind to survive after dealing with the media for an hour after the game. He hopes his friend Mason Crosby heeds that advice and continues his career, even at the expense of a fellow California Golden Bear in Giorgio Tavecchio. On a personal level, I enjoyed chatting with Ryan, not so much about how to put a football between the uprights, but about things like the game of golf, or raising kids. Some of our best conversations were actually on the Metrodome floor before Green Bay-Minnesota games when Longwell was considered the enemy. He was right in the middle of the Favre saga from his Green Bay divorce to Minnesota ressurection and circus. Good natured ribbing and laughter was a given. He made a good chunk of money, plenty of field goals and had a nice NFL career. If I don't make it down to his Orlando, Florida home for a round on the links, the next time I'll see him will be when he's inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.