KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kicker Harrison Butker found himself hanging out in his apartment last Monday evening in Charlotte, N.C. when he heard his phone’s ringtone.
“I was in my apartment and then my agent called and said Kansas City is looking for a kicker,” Butker explained. No way in that moment could he imagine that on week later he would start his NFL career kicking a game-winning field goal.
“I know, it was awesome,” Butker said after booting a 43-yard field to lift the Chiefs to a 29-20 win over Washington. “What a way to start, Monday night football.”
The week turned into a whirlwind for the 22-year-old rookie from Georgia Tech. The Panthers drafted Butker in the seventh round of this year’s draft. He battled veteran kicker Graham Gano all the way through the first week of the season. The Panthers held on to Butker entering the regular season, hoping a team would make a call that they need a fresh, young kicker. When no deal materialized, the Panthers stashed the rookie on their practice squad.
Two weeks later, disaster struck in Kansas City. Veteran kicker Cairo Santos sustained a groin injury during warm-ups last Sunday in Los Angeles. Santos somehow limped through that game, but test results the next revealed the seriousness of the damage.
Every special teams coach has an “in case of emergency” contact list. If a kicker, punter or long snapper goes down with an injury, Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub has a list of whom to call in a pinch.
At the top of his list was Harrison Butker. The phone rang and he headed to the airport, landing in Kansas City last Monday night.
“Then came in on Tuesday, got a couple of reps with James (Winchester) and Dustin (Colquitt),” Butker said. “And then I kicked in practice on Wednesday and Thursday with the team, went well. And then Saturday and Sunday I was off, and then Monday night, just hanging out in the hotel room ready to debut and have my first game.”
Not all of Butker’s new teammates knew him entering Monday night. Tight end Travis Kelce introduced himself before the game.
“Just to make sure that if I said something to him it had a little bit more accountability than just a stranger coming up to him on the street,” Kelce said with a smile after the game.
“I told him my name is Travis,” Kelce explained. He said, ‘Hi.’”
Butker’s start did not bode well. He had an opportunity to tie the game before halftime with his first NFL kick but hooked a 46-yard kick wide left.
“After I missed the first kick I was dwelling on it a little too long but once it goes off of your shoulder, you have to forget about it,” Butker said. “I knew I was going to have another opportunity coming up.”
Indeed he did. Butker connected on a 26-yard field goal with 1 second remaining in the third quarter that tied the game at 17-17. He then booted a 32-yard field goal with 4:51 to play.
Washington answered, however. Dustin Hopkins hit a 40-yard field goal with 47 second remaining to knot the game at 20-20.
“I knew Dustin Hopkins was going to make his kick,” Butker said. “I knew it was going to come down to a field goal. I felt pretty calm. I was excited, I wasn’t nervous, I didn’t have butterflies and I hit the ball well.”
Among those impressed with Butker are his new bosses. Head coach Andy Reid said he had no doubts about sending the rookie out for the game winner.
“I was confident because he was confident,” Reid said. “I talked to him after the first miss, and he goes, ‘I got it, I got it, I was off by a tad,’ He kind of gives you that feeling that everything is okay.”
Toub had the look of a proud father following the game.
“Great job,” Toub said. “Hell of a job. I’m happy for him. It’s going to help his confidence.”
General manager Brett Veach felt as if the drama of the game drained seven years off his life. Yet he also stood proud of the team’s new young kicker.
“All credit to him,” Veach said. “He stepped up. On short notice like that, coming off the plane and being throw on Monday night and having to kick a game-winning field goal. It’s all him and coach Toub.”