It took a few years for him to find himself, but former Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka, the young man who faced the daunting task of filling the cleats of Baltimore legend Matt Stover, is going to the Super Bowl.
Hauschka, who was the leading scorer for the Seattle Seahawks during the regular season, kicked three field goals, including a key 47-yarder late in the fourth quarter, to help the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17, and advance to the Super Bowl, where they will play the Denver Broncos in two weeks.
Hauschka was one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers this season, making 94.3 percent of his field-goal attempts, second to only Denver's Matt Prater and a couple of percentage points higher than Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. But during his time with the Ravens, Hauschka was trying to find his footing in the league.
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Hauschka, a converted soccer player who kicked at Middlebury College in Vermont before going to North Carolina State for grad school, was claimed by the Ravens off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings after the 2008 preseason. He handled kickoff duties and subbed in for Stover on a pair of long field-goal attempts that year.
Before the 2009 season, the Ravens made the controversial decision to not re-sign Stover. Instead, they pitted Hauschka against undrafted rookie Graham Gano, who has settled as the kicker for the Carolina Panthers, during training camp.
Neither youngster was particularly impressive out at Westminster, though, as both Hauschka and Gano sprayed kicks all over the place during their camp competition. Hauschka missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt in the third preseason game, but he went six-for-seven overall during the preseason to win the job -- maybe by default -- over Gano.
“With a kicker, you really don't know until you see them in the most meaningful kick situation -- a game-winner,” second-year coach John Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun before training camp. “You're never going to have confidence in any young kicker until he does it a few times.”
Hauschka was finally called on to attempt a game-winner in Week 6, but he infamously booted the opportunity wide left as time expired in a thrilling 33-31 loss to the Vikings.
A few weeks later, Hauschka missed a 36-yard field goal -- it was his fourth miss on 13 attempts that season -- and had an extra point blocked. Then the Ravens released him.
"I appreciate the opportunity that they gave me here,” Hauschka told The Baltimore Sun after he was cut. “I wish I had done better with a couple of the kicks there. But I don't have any regrets. I'm just going to keep playing and working hard, and I think I'll be on a team sooner or later."
Hauschka bounced around the league, trying out for a few teams, competing in camp competitions and kicking briefly for the Broncos in 2010. He even had a stint with the Las Vegas Locomotives in the now-defunct United Football League. Hauschka, who is now 28, landed in Seattle before the 2011 season and has been their kicker ever since.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have a young Pro Bowl kicker in Tucker, who in 2012 supplanted Cundiff, the kicker the team brought in to replace Hauschka back in November of 2009.
So things have obviously worked out for both parties.