Shortly after Jon Teague returned to his dorm room at the Naval Academy late last Saturday afternoon, the downcast senior placekicker received a text message from one of predecessors inviting him out to dinner.
Teague had missed a field goal and had an extra point blocked in overtime of a 35-34 loss to Air Force earlier in the day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and Matt Harmon knew exactly what his former teammate was going through.
Though Harmon had helped beat Air Force by tying a school record with four field goals in a 33-27 win over the Falcons in Colorado Springs as a senior in 2008, he had an extra point blocked against Tulsa in overtime as a sophomore and had what could have been a game-winning field goal blocked late in the fourth quarter against Ball State of a game the Midshipmen lost in overtime when Harmon was a junior.
"I told him that I had been there before — twice," Harmon said. "You try to lift his spirits, and I told him that if he didn't make that field goal at the end of the first quarter or make that onside kick [leading to a touchdown and with 19 seconds left in regulation and a game-tying 2-point conversion], Navy would not have had a chance to win. I don't think you should pin it all on Jon's shoulders."
Teague heard pretty much the same thing from another former Navy kicker, Joe Buckley, who joined them for dinner at a local restaurant. A year ago, Buckley had missed an early field goal against Air Force that set the tone offensively for the Midshipmen in a 14-6 loss, the first for Navy against a service academy team since 2002.
"Them coming to dinner with me, it really helped out a lot after a game like that," Teague said after practice Monday in Annapolis.
It wasn't the first time this season that Teague had heard from a former Navy kicker. After making a school-record 54-yarder in the season opener against Delaware, Teague got an email from Todd Solomon, whose record 52-yarder in 1984 Teague had broken. Solomon, now a commercial airline pilot, had watched the game on the internet in his hotel room in Germany and contacted Teague.
A senior from Hickory, N.C., who had been doing kickoffs since his freshman year and inherited the placekicking job after Buckley was injured last season, Teague said he handled both the record boot as well as what happened Saturday — which also included him missing a 26-yard attempt in the second quarter as well as making successful kicks of 25 and 37 yards — the same way.
"Over the summer, all the positions gave a speech on a theme that they held really close to them, and what I talked about was the short-term memory," Teague said. "That usually deals with something bad that happens to you, you want to forget about it and move on fresh to the next play. My feeling was that if you do something really bad or something really good, you've got to forget about it.You can let it fuel your energy, but you can't let it distract you from your focus."
Teague and the Midshipmen are now trying to move past Saturday's loss to their most heated rival, a defeat that will likely cost Navy (2-2) a realistic shot at bringing back the Commander in Chief's trophy to Bancroft Hall. The Midshipmen continue their season this Saturday at home against Southern Mississippi (4-1).
Harmon said that Teague was down as they and their respective families, along with Buckley, ate Mexican food Saturday night. But Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and special teams coach Steve Johns said Teague seemed his normal self by the time he returned to practice Monday.
"I've got great faith in the kid," Niumatalolo said of Teague, who has made 34 of 38 extra points and 7 of 10 field goal attempts. "He's done a lot for our program. He had a heck of an onside kick. We're not even in that situation if he doesn't make a perfrect onside kick. He's a resilient kid. He'll bounce back like the rest of the guys on this team. He'll be fine."
Said Johns: "There were a lot of opportunities to win that game. It didn't come down to that."
As it was, Teague's extra point was from 35 yards, not the typical 20, because Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor had been called for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring the go-ahead touchdown in overtime. The referee told a pool reporter after the game that the back judge said that Proctor had "gotten in the face" of two Air Force players celebrating the touchdown.
Teague, who had made his first 22 extra points in his career before having one blocked against Delaware this year, said the penalty and the confusion that erupted put him a little out of sync.
"I tried to keep my focus the whole time, but I didn't know it was a 15-yard penalty until the ref started backing the ball up," Teague recalled. "I said, 'What's he doing? Crap.' But for me, every kick is the same. I approach a point like the 54-yarder I hit. I didn't want it to get blocked. I wanted to get the ball up. Once I hit the ball, I knew it had a chance, but I knew I didn't kick it as high and they just got a hand on it."
After Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson scored and the Falcons were successful on their extra point, Teague and his teammates trudged to their lockerroom. Over the ensuing 24 hours, Teague said he got a lot of support from his parents and older brother, Adam, a 2009 academy graduate and a former Navy basketball player.
"It was pretty tough. I looked at the good things I did, I look at the bad things that happened in the game, [and] you've just got to get past it," Teague said. "Colonel [John] Kennedy [the officer representative to the team] came up to me and told me, 'You can't let Air Force beat you the next nine games either.' You can't dread on one kick. You've just got to move on to the next one, the next game."
What has also helped Teague move away from the disappointment of Saturday's game is his longtime hobby — painting. One of the ironies is that among the paintings he has been working on, one is of the Commander in Chief's trophy, with three Navy players holding it.
"I haven't finished it just yet. I will finish it soon," he said. "I'll give it to the team next year."