Former Navy FB Eric Kettani left a lasting image with Patriots owner
Before befriending Billy Cundiff, Kettani painted a scene from last year's AFC title game and gave it to Robert Kraft
Eric Kettani's work of art "Wide Left" depicts the final play of last year's AFC championship when Billy Cundiff's missed field goal attempt sent the Ravens home and the Patriots to the Super Bowl. ("Wide Left" photo courtesy of Eric Kettani. Headshot by US Presswire.)
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The artist who created the colorful 4-foot-by-4-foot painting laughs at some of the irony of what transpired since he gave it to Kraft last summer. A little more than a month after Eric Kettani, then trying to win a spot on the team, presented Kraft with the painting at a ceremony during training camp, the former Navy fullback and budding artist was cut.
After being brought back a few days later, Kettani was cut again the following week and joined the practice squad of the Washington Redskins for the 2012 season. While rooming with Nick Sundberg, the team's long snapper, near the practice facility in Ashburn, Va., Kettani became friends with Cundiff, then trying to resurrect his career after getting cut himself by the Ravens.
Kettani said he never mentioned the painting to Cundiff, though Sundberg was aware of it and constantly kidded Kettani about it. Kettani isn't sure whether Cundiff, who was eventually cut by the Redskins early in the season, knew of the painting's existence.
"We did not actually talk about it," Kettani said Monday by cell phone from Jacksonville Beach, Fla., where he has lived since being on active duty in the Navy and where he painted "Wide Left."
"I felt really horrible about it once I got to know him and his family. But the painting wasn't really about him, it was about the AFC championship game experience for the Patriots."
Now a year later, as the Ravens and Patriots prepare for another not-so-friendly reunion Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Kettani is being reminded of what remains his most notable piece of art.
Shortly after Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker made a game-winning, 47-yard field goal Saturday in Denver to beat the Broncos in double-overtime, Kettani started receiving text messages about "Wide Left."
"One of them said, 'I bet your painting gets some media attention'," Kettani said with a laugh.
Kettani, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 2008, had been with the Patriots for the first seven weeks of the 2011 season before being ordered by the Navy to return to active duty in Mayport, Fla. He finally got a chance to renew his NFL career without interruption after working out an agreement last summer to forego his last two years of fulltime service in the Navy by agreeing to spend seven years in the reserves as a recruiter and speaker.
Kettani, who had taken some art classes back in high school in Ohio, said he "had dabbled in it" while at Navy, but had started painting regularly when he and professional painter Adam Brett found themselves living together for two weeks at the at the Jacksonville Beach home of a mutual friend.
The 40-year-old Brett said he painted every day from sunrise until late at night and after a few days of Kettani watching him, he invited his fellow houseguest to join him.
"The next thing I knew, we were both out there, religiously. He had more passion than I ever thought anybody could ever have right off the bat," Brett said. "He had the same work ethic that he probably demonstrated when he was at Navy. He applied that same work ethic to his craft, trying to get better."
Brett said Kettani is something of a natural.
"I told him that what basically takes people years to develop he was doing it in a week or two weeks," Brett said. "It was in him, it was just a matter of him having a forum and somebody pushing him along. He started learning from me, but after a while, I was learning from him as well."
Brett's influence as an abstract expressionist artist can be found in the 50 pieces Kettani has produced or has been commissioned to paint, with part of the proceeds going to the Wounded Warriors Project. Kettani is grateful for meeting Brett.
"He's an amazing artist, he really taught me a lot of what I know," said Kettani, who recently sold a piece called "A Decade of Dominance," as well as several prints, depicting Navy's now 11-year winning streak over Army. "People say it's therapeutic, and it really is. It's relaxing. You're creating something that wasn't there before."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo had no idea that his former bruising fullback was a painter, but he isn't surprised. An economics major, Kettani was a hard-nosed player with a quick wit, suggesting after the Midshipmen beat Army his senior year that the Black Knights' camouflage game uniforms didn't work that well.
"He's a talented kid. He was a well-rounded kid," Niumatalolo said. "There are a lot of different planes to him."