His memory is a bit hazy, but Sam Koch remembers watching his first Super Bowl in his family's home in Nebraska and being entranced by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. So while sitting down for either Super Bowl XXIII in January 1989 or XXIV the following year, Koch discovered what he wanted to do when he was older.
"I always wanted to play football and my goal was to make it to the NFL," he said. "I didn't know whether it would be as a punter or what. At that point, I really didn't have an idea. I just knew it would be extremely gratifying if I made it there. Being able to go to the Super Bowl is a very gratifying moment, and it's coming true."
Koch's dream became reality when the Ravens defeated the New England Patriots in last Sunday's AFC championship game, propelling the team to a meeting with the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
Much attention has been heaped on inside linebacker Ray Lewis' bid for his second Super Bowl ring. And free safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs have been waiting 10 and nine years, respectively, for their first shot at lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
But after those three, Koch and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata have been waiting the longest. Both players were selected in the 2006 NFL draft (Ngata in the first round round, Koch in the sixth) and have waited patiently for Feb. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
That's what makes getting to this stage all the more satisfying for the 30-year-old Koch.
"Growing up, my lifelong dream was to make it to the Super Bowl," he said. "Well, I guess it was first getting to the NFL. I made it to the NFL and now it's getting to that Super Bowl and hoisting that Lombardi. We fell short so many times. We've been in the playoffs six out of my seven years here, and we've been striving and working diligently to get where we are today, and it's very rewarding that we're going to be going down to New Orleans and have a chance at hoisting that Lombardi."
With the Ravens, Koch has experienced the highs and lows. In his rookie campaign, the team set a regular-season record for wins with 13 and earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. In 2008 and 2011, the organization advanced to the AFC title contest.
But the Ravens were met by disappointment. In 2006, the team was upended by the Indianapolis Colts, who eventually captured Super Bowl XLI. In 2008 and 2011, the team fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Patriots.
Koch has shared the bittersweet memories of those games with long snapper Morgan Cox, his closest friend on the team.
"He's talked about it before," Cox said. "You're in this league for X amount of years, and only a select number of people get here. To be as close as we were last year and then be able to go [this year] is a pretty unique experience."
Koch has done his part to help the Ravens get this far in the postseason. He finished the regular season with a career-high and franchise-record 47.1-yard average and a career-best 40.8-yard net average. In three playoff games, he is averaging 45.9 yards per punt and netting 36.1 yards per kick.
Just a few days prior to the team's first postseason victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 6, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg praised Koch's ability to improve his game in his seventh season.
"Sam has continued to improve every year I've been here," Rosburg said. "And I know it gets redundant when I say that, and I'm often asked at the start of the season, 'What has Sam been working on?' And Sam has continued to work on being a better punter every year, and he's shown that he's done that again."
Koch is aware of his numbers, which would seem to validate the organization's decision to sign him to a five-year, $12.5 million contract in February 2011. But he hesitated when asked if he was enjoying his most productive season as a pro.
"As far as numbers, it shows that I've had a good season. But I feel like there's just so much that I've left out on the field," he said. "I have a lot more to prove. It's something that I'm going to continue to work at and become better, become more consistent, be able to produce in certain situations and just be able to perfect the craft that I'm trying to perfect. As far as my greatest season, I feel like I have a lot more to improve."
Koch spent the early part of the week making arrangements for more than a dozen family members to join him in New Orleans. But he said he was eager to return to work.
"I don't want to hype it up anymore than it has to be," he said. "It is the Super Bowl, and it is very hyped. But it's just another game to us, and it's a game that we want to go out there and win."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun