Yesterday, Daniel Carlson’s Minnesota Vikings tenure abruptly ended following a terrible Sunday at Lambeau Field, in which the rookie kicker missed three field goals—including a 35-yarder that would’ve won the game. Instead, Packers fans begrudgingly accepted a tie that was brought forth by a mixture of poor officiating and, more directly, the incapable leg of an unproven placekicker the Vikings traded up to draft in the 5th round. Green Bay fans were quick to joke about Carlson’s shortcomings and pile on a young man whose NFL career might be over after just two games, but few seem to recall that roughly 20 years ago, the Packers used an even higher draft pick on a kicker who didn’t even survive the preseason.
In 1997, just months after winning Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers said goodbye to Chris Jacke. They parted ways with the veteran kicker—who was just a four points away from becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer—in favor of a youngster out of Penn State by the name of Brett Conway. With an impressive 276 career points (including a school record 119 extra points) in college, the Packers saw fit to take Conway in the 3rd round of the ’97 Draft. The previous fall, he kicked the game-winner against the Badgers. As the 90th overall pick, Conway wasn’t just the first kicker drafted that year, he was the only kicker drafted. He was taken one pick before eventual All-Pro linebacker and current Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, a round ahead of Derrick Mason, and a full three rounds before Al Harris.
To say the reigning Super Bowl chaps were high on the young kicker would be a huge understatement. They signed the rookie to a three-year contract, complete with a $290,000 signing bonus (worth more than $450,000 today). With sights set on a repeat and a fresh leg now at their disposal, what could possibly go wrong? Conway wasted no time giving Packer Backers and answer to that question. The newly-anointed placekicker missed four straight field goals in Green Bay’s first two preseason games. Prior to the third contest, he was sidelined with a quad injury. Conway’s sudden absence and preceding struggles created an opening for an undrafted rookie kicker from Cal named Ryan Longwell.
Even the most casual Packer fan out there knows what happened next. Longwell won the job and didn’t let go until he signed with the Vikings in 2006. By the time he departed for purpler pastures, Conway’s preseason replacement passed both Jacke and Don Hutson to become the leading scorer in Packers franchise history (by a measure of more than 200 points!). After Longwell left, journeyman kicker Dave Rayner held the job in 2006, before giving way to present-day Packers kicker and current all-time scoring leader, Mason Crosby, the following season.
Meanwhile, Conway was cut, and didn’t kick at all in 1997. In 1998, the third round selection was on Washington’s roster for six games but didn’t kick in any games. He won the job in D.C. in ’99, but missing 10 of 32 field goal attempts (including two within 30 yards) didn’t translate into longevity. After that, he bounce around between Washington, Oakland, the Jets, Washington again, Cleveland, and the Giants in a primarily fill-in capacity until the calls finally stopped coming after the 2003 season. His chaotic and all-around inaccurate kicking career would end with Conway making good on a fairly putrid 75.8 percent of his field goal tries.
Placekicking is a tough and generally thankless job with little-to-no job security. Longevity in the position is almost unheard of, especially in the employ of a single team. As two teams said goodbye to their kickers just a couple games into the 2018 season, Green Bay fans should feel lucky that Crosby, Longwell, and Jacke held their spots as long as they had (and have, in the case of Crosby). Knowing how little job security there is in the position, it’s downright amazing the Packers have only used four regular season kickers since 1989. Yes, Crosby missed what would’ve been his sixth field goal Sunday to give the Pack a win on Sunday, but things could be a lot worse. For a few months in 1997, it was worse…when Wrongway Conway kicked his way out of Green Bay after just two games.