As rookie kicker Harrison Butker languished on the Carolina Panthers practice squad only a week before, the call from the Chiefs to his agent to him in his apartment seemingly came out of nowhere.
Butker hadn’t known Kansas City’s regular kicker, Cairo Santos, had been injured. He had no sense the Chiefs had him on their radar.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t exactly like he was ingrained in this team after just a few days entering their “Monday Night Football” game against Washington at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Yeah, No. 7, I had to go introduce myself to him before the game,” tight end Travis Kelce said afterward. “Just to make sure that if I said something to him it would have a little more accountability than just a stranger coming up to him.”
Quite a preamble to all eyes being on Butker as he stared at the potential game-winning kick in the final seconds with the teams tied 20-20.
Virtually as soon as he struck it, though, Butker knew he’d hit the sweet spot.
And holder Dustin Colquitt could tell just from how it sounded and where Butker’s leg planted that he had won the game with the 43-yarder with 4 seconds left – the true game-winning score in the 29-20 victory, even though Justin Houston added a defensive touchdown with a fumble return on Washington’s desperation last play.
“It was awesome,” Butker said. “What a way to start: ‘Monday Night Football.’ “
So Butker and Colquitt got the important part right … even as their disjointed response reminded just how briefly they’d worked together.
“We didn’t even have a celebration ready; it was kind of embarrassing,” Colquitt said. “I was pointing at him, like, ‘What do we do? We don’t have anything to do.’ “
Long-snapper James Winchester filled the void by nearly tackling Butker before having to try to “hold him up a little bit.”
The awkward snapshot, though, was further testament to just how fast so much had happened in the span of a week for Butker, a tuba and soccer player who didn’t start playing football until he was a sophomore in high school in Atlanta … after another tuba-playing kicker recommended him to the football coaches because of his strong leg.
“I just wanted to be part of something,” said Butker, who went on to play at Georgia Tech and be drafted by the Panthers. “I played soccer, so I could kick a ball. I thought that’d be an easy position to do.”
Even so, the industrial engineering major makes for a bit of an improbable story.
And there wasn’t much that seemed easy about this week.
Especially the way things started on Monday.
Earlier, Butker missed his first NFL attempt, from 46 yards out, before stabilizing himself and hitting from 26 and 32 entering the one to win it.
As if that weren’t enough weight on his mind, the winds were intermittently swirling at Arrowhead.
“A lot of people can get tricked in here,” Colquitt said. “It’s not always windy, but when it’s a gusty game and you’ve got heavy wind and then nothing. And then heavy wind, and then nothing.
“You’ve kind of got to do it on the fly.”
It helped that Butker seems to have the right mentality for the gig.
“As a kicker, you don’t want to get excited,” Butker said. “If the crowd is going crazy for a big kick, your adrenaline’s pumping and you’ve just got to calm yourself down.”
Noting that he was literally going through the motions before the kick, he added, “I do that just to kind of forget about the atmosphere, and just focus on the process of what I can do. If I can do that rhythm, swing my leg, feel good about that, then put a ball there and it should go through. It kind of relaxes me.”
It also helped that even if these were his first official kicks in the NFL and at Arrowhead, special-teams coordinator Dave Toub had sent Butker, Colquitt and Winchester from their nearby practice facility to Arrowhead on Thursday so Butker could get acquainted.
Then there was the presence of Colquitt, who said he’d known Butker five days … only for Bukter to say he’d known him for a couple of years through Kohl’s Kicking Camps.
“I’m so much older than him,” Colquitt, 35, said with a laugh. “I’m sure he’s been a camper at some camps where I’ve been and kind of helped out and stuff.”
Whatever the case, Colquitt had some clout with Butker, who was grateful for his encouragement after his first-half miss.
“At halftime he came up to me and he probably sensed I was a little down. He said, ‘Harrison, you’re an amazing kicker,’ ” Butker said.
It all coalesced on the final kick, which Butker actually delivered twice considering the practice shot he got off when Washington tried to ice him with a time out.
As it happened, he also benefited from his earlier miss by getting a better feel for the wind, helping him fix his aim on right-middle when it counted.
“Some of your failures end up making you better,” Colquitt said, laughing. “I know that. I know that from experience.”
Or as Butker put it, “I think everything happens for a reason.”
No wonder he feels that way after a whirlwind week … and turning a night that started inauspiciously into one he’ll never forget.