Todd Braverman probably is the only person who has reason to be thankful that Virginia will open the 1999 season with road games against North Carolina on Sept. 4 and Clemson on Sept. 11. For the Cavaliers' junior place kicker, Kenan Stadium and Death Valley might be friendlier than Scott Stadium.
He's no longer receiving letters about his 48-yard field goal try that went wide right in the final seconds of last season's Peach Bowl, giving Georgia a 35-33 victory and depriving the Cavaliers of their first 10-win season since 1989. The home fans will have had almost eight months to recover by the time Virginia plays Wake Forest here Sept. 18.
But as Braverman said recently: "People are always going to write about it and talk about it, and that's fine. It made me stronger this year. Instead of taking that one day off, I'm going out there. I'm always going to think about it."
Braverman spent the summer working out at least four days a week, running and conditioning. He has kicked every day, preparing for a fall in which he will be expected to produce immediately or suffer the renewed wrath of the fans -- and potentially lose his starting position.
Braverman closed a strong spring practice period by making both field goal tries in the spring game, from 23 and 40 yards. But the competition remains fierce from sophomore David Greene, who is Braverman's housemate and also the player who who handled kickoffs last season and nearly beat out Braverman for the place-kicking job before the season. At the team's media day last week, Coach George Welsh gave Braverman a vote of confidence -- sort of.
"Braverman doesn't have to win the job, but I'm going to give Greene enough opportunity under pressure to see if he's any better," Welsh said. "They've been so close for the past year, including last fall and spring practice."
The miss at the end of the Peach Bowl wasn't the first critical kick Braverman missed during that game, or during the season. He played reasonably well for most of the year, making seven straight field goals and 38 consecutive extra points after missing one of each in the season opener against Auburn. His last-minute, 30-yard field goal gave the Cavaliers a 20-18 victory over Clemson on Sept. 19.
But the next field goal try that Braverman missed is another one Virginia fans remember. It came against Georgia Tech on Oct. 17, after the Cavaliers -- then 5-0 and ranked seventh in the nation -- had squandered a 21-point, third-quarter lead and fallen behind 41-38.
Following an intentional grounding call against quarterback Aaron Brooks that cost the Cavaliers 12 yards with 34 seconds left, Braverman trotted out facing a 54-yard attempt. The ball sailed just under the crossbar.
After making a meaningless 37-yard field goal against Wake Forest two weeks later, Braverman went into a tailspin that lasted until New Year's Eve in Atlanta. He made just three of his final 10 attempts, missing two field goal tries and an extra point in the Peach Bowl.
Virginia recovered an onside kick with 90 seconds left in that game, rejuvenating hopes for a dramatic victory. But after driving to Georgia's 27, the Cavaliers lost four yards on two handoffs to tailback Thomas Jones, setting up the 48-yard field goal attempt with 19 seconds left. The kick initially appeared on target but drifted wide as it sailed over the end zone.
"If anybody would ask me if I want two game-winning kicks and a game-tying kick again [this season], I'd definitely say yes," Braverman said. "As a kicker, that's what you work for. You don't go out there just to hit a 42-yarder in a 38-0 game. You go for the pressure situations."
And Braverman, more than anyone, knows those are the only times he can prove the job belongs to him.
Asked when he thinks fans and reporters will stop talking about the Peach Bowl, Braverman replied: "When I make a few kicks in pressure situations, which I plan on doing."