The potential candidates to become the next Scott Norwood or Adam Vinatieri on Sunday are two of the league's most powerful and colorful place kickers, Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski and Tampa Bay's Martin Gramatica.
Janikowski, at 6 feet 2 and 254 pounds, has six inches and 84 pounds on Gramatica. But Gramatica has five field goals of 50 yards or longer this season, three more than Janikowski.
"He's a great, very strong kicker," Gramatica said. "He can use his leg and get the ball there. I have to use my whole body. I don't have a choice."
Janikowski claims to have his often-troubled life in order and has had a solid season, connecting on 26 of 33 field goal attempts during the regular season and 5 of 6 in the playoffs. He always has been considered among the league's most talented kickers, as demonstrated by the fact that the Raiders used a first-round draft choice on him in 2000. But he has had a string of arrests and other legal problems stemming from incidents related to reported alcohol and drug use, potentially putting the Polish immigrant in danger of deportation.
He said this week, however, that he has stopped drinking and partying. He said he feels better but isn't necessarily concerned about his public image.
"It doesn't bother me," Janikowski said. "People make their own choices and [make up] their own minds. If you want to say I'm a bad guy, okay. It's not people who know me or live with me for a year or two. [They're] going to see what's inside, not what's outside."
Raiders Coach Bill Callahan said: "I think Jano's very confident in terms of his play on the field . . . [and] his maturity this year has really taken another step. . . . I think he finally understands what preparation means. He understands what performance means, not only on the field but off the field as well. I sense some real major strides in his disposition and demeanor and the nuances in what he does to prepare himself. I'm glad about the growth he has shown."
Gramatica's problems have been on a far smaller scale, but his exuberance on the field produced a public feud this season with Carolina Panthers punter Todd Sauerbrun. Gramatica, who was born in Argentina, converted 32 of 39 field goal tries during the season and 3 of 4 in the playoffs.
He said his place-kicking brothers, Bill (of the Arizona Cardinals) and Santiago (who lives with Martin and kicks at the University of South Florida), were scheduled to arrive in town late this week. His mother was scheduled to be here but was planning to watch the game from a hotel room, he said.
No kicker wants to suffer the fate of Norwood, who sent a would-be game-winning kick for the Buffalo Bills wide right in Super Bowl XXV. But Gramatica said he isn't necessarily daydreaming about emulating Vinatieri, who gave the New England Patriots one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history a year ago with a 48-yard field goal as time expired to beat the St. Louis Rams, 20-17.
"I want to win by a lot so I can enjoy the fourth quarter," Gramatica said. "It's terrible what happened to Norwood because that's what people talk about, but he's had a great career. Hopefully it doesn't come down to that. I want to win by a lot."
Raiders starting tackle Sam Adams remembers well being part of Baltimore's Super Bowl-winning defense two years ago under Marvin Lewis, then the Ravens' defensive coordinator.
"There was all the hype build-up, with the national anthem and the jets," Adams said. "When the ball kicked off, it all became football again. When you get hit in the mouth, it has a strange way of bringing back reality."