Kicker Ola Kimrin returned to his home town of Malmo, Sweden, Thursday afternoon because he hadn't made an NFL team's active roster after being waived by the Washington Redskins following a promising preseason. But after 30 minutes of settling down at his father's home, Kimrin received a phone call from the Redskins: John Hall had suffered a groin injury at practice, and the Redskins needed a replacement in case their kicker didn't recover in time for Sunday's game.
So Friday morning, Kimrin hopped on a train and took two flights to get to Washington, completing a 20-hour odyssey. After making up for his lack of sleep, Kimrin practiced well on Saturday.
And on Sunday in his NFL regular season debut, Kimrin, 32, looked like a veteran, kicking two field goals to help the Redskins beat the Chicago Bears, 13-10, at Soldier Field. Kimrin also made his only extra-point attempt.
"He bailed us out today, obviously," Coach Joe Gibbs said.
The Bears and Redskins have two of the worst offenses in the league. And it took only the first three series, which all ended in punts, to realize that Kimrin, who stands 6 feet 3 and weighs 230 pounds, would be a key player in the game.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet, but I'll find out tonight when I really can think about it," Kimrin said. "But right now, it feels really good."
Kimrin got his first chance with roughly six minutes left in the first quarter, after the Redskins drove to the Chicago 23-yard line. Kimrin responded with a 41-yard field goal. The kick wasn't that strong, but it was Washington's longest field goal this season and was good enough for a 3-0 Redskins lead. Although it was Kimrin's first kick in an NFL game, he nonchalantly trudged off the field as teammates came over to offer congratulations.
Kimrin's reaction wasn't any different on his second attempt -- a 26-yarder -- which came early in the fourth quarter with Washington clinging to a 10-7 lead. The Redskins drove to the Chicago 7-yard line, setting up Kimrin's second successful kick. It earned him a pat on the helmet from right guard Randy Thomas.
"Some preseason games for a guy trying to break in is just as hard as a real game," said Kimrin, who said that the game will be broadcast on television in Sweden on Monday. "Because you can't miss and you have to prove that you're good enough. I just look at it as one kick at a time, and so far so good."
Kimrin moved to the United States when he was 24 and successfully walked on to the University of Texas-El Paso football team. He played for the Dallas Cowboys in the 2002 and 2003 preseasons before being waived, and spent three of the last four seasons playing in NFL Europe, the first two in Frankfurt and earlier this year in Cologne.
The Redskins gave him a try this preseason. Kimrin displayed his coolness in the Redskins' preseason opener, making a 39-yard field goal with no time left to give Washington a 20-17 victory over Denver. Kimrin finished the preseason making all three field goal opportunities, but he never had a realistic chance to unseat Hall, one of the NFL's better kickers.
"As soon as John is back, it's his job," Kimrin said, "But I hope I showed somebody something today."
After Kimrin was released, he moved to Boston, where he stayed with a family friend hoping that an NFL team would call. Kimrin taught soccer to 9-year-old girls -- "coaching them up," Kimrin said, chuckling -- for spending money. He practiced kicking field goals twice a week on a soccer field by a friend's home.
After Sunday's game, Kimrin was surrounded by a throng of reporters in the jubilant visitors' locker room, and players treated the kicker like he was a longtime teammate. While Kimrin was being interviewed, tight end Walter Rasby emerged from the showers and yelled, "He came straight off the plane kicking that thing!"
Just a few days ago, Kimrin's dream of playing in the NFL seemed over. He left Boston for Sweden on Wednesday, planning to take a job laying computer cables with his father's company. He flew from Boston to Iceland, where he had a five-hour layover, before flying on to Copenhagen and taking a 20-minute train ride home to Malmo.
"We had everybody in the world alerted at the airport, and when he landed we said, 'Get on the next plane and come back,' " Gibbs said.
On Friday morning, Kimrin took the train back to Copenhagen, in time for a 7:15 a.m. flight to Paris. He made it to Washington by 2 p.m. Friday afternoon.
"It was kind of hard to fall asleep after the call," Kimrin said. "And I couldn't sleep on the plane [back to the United States] because it was cramped up."
He slept for 12 hours Friday night after getting to his hotel around 6 p.m.