Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Titans kicker apologizes for 'joke'

The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Joe Nedney will stick to kicking instead of comedy. The Tennessee Titans kicker has been apologizing for his attempt at humor when he said he might take up acting after drawing a penalty that let him atone for a miss with a game-winning field goal Saturday against Pittsburgh.

"I've been trying to extinguish fires all day," Nedney said Monday.

"I know there's a lot of people in Pittsburgh right now who are flaming mad and people around the nation that are flaming mad, and I'm sure the comment I made afterward left a really bad taste in everybody's mouth. I sincerely apologize for doing that, but it was only meant as a joke."

Nedney went home feeling like a hero Saturday night after his kick in overtime gave the Titans a 34-31 victory over the Steelers and a berth in the AFC championship.

When he woke up Sunday morning, he learned about the firestorm he unintentionally created.

So he has been apologizing ever since.

"I didn't mean to come off sounding cocky or put it in anybody's face," he said of his postgame comment.

Now he wants to focus on his chance for payback against Oakland with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. He played three games for the Raiders in 1999, then was used briefly as an insurance policy for Sebastian Janikowski before being released in 2000.

This was not how Nedney imagined his first playoff appearance would play out. A seven-year veteran with his eighth team, Nedney dreamed about kicking game-winning field goals but without the controversy at the end.

Nedney missed a 48-yarder into a breeze at the end of regulation that would have given Tennessee the victory.

Titans quarterback Steve McNair drove his team 61 yards to open the overtime and gave Nedney something kickers rarely, if ever get - a second chance.

Pittsburgh set off the surreal finish by calling a timeout an instant before Aaron Graham snapped the ball. Nedney kicked a 31-yard field goal through the uprights, and fireworks went off as officials announced it didn't count because the Steelers were granted the timeout.

Nedney just laughed and lined up again.

This time, he hooked it right. Pittsburgh cornerback Dewayne Washington, who had swung wide of Titans tight end Erron Kinney, ran into Nedney's left leg, spun him around and Nedney fell to the ground.

It's not easy to knock down the 6-foot 5, 225-pound Nedney.

He is one of NFL's two tallest kickers, along with Mike Vanderjagt of Indianapolis. He also was a receiver at Santa Teresa High in San Jose, Calif., until he punctured a lung in practice, forcing him to try kicking to avoid contact. This season, he had seven tackles on special teams and one against Pittsburgh.

"I pride myself on not being a small, frail, unathletic kicker," Nedney said. "He got me down. I went down, and I got another chance. That's it."

With Washington penalized for running into Nedney, the kicker got a third straight chance, this time from 26 yards. Pittsburgh tried to ice him again, but officials told the Steelers they had no timeouts left despite the scoreboard showing two remaining.

Nedney, who hit 25 of 31 field goals this season for the second-highest percentage of his career, didn't waste his chance at redemption.

Now he insists he has learned his lesson. He cannot wait to start talking about the Raiders and to play again near his hometown of San Jose.

"What a better way to wipe the slate clean than to go out and have a good game against them? People forget very quickly as long as you do well week by week," Nedney said. "That's my goal - to get everybody to forget this. Have a good game against Oakland, celebrate the victory and go on to San Diego."

And he promises not to joke after a game again.

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