FORT WORTH, Texas — Jeremy Kapinos was sitting at home two months ago, waiting anxiously for another chance at the NFL.
Then, his phone rang one night and it was the Pittsburgh Steelers. They needed a fill-in punter after Daniel Sepulveda was injured, and Kapinos was on a flight from Arlington, Va., the next day.
A few tryout kicks and he had the job.
“I certainly wasn’t thinking that this was where I was going to end up,” Kapinos said, “but I was pretty confident that if something came up and I had the opportunity, I’d take advantage of it.”
After all, he expected to be punting for the Green Bay Packers and helping them make a championship run. Instead, he wasn’t re-signed last season and went home angry. After a one-week stint earlier this season in Indianapolis, he now gets a chance to help beat the Packers team that rejected him — in the Super Bowl, no less.
“The past is the past,” Kapinos said. “I think my emotions fall more with the fact that this is the Steelers and because I went to Penn State. A lot of my friends and teammates are Steelers fans and you always hear about them, so that means more to me than anything else.”
Kapinos, who averaged 41.1 yards in regular-season games with the Steelers, could play a pivotal role Sunday by helping establish field position against the tough Packers defence. It could be the perfect capper to a journey that has led him to 11 NFL camps with the hope of sticking.
The son of an Army colonel, Kapinos is used to all of the bouncing around.
“It’s a lot like what I’m experiencing now,” he said. “Every two years, we’d move. When I talk about moving, I’d come home and my dad would say, ’Hey, we’re moving in two months.’ Then, literally two months later, we were living in a new state. It’s a lot like this where I moved around a lot. I had eight different schools growing up, so that meant eight different first days of schools.”
Green Bay’s Tim Masthay knows about uncertainty. The first-year Packers punter was a standout at Kentucky and signed with Indianapolis in 2009, but was cut during training camp. He was working as a part-time tutor when the Packers signed him to a reserve/future contract in January 2010.
He got off to a shaky start but has been perhaps the Packers’ most improved player in the second half of the season. Masthay played a critical role against the Chicago Bears, bottling up All-Pro returner Devin Hester in a victory to clinch a playoff berth in the regular-season finale, and then holding him to three punt returns for 16 yards in the NFC championship game.
But, Masthay will be just fine if he doesn’t see the field at all Sunday. The Packers’ offence was so potent in their Jan. 15 playoff victory at Atlanta that Masthay didn’t have to punt once.
Masthay practiced at Cowboys Stadium this week, and hasn’t gone too far out of his way to get advice on how to handle the pressure of playing in the Super Bowl.
“There is a quote that I can remember from college that our coach used to say, and I think about still all the time: ’Don’t give up what you want the most for what you want at the moment,”’ Masthay said. “That hasn’t been something that I just used this week, but something that I’ve carried with me for a long time and always will.”
With two stingy defences on the field, Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham of Wallaceburg, Ont., and the Packers’ Mason Crosby know a ring could also depend on the reliability of their feet.
Suisham is a journeyman who struggled while kicking in several NFL camps since entering the league in 2005. But, he might have finally found a home in Pittsburgh. He replaced the popular and once-reliable Jeff Reed in November and finished the regular season 14 of 15 on field-goal attempts.
“I love it in Pittsburgh,” he said. “I love Heinz Field. I love the fans. I love everything about Pittsburgh and I’m so happy to be there.”
Suisham, who missed a 43-yard field goal in the divisional playoff round against Baltimore, shakes his head at the fact he could decide the outcome of a Super Bowl.
“Three months ago, I was out of work,” Suisham said.
“You get used to playing football, that’s what you do, and you worked for it every week. When you’re out of it, certainly it’s uncomfortable when Sundays come around and you’re at home.”
If the Packers’ offence stalls in field-goal range, Green Bay will turn to Crosby, a sixth-round pick out of Colorado in 2007 who grew up in Texas.
With the wicked weather this week in Dallas, Crosby is thrilled to be playing the Super Bowl indoors.
“Obviously, we play in a tough environment at Lambeau,” Crosby said. “We play in a lot of cold games. We get used to it as much as you possibly can. When you go inside, you don’t have to worry about footing, the wind, just the elements in general.”
And if it comes down to a game-winning kick to bring the Packers their first Super Bowl title since 1997, Crosby won’t deviate from his routine.
“Once you’re out on the field as players, it all feels like football,” Crosby said.