Nick Folk was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the 2007 draft. He was supposed to solve the team's kicking quandary for years to come. He was meant to have ample opportunity to become a game-changing hero in games that meant the most.
Folk did just what he was meant to do. Only, he did it last Saturday in Indianapolis as a member of the New York Jets.
The Cowboys had long since given up on the kicker. Fourteen games into the 2009 season, they cut him. Hitting just 18 of his 28 field goal tries in '09, Folk seemed to have lost his confidence. He had certainly lost the confidence of the coaches, the team and the owner.
So, the Cowboys released him.
Seemed reasonable enough at the time. The Cowboys had drafted the big-legged kickoff specialist, David Buehler, in the 2009 draft. They needed to see if he could become a reliable NFL kicker, something he had not been even in college. The Cowboys would let him finish out '09 and see if he could get it done in 2010.
Makes sense, right?
You see, after the 2008 season, Nick Folk had hip surgery. In the 2010 season, it became painfully obvious that he needed more time to rehabilitate that injury and regain his former form.
That form had been pretty good, too. In his rookie season, he hit on 26 of 31 field goal attempts. That is an 83.9 percent success rate. It was good enough to earn him a spot in the Pro Bowl. From 20–29 yards, he was 10-of-12. From 30–49 yards out, he was a perfect 14-of-14. He was just 2-of-5 from 50 yards and beyond, but that is always iffy territory for a kicker.
Folk's rookie performance earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl.
In 2008, Folk only attempted 22 field goals. He made 20 of them. He was perfect beyond 50 yards. That 90.9 percent success rate placed him squarely among the NFL's very best.
Then came the hip surgery.
And then came disaster. 2010 was a complete meltdown for Nick Folk. The situation got progressively worse as the season wore on. Folk was just 4-of-7 in his last four games with the Cowboys. Dallas won three of those games, but they were done with Folk.
What the Cowboys should have done was place Folk on the injury reserved list and given him the end of the '09 season and the following offseason to rehab. He could have then competed with Buehler for the kicking job in the 2010 preseason. If he still didn't have it, cut him. No harm, no foul.
But if he did regain that form...
Instead, the Jets took a flier on Folk and he repaid them with a solid season, making good on 30-of-39 field goal attempts. Most importantly, he hit a 32-yarder in the waning seconds of the AFC Wild Card Game to give his Jets a 17-16 victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Peyton Manning had been a monkey on Rex Ryan's back. He had single-handedly knocked Ryan's Jets out of the 2009 playoffs, stopping the upstart New York team one game shy of the Super Bowl. Ryan went so far as to say before the game that it was personal between him and Manning.
Folk kicked that monkey right off his coach's back last Saturday.
Meanwhile, Buehler has been inconsistent. In 2010, he hit just 4-of-7 field goals between 30 and 39 yards. He also missed two extra points, one of which cost his team at least a chance at overtime in a last-minute loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
My heroes have always been Cowboys. Folk is a hero again, but he isn't a Cowboy.
And, so it goes.