When Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant, a Texas native, steps foot on the field with the intention of tacking on more points to the scoreboard, he prefers to clear his mind of any negative thoughts. If he needs to, Bryant will imagine himself spending quality time with his seven children.
“When you’re with your kids, there are no negative thoughts,” Bryant FOX Sports. “It kind of takes the edge off the moment.”
This method could pay off big in Super Bowl LI, where Bryant will be set to kick in the most significant game of his life.
Although it took longer than he may have expected, Bryant will finally play in a Super Bowl at 41 years of age.
“It’s taken a little while,” he said, with a grin on his face. “But better late than never.”
Bryant, who will become one of the oldest players in the Super Bowl era, will be sure to not take the opportunity in front of him for granted, as his path to get the game’s biggest stage was filled with multiple setbacks and heartbreaking tragedies.
Bryant didn’t kick at the professional level until he was 27, so he held jobs at a pawn shop and as a personal trainer in order to make a living. He has been waived by five NFL teams in his career, and was even cut by an Arena Football League team to boot.
His career setbacks weren’t even the worst of the adversities he’s faced. In 2008, he lost his 3-month-old son, Tyson, due to sudden infant death syndrome.
“You appreciate things more, especially your own children,” Bryant said Wednesday.
On the football field, Bryant is the classic definition of a late bloomer.
He was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2016 after he lead the NFL in points scored with 158. 34 of his 37 field goal attempts have sailed through the uprights this season, with six of those being from a distance of 50 yards or more. Bryant was also near-perfect on extra point tries, missing only one of his 57 attempts.
“He deserves it. He has deserved it before,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s one of the guys that we rely on in critical situations. If you can just get the ball to the number that he talks about at end-of-game situations, you just know that he’s going to put it through the pipes.”
Bryant was unable to appear in his first Pro Bowl this season, as he has a far more meaningful game in Houston on Sunday to participate in.
“When we found out that he was going to be going to his first Pro Bowl, I called him and asked, ‘Matt, have you ever been to the Pro Bowl?’” Falcons coach Dan Quinn recalled.
Bryant gave a rather underwhelming response to Quinn’s question.
“Do you want it?” Quinn asked in a manner of disbelief. “And he said, ‘Only if we’re not in the Super Bowl.’ So, way back even in December, I knew where his mindset was at.”
However, Bryant understands he plays in a league where you’re only as good as your last kick.
“In three seconds, you can go from living in the penthouse to the outhouse,” he said. “There’s nothing in the middle in my world.”
In order to keep his head clear, Bryant has engineered various types of mental tricks to help him keep his eyes on the prize. When he’s on the sidelines, he walks around with a towel on his head, explaining to reporters that, “it blocks out a lot of things around me.” Bryant also thinks of his late father, thoroughly remembering the impact he had in his son’s life, when he attempts a kick.
He’s “standing behind me, like during a baseball game when I was in high school,” Bryant said. “Instead of swinging the bat easy and hitting through the ball, he’s yelling at me to go for it, to hit it over the fence.”
Due to Bryant’s veteran experience and mental toughness, Atlanta’s coaching staff often lets him be.
“He’s one of the more mentally tough competitors we have on our team,” Quinn said. “One of the things I admire most about him is he treats every kick the same. So, when you see Matt in practice, when you see him go through his routine, extra points, different spots along the field when we get into Wednesdays and Thursdays at practice, every kick’s the same, every routine’s the same.”
Bryant put his incredible compose on display when he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, as he drilled three field goals in a win over the Green Bay Packers only a day after attending his son’s funeral.
“People ask me, ‘Did you ever think about not playing in that game?’” Bryant said. “But at the end of the day, I know I would’ve taught him to just do your best no matter what. That’s how I was able to go out there and glorify his name.”
With the New England and Atlanta both possessing potent offenses, Super Bowl LI, could come down to a game-winning kick. If Bryant gets put in this situation, he will be ready to deliver.
After everything he has already overcome, it will just be another day at the office for Bryant.
“It’s part of the job requirement,” he said in a nonchalant tone. “If you really get caught up in the moment, maybe it could change something. I don’t want anything to change. I want to stay the same. Keep my head down and kick through the ball.”