Why this former UVU soccer player may decide outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl
Matt Gay spent two seasons playing soccer for Utah Valley University, then won the Lou Groza Award as the Utes’ All-American kicker. Sunday he could play key role in the Rams’ quest for Super Bowl title
In another life, Matt Gay played forward for the Utah Valley University soccer team. On Sunday he will play in the Super Bowl for the Los Angeles Rams.
You thought the Eric Weddle story was a strange turn of events, but Gay, a 6-foot, 230-pound placekicker from Orem, Utah, has had an equally strange journey to the biggest stage in America.
Gay played a big role in getting the Rams to Sunday’s Super Bowl. In the divisional round of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he missed a 47-yard attempt, but returned later to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. In the conference championship game against the 49ers, he also missed a long 54-yard attempt, but again returned for late-game heroics, kicking a game-tying 40-yard field goal and then a game-winning 30-yard field goal with 1:46 left.
That sets up a matchup with his Cincinnati Bengals counterpart, Evan McPherson, who not only has lived up to his nickname “Money Mac,” but he’s seeking to make it a legal trademark. He has made 40 of 45 field goal attempts this season. He’s made all 12 of his attempts in the playoffs — including two game-winners — and needs just three more to break the NFL postseason record set by the great Adam Vinatieri.
Kicker is not a sexy position, but field goals have played big roles in the Super Bowl; four of them were decided by last-second field goals one way or another.
In 1971, Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game gave the Baltimore Colts a 16-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The 1991 Super Bowl was the scene of the most infamous field goal attempt ever; trailing by a score of 20-19 with eight seconds left, Buffalo’s Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard attempt one yard to the right of the goal post to give the New York Giants the win. In 2002, Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give the New England Patriots a 20-17 win over the St. Louis Rams. In 2004, Vinatieri kicked a 41-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining to give the Patriots a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Will Sunday’s big game come down to another field goal? Five of this year’s 12 playoff games were decided by three points — a field goal.
Gay’s path to the Super Bowl has had more twists and turns than the road to Hana. He played 33 games for the UVU soccer team from 2014-16, totaling eight goals and five assists. He was kicking game-winning goals of another kind in those days — one against San Jose State, another against San Jose State, one against Gonzaga and one against UC Riverside.
He was selected as Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week after kicking two goals in a 2-0 win over Gonzaga. He led the UVU team in scoring as a freshman in 2014 with seven goals and 18 points. Before that, he was a two-time first-team all-state soccer player for Orem High and set a school record for scoring. He also served as a kicker for the Orem High football team. According to MaxPreps, during his senior season he made six of 13 field goal attempts, including one from 55 yards, and made 28 of 35 PAT attempts. His numbers did not bode well for a future in the NFL.
After playing two years of soccer at UVU, Gay pursued a return to football. He tried out at BYU and Snow College but it wasn’t until he attended a camp at the University of Utah that he was offered a roster spot as a walk-on. He won the starting job at Utah in 2017 and went on to win the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker after making a nation-leading 30 field goals (on 34 attempts) and all 40 of his PAT kicks. He nearly repeated the performance a year later, making 26 of 31 field goal attempts and all 45 of his PAT tries.
Drafted in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, he had an uneven rookie year. He missed eight of 35 field goal attempts, but he also set team rookie records for longest field goal (58 yards), most field goals (27) and most points (124). The Bucs cut him before the start of the 2020 season — a decision they might regret now — and he wound up on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad.
At the time, the Rams were going through kickers like office temps after letting the reliable Greg Zuerlein leave through free agency. They waived kicker Sam Sloman, their seventh-round pick, after seven games, having seen him miss three field goals and three extra point kicks. They turned to Kai Forbath but he lost the job after two games after whiffing on a couple of kicks.
In Week 11 of the 2020 season, the Rams signed Gay off the Colts practice squad, and he proceeded to make 14 of 16 field goal attempts in seven games, including a game-winner against the Bucs, his old team. This season he has made 39 of 43 field goal attempts, counting the playoffs. Once again, he beat his former team, the Bucs, kicking three field goals in the divisional playoffs, one of which was the game-winner.
“Man, he is Mr. Automatic as of late,” head coach Sean McVay said at a press conference earlier this month. “He’s done a great job and it looks like we found our guy for a long time, really for the future.”
“I’m excited for him,” says Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who worked closely with Gay and the Utes’ special teams. “It’s great to see him in a good situation now. He was still developing as a kicker (in his early NFL years). He was a soccer player all his life.”
On Sunday, Gay, the guy who was out of football just five years ago, will be handling placekicking duties in the biggest game of his life.