GREEN BAY - Ryan Longwell still remembers that very first kick inside Lambeau Field. A 38-yarder that, given his nerves as an undrafted rookie, might have felt more like 58.
It was the first quarter of the Green Bay Packers' 1997 opener against the Chicago Bears. Longwell had beaten out injured Brett Conway, the Packers’ third-round pick that spring, to reach this point. But job security is always fleeting for kickers, especially when a team spends a draft pick on someone else.
So Longwell lined up that first-quarter field goal against the Bears, knowing he needed to keep impressing to retain his job.
“I remember looking up, seeing that thing fly straight after I hit it,” Longwell said, “and thinking, ‘I did it. Whatever happens from here, whether they go back to Conway or stick with me, I did it.’”
The Packers never did go back to Conway. In Longwell, the Packers discovered a kicker who would be among the NFL’s best over nine seasons, surpassing legendary Don Hutson’s record as the franchise’s all-time scoring leader. His 1,054 points have since been surpassed by successor Mason Crosby, but they were enough for Longwell to etch his place permanently into the annals of franchise history.
Longwell, whose 81.6 field-goal percentage still is the franchise career record, joined former right tackle Mark Tauscher as inductees into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday.
A seventh-round pick in 2000, Tauscher started 132 of 134 games with the Packers over 11 seasons. Tauscher joined left tackle Chad Clifton, a 2016 inductee in the Packers Hall of Fame, as stalwarts on an offensive line that bridged Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers.
Tauscher was introduced Saturday older brother Craig Tauscher. Longwell was introduced by his longtime long snapper, Rob Davis. As a fellow specialist, Davis appreciated the rarity of Longwell’s induction. He’s only the fifth full-time kicker enshrined in the franchise’s hall of fame, the first since Chris Jacke five years ago.
“Being a specialist,” Davis said, “it’s a pressure position. You can go from hero to goat real quick. Most of the times, we don’t have second or third down to get the replay over. So there’s no mulligans. Most kids don’t grow up saying, ‘Hey, we want to be specialist when we go to the NFL.’ It just kind of evolves after default or height, weight restrictions, or whatever.
“You figure out that you’re not going to be the position player that you started out playing when you originally started playing football. Most of us wanted to be on the bus, so you figure out a way to get on the bus.”
Longwell and Tauscher, teammates for six seasons in Green Bay, took different paths to the Packers Hall of Fame. While Longwell joined the Minnesota Vikings after the 2005 season, Tauscher spent the entirety of his career with the Packers. A Marshfield native and University of Wisconsin alum, Tauscher’s longevity with the Packers meant he never had to play outside his home state.
Tauscher said he’s proud to have played all three levels of football – high school, college and the NFL – within Wisconsin.
“Guys want to stay,” Tauscher said. “I think that’s always the case. There’s always circumstances that, if it’s money or whatever it is, that maybe you have to move. But when you’re growing up with guys – with Cliffy, I’m playing alongside him the whole time – I think there’s a big gain in having that. When you’re accountable to guys you really love and trust, I think that makes the team a lot stronger.”
Longwell didn’t stay in Green Bay. Instead, his career took a detour four hours west.
His rift with the team and its base never reached the levels of good friend Favre, but Longwell drew ire from fans after signing with the Vikings. In part, their displeasure with Longwell stemmed from a joke about how Applebee’s was the finest restaurant in Green Bay. Longwell apologized for the joke long ago.
After Favre reconnected with the Packers three summers ago, Longwell said he started to hope he might do the same. That he spent six seasons playing for the Packers' division rival, Longwell said, gave him a special appreciation for Saturday night’s induction.
“I thought this ship may have sailed,” Longwell said. “Brett Favre is a good friend of mine, and what he went through to get back into the fold kind of gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe it could happen. Certainly, with what Rob and I accomplished over nine years here, I thought my stats were good enough and my resume was good enough, but you just never know.
“It was certainly very exciting and the cherry on top of a very good career that I felt I had.”