It was early this past Tuesday morning, and Ryan Longwell was checking in at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. He couldn’t help but marvel at where fate had led him.
“It’s the hospital I was born in,” Longwell recalled last week. And there he was again — this time for a physical exam. He was about to try out as a kicker for his old hometown football team, the team he had dreamed of playing for as a kid: the Seattle Seahawks.
“I couldn’t help but feel really blessed,” said Longwell, 38. “Like I had come full circle.”
It has been a wild and wonderful week for Longwell, a 1992 graduate of Bend High, where as a senior he was an all-state kicker for the Lava Bears. It started last Sunday with a surprise phone call. It concludes today in Atlanta, where Longwell will be kicking for the Seahawks in their NFC divisional playoff game against the Falcons.
Last Sunday night, the 15-year National Football League veteran — who had not played at all this season — received a call at his home in Windermere, Fla., near Orlando.
It was his agent on the phone, asking if Longwell would be interested in going to Seattle to try out for the Seahawks, whose regular kicker, Steven Hauschka, had strained a calf muscle in Seattle’s 24-14 playoff win over the Washington Redskins earlier that same day.
Would Longwell be interested?
“I said ‘yes’ and told him to get back to me with the details,” Longwell recounted. “Then I said to my wife: ‘Sarah, you’re not gonna believe this.’”
Longwell spent nine successful seasons with Green Bay — he is still the Packers’ all-time scoring leader — and six more with Minnesota before the Vikings released him last May.
While he had hoped to hook on with another team, Longwell made the best of his season at home, spending more time than in any previous autumn with his children, 11-year-old son Reece and 10-year-old daughter Shaye.
He stayed in shape too. As CEO of 6 Levels, a Florida-based digital fitness company, Longwell has made a second career of physical conditioning. And until last weekend, he and Sarah had been training to run in the Walt Disney World Marathon — which will take place today in Orlando without the Longwells, as Sarah and the kids plan to be at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to watch Ryan’s return to pro football.
“And I’ve still been kicking, every 10 days or so,” Longwell said, “just to keep my rhythm.”
It all paid off Tuesday, as he outperformed three other kickers in the tryout and was signed by the Seahawks. A day later, the team placed Hauschka on injured reserve, and the place-kicking job — kickoffs, field goals and extra points — was all Longwell’s.
“Needless to say, I was pretty excited,” he said. “I grew up a Seahawks fan. Jim Zorn, Steve Largent ... this was my team!”
He remembered going to Seahawks games at the Kingdome, and how as a kid he would kick a Nerf football in the backyard of his family’s Seattle-area home in Puyallup, where a hammock strung between two trees served as his goal post.
“I pretended I was Norm Johnson,” he said, recalling the Seahawks’ kicker of the 1980s. “I could hit 15 or 20 in a row back then.”
Accuracy always has been Longwell’s strength, from his Bend High days to his four years as a scholarship kicker at Cal-Berkeley, and during a long NFL career (83.2 percent on field-goal attempts) — a career that, quite unexpectedly, has been extended by at least one game.
Whether the opportunity with Seattle revives his career and helps him land a job somewhere in the league next season is not Longwell’s primary concern. His goal right now, he said, is to do what he can to help the Seahawks beat Atlanta. After that would be the NFC championship game next week, where a win would put Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Longwell played in a Super Bowl once before — in 1998, at the end of his rookie year with the Packers. Green Bay lost that game to John Elway’s Denver Broncos, 31-24. Longwell would like nothing more than to get back to the big game.
“Getting a chance to come back here (Seattle) and put on a hometown uniform is pretty exciting,” said Longwell, who will be wearing No. 7 for the Seahawks. “And this is a really good team — a young team, a hungry team. And the coach, Pete Carroll ... he’s a real breath of fresh air.
“I’ve been given an incredible opportunity in a pressure time of year,” he continued. “I just want to help this team get to where they’ve fought (all season) to get to.”
Reflecting on the past week, Longwell talked about his strong faith.
“I’ve always known that I’ve been blessed,” he said. “Starting with that call on Sunday ... you know, you can’t make this stuff up.
“A higher power is definitely looking over me.”
Longwell’s local connection
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• Lived in Bend during his three years at Bend High School. All-state kicker for the Lava Bears as a senior in 1991.
• Parents, Paul and Linda Longwell, still live in Bend, as do his sister, Carly McKelvy, and her family.
• Nine seasons with Green Bay Packers (1997-2005); six seasons with Minnesota Vikings (2006-2011). Career scoring total of 1,687 points ranks 13th on all-time NFL list.
• Played with Green Bay as a rookie in Super Bowl XXXII; kicked a 27-yard field goal and three PATs in the Packers’ 31-24 loss to Denver Broncos.