HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- The tough times for Pat Leahy came in 1980 and 1982, when the winds of Shea Stadium and the temperament of Walt Michaels nearly swept him off the New York Jets roster.
The Jets no longer play their home games at Shea and Michaels is no longer the head coach. But there is Pat Leahy still wearing a green and white uniform and kicking better than any time in his career.
Leahy entered Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints having converted 22 straight field goals. The NFL record is 23 set by Mark Moseley in 1982 for Washington, a streak that won Moseley the league's Most Valuable Player award.
'I know it's out there,' Leahy said. 'It's two away and I know that. Still in all we have to win.'
In one of football's most tenuous jobs, Leahy's 13 seasons with the Jets are the most by any kicker with his current team. Moseley had been even with Leahy before being waived by the Redskins earlier this month.
In midseason 1974, the Jets' regular kicker Bobby Howfield injured his knee and in the week leading up to a game against the Giants, the Jets heard from or talked to 75 kickers.
In training camp 1974, Leahy was a free-agent kicker for the St. Louis Cardinals trying to unseat venerable Jim Bakken. Leahy's background read like this: three-time All-America soccer player at St. Louis University; no college football experience. He was cut by the Cardinals.
The Jets remembered seeing Leahy in preseason, called him in and signed him. Leahy kicked two field goals in a 26-20 overtime victory over the Giants and thus was born a marriage between kicker and team.
The marriage has had its uneven moments. In 1979, Leahy sprained his knee and missed the last 10 games. The Jets used three kickers in that span and went back to Leahy.
In the early 1980s, Leahy suffered through a series of poor streaks.
'He (Michaels) told me a couple of times (in 1980 and 1982) that if I didn't improve that he was going to make a change,' Leahy remembers. 'I understand that. It's a job. He's got to have people here who produce.
'It just taught me this is strictly a temporary job, just relax and have a good time at it; enjoy it. It's not going to last forever.'
The Jets moved from Shea to Giants Stadium after the 1983 season and Leahy's production has been staggering. He has made nearly 78 percent of his field-goal tries. While at Shea, Leahy missed on all 10 of his attempts from 50 yards and beyond. He is 4 for 8 since.
As he completed last season by hitting his final 12 field goals, he set a personal best of 55 yards against Chicago. In going 10 for 10 this season, Leahy has connected from 47 yards twice and 48 yards twice. And there's been no questions throughout the streaks -- no hit uprights or barely clearing the crossbar. Leahy has been dead center.
The last time Leahy missed a field goal was Nov. 10, 1985 when he failed on 3 of 4 attempts and the Jets lost to Miami 21-17.
'I can't remember the last time I saw him make a bad kick,' said quarterback Pat Ryan, Leahy's holder.
Leahy's style is smooth. Three short steps before planting his left foot and swinging his right. After he makes contact, Leahy keeps his head down for an instant before a quick look at the uprights and his slouched-shoulder departure.
'The only thing I tell myself (before he kicks) is stay smooth and get it up fast,' Leahy said. 'It's important not to try and kill the ball.'
Leahy's speaking delivery is not as smooth. He has stuttered his whole life and there are occassions when he gets stuck at a particular word and has trouble delivering it. He has taken speech courses and through good times and bad, Leahy has never ducked away from an interview.
'It's just something I deal with,' said Leahy, whose stutter dose not hinder him when he sings, which he used to do in a Jet barber shop quartet.
The 6-foot, 200-pounder said he is trying not to think about the record. And at age 35, he also said he is trying not to think about the end of his career.
'I won't leave until they pick me up and throw me out of the gate,' he said with a smile.
Of course, the way he is going, the Jets are not likely to swing the gate open too soon.
adv weekend, Oct.