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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Former Drake Star Cundiff Sets Dallas Cowboys Record With 56 Yard Field Goal

IRVING, TEXAS - Dallas Cowboys newly re-signed kicker Billy Cundiff was unusually talkative in the team's locker room after Sunday's 20-7 victory over the Detroit Lions here at Texas Stadium.

Not surprising.

Pleased to be back in Dallas, Cundiff talked of second chances and a blessing in disguise.

"You step away and you realize there are some things that you miss," said Cundiff, a former All-American at Drake who set 15 school records and five Pioneer Football League marks during his career from 1998-2001. "You know that saying, 'You never know what you have until it's gone?' Well, it's true. I looked up in the crowd during the game and thought, 'Hey, this is what I missed. Playing in front of all these people, and having a chance to have your heart beating through your chest.'"

Cundiff, a native of Harlan, Iowa, didn't sneak back on the Cowboys roster unnoticed. Less than 24-hours after being signed on Saturday, with eight seconds on the clock in the second quarter, Cundiff hit a 56-yard field goal to put the Cowboys ahead 13-7 going into halftime.

The kick was a career-long for Cundiff and an all-time record for the Cowboys.

Before Sunday, Cundiff's previous long was the 52-yarder he nailed Sept. 15, 2003, against the Giants. The previous team record had been 54 yards, kicked by three different players: Toni Fritsch on Sept. 24, 1972, against the Giants; Ken Willis on Sept. 1, 1991, against the Browns; and Richie Cunningham on Sept. 13, 1998, against the Broncos.

"I was just excited to be on the field and for us to get a win, to be honest with you," Cundiff said about nailing his record-setting kick. "Records are fun, and those are things you can look back to. And obviously I had a chance to look back at a lot of things during the time I was unemployed. It makes you appreciate things a little bit more. Maybe I'll appreciate this (record) a little bit more because of my situation."

Before the record-breaking kick, Cundiff also had a 19-yard field goal with 6:43 left in the second quarter to put the Cowboys ahead 10-0.

Not bad for his first game since last season.

Cundiff suffered a quadriceps tear at the very end of training camp this year in Oxnard, Calif., and was almost immediately cut from the team, getting released Aug. 24.

Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells said he could not justify keeping a useless kicker on the 53-man roster while waiting for him to heal. So the Cowboys paid Cundiff an injury settlement for the six-weeks doctors estimated it would take for him to be healthy again. So he was out of a job.

So Cundiff's new job was rehabbing, heading off to Phoenix and the Athletes Performance center to strengthen his leg.

"I knew it was gonna happen," he said about being cut before the season started. "When you get injured you're just not very useful to a team. I think it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to rehab on my clock. You see a lot of guys come back pretty quickly after an injury, especially a kicker. And if you come back too quick you're gonna re-injure it. But this way I was able to fully recover."

Cundiff said as soon as he was released from the Cowboys, four or five teams contacted him with job offers. He didn't accept, however, because he wanted to be sure to rehab completely. Plus, he would not have been able to pass a team's physical. As it was, the estimated six weeks of recovery wasn't even enough. Cundiff said it wasn't until eight weeks after his injury that he was able to kick again.

So he worked on grooving his swing the past four, working quite a bit with former Cowboys kicking coach Steve Hoffman, who basically volunteered his time. Cundiff realized the Cowboys could not re-sign him for 12 weeks because of the six-week injury settlement along with the mandatory six weeks teams must wait before re-signing a player released through an injury settlement.

The Cowboys waiting period expired on Tuesday following the Philadelphia game, and it was then the Cowboys called to schedule the workout at Valley Ranch on Friday. His workout was strong.

"I could tell by the way the ball was coming off his foot (he was ready)," said backup quarterback Tony Romo, who held for Cundiff during Friday's workout. "The way the ball comes off his foot just sounded pure."

Pure enough for the Cowboys not only to sign him Saturday and release rookie Shaun Suisham, but trot him out immediately for Sunday's game since the Cowboys were looking for more experience at the kicking position down the stretch.

"I had 12 weeks where all I did was workout," he said. "If anybody has a chance to work out for 12 weeks you better be stronger and be doing the right things."

As soon as the last seconds ticked off the clock in Sunday's game, Cundiff was seen posing for a camera.

"After the game I took a picture with my wife on the field," he said. "I never had a picture with her with my jersey on, and this is one of the things I got to do over. So I wanted to make sure those pictures are something we can show our kids and say, 'This was our time in Dallas.' It's just about appreciating your situation a little bit better."

And Sunday, everyone was appreciating Bill Cundiff.

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