Rollercoaster season comes full circle for Harrison Butker as he returns to State Farm Stadium

Harrison Butker
Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker speaks to the media ahead of his third Super Bowl with the Chiefs. (Adam Bakr/MEDILL)

By Adam Bakr
Medill Reports

If Patrick Mahomes is to be compared to Tom Brady at every step, then that would make Harrison Butker his Adam Vinatieri. With the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, you can’t tell the story of the quarterback’s late-game heroics without the kicker stepping up after. 

With the Patriots, Vinatieri had two Super Bowl-winning kicks and another in the divisional round against the Raiders in the lead-up to the first title. Butker’s kicks don’t hold the same weight in history, but his script is still being written.

Going back two weeks, it was Butker coming on with eight seconds left to send the Chiefs past the Cincinnati Bengals. Look at last year’s playoffs: Butker came on with three seconds left against both the Buffalo Bills and Bengals to send those games into overtime. Going all the way to Mahomes’ first playoff run in the 2018 season, Butker again came on in the final seconds to send the AFC championship game into overtime. 

Mahomes gets his deserved flowers for getting into field goal range in limited time. What isn’t mentioned enough is how Butker always delivers on his end of the bargain late in games. In the Mahomes era, he’s a perfect 6/6 on fourth quarter field goals in the playoffs. 

“As much as you want to treat every kick — whether its a warm-up or a game-winning kick — the same, they’re still different,” Butker said. “The better I can trick my mind to tell myself they’re the same, the better success I’ll have. It’s the same with playing in a big playoff game. There’s a lot of implications to making or missing the kick, but if I can just block all that stuff out and just focus on my process, the better I’ll do.”

Butker’s recent heroics come in a season during which  he had his first true down period with the Chiefs. His six missed field goals were a career high and more than he had in the previous two seasons combined. His 75% make rate was by far his career low, with the previous low being 89%. 

It wasn’t an unexplained struggle, as Butker was injured in the opening week of the season. He rolled his left ankle on a kickoff in the first quarter and missed the next four games. Before that, he still made a 54-yard field goal and all three of his extra points attempted after the injury in that game. 

“It was very tough,” Butker said. “Last season when we lost, my body felt great, and I wanted to attack the offseason and work on some new technique stuff. Thursday after that loss I was already kicking. I had a great offseason leading up to OTA’s and training camp and thought it was going to be my best year. Then Week 1 you get injured, you’ve done all that technique work, but now you have this injury that’s affecting how your body’s moving. I had to adjust my technique, try different things and now I’m kicking the ball better than I have all year. I’m very happy about that, but it was a lot of adversity. I’m thankful for it, I learned a lot about myself and my faith was tested.” 

The Week 1 injury came against the Arizona Cardinals, on the road, in the same venue as the Super Bowl, giving Butker a chance to overwrite his career low point with a second championship.

“I think I’ll have a lot of memories come back to me when I get to the field,” Butker said. “As far as the field goals, the Super Bowl field is always really good. My kickoff approach is now five yards instead of 11, so it’s a lot more controlled. I don’t have as big of a chance of slipping or sliding. I’m just excited to be back here at State Farm Stadium.”

Adam Bakr is a Sports Media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter here.