Editor’s note: Throughout the month of November, we remember some of the best NFL, college football and sports culture occasions around the Thanksgiving holiday in Thanksgiving Sports Moments.
There are some accomplishments that are tough to forget. Justin Tucker can describe one of the biggest kicks of his football career nearly 12 years later with great detail and with the appropriate amount of snarky overtones reserved for a rival school.
It was Nov. 24, 2011. Tucker, now an NFL All-Pro kicker for the Baltimore Ravens, was a senior at the University of Texas when he hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Texas A&M 27-25. It was the 118th overall game and the last conference game pitting the in-state rivals, as Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012.
Justin Tucker wins it for the Longhorns over Texas A&M! #Texas #HookEm #Aggies #CollegeFootballFanatics pic.twitter.com/PJlaiRcPUH
— College Football Fanatics (@CFBallFan) August 28, 2023
With much of the college football world focused on the Thanksgiving game played in College Station, Texas, Tucker made a kick that’s still talked about today.
“It was Thanksgiving night, playing at Kyle Field, a place that registers on the Richter scale any time there’s a football game played there — just how loud all those knuckleheads are,” said Tucker, adding a little sarcasm to the memory. “But no, I remember that environment just being electric and the game going back and forth and, you know, a lot of momentum shifts.”
The rivalry can restart with Texas moving to the SEC next season, as the Longhorns hold a 76-37-5 series lead. But the last memory of that annual game is Tucker running in celebration, then getting mobbed by teammates near the 40-yard line. Moments later, Tucker was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.
It was a tight game most of the night before Tucker saved the game for the Longhorns.
Texas rallied from a 13-0 second-quarter deficit and took a 17-16 lead on a 23-yard field goal by Tucker in the third. The Aggies, however, managed to take a 25-24 lead behind the play of future Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 1:48 left to play. Texas A&M failed on its 2-point conversion try, which gave Tucker and the Longhorns the opportunity to win the game.
The memorable kick showed Tucker was built to deliver in pressure situations.
“You never really know how you’re going to handle adversity or how you’re going to handle pressure until you are staring it down,” he said. “In that moment in time, what I can take away from it is (deep snapper) Alex Zumberge threw back a perfect snap, (holder) Cade McCrary gave me a perfect hold, and everybody held on for just long enough so we could get the ball up and out and clear the line of scrimmage and send it through the uprights.”
Tucker said at the moment he wasn’t thinking about how most college football fans were focused on the game, because it was a Thanksgiving game or that it was against a “bitter rival.”
The situation affirmed his belief in the preparation of being ready to step up in tough moments. Tucker is now viewed as one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history. He holds the NFL record with a 66-yard field goal off the crossbar to beat Detroit, 19-17, in 2021.
JUSTIN TUCKERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR pic.twitter.com/vCsHRtfULo
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 26, 2021
Tucker has been selected to six Pro Bowls, and he was on the Ravens team that won Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers. Tucker also was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s.
To get to that moment in college before time expired, Tucker had to rely on the offense to make things happen. Texas quarterback Case McCoy helped get the Longhorns in position to win, a key play in the final drive being his 25-yard scramble.
Tucker said he remembers a lot of big plays in that game, and while his kick gets most of the accolades, it was McCoy’s run that still resonates.
“That was probably one of the biggest plays of his football career and one of the plays I can say I’m most thankful for,” Tucker said. “It gave me the opportunity to go out there and help us win the football game on the last play and give all of us that shared moment of victory, that shared experience that we’ll carry with us forever.”
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(Top photo of Justin Tucker: Darren Carroll / Getty Images)
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