CHICAGO — Mike Lansford's right foot was bare and blue, as if it had been dipped into a can of paint. He looked at it and then shrugged. "Broken blood vessels," he said. "They show when the temperature dips below 40 degrees."
Lansford is used to this sort of thing--his foot being subjected to assorted elements, that is. This week it was the cold, next week it could be a stubbed toe, a cleat mark to the arch. Shoeless and sockless, this is how Lansford earns his living for the Rams: kicking field goals and doing his best to keep the bluish, battered right foot from harm's way.
Monday night at Soldier Field, he escaped harm and discovered fame along the way. It came with four seconds remaining in the Rams' game against the Chicago Bears. As the wind whipped and whirled from nearby Lake Michigan and the Bears yelled and taunted from the nearby line of scrimmage, Lansford calmly delivered a 50-yard field goal that did nothing more than give the Rams a 20-17 victory.
"I'm a five-year guy now," he said. "I think that I can make the pressure kicks."
He has before. Remember New Orleans in 1983? With two seconds left to play against the Saints, Lansford kicked a 42-yarder that put the Rams into the playoffs and kept New Orleans out.
That was John Robinson's first year as the Ram coach. He had sent the barefoot Lansford onto the Superdome turf and then held his breath. Three seasons later, Robinson found himself doing the same thing.
Moments before the kick, Lansford had stood next to Robinson and offered an estimate.
"Anything 57 yards and in is worth a shot," Lansford said.
And Robinson believed him.
"Yeah," Lansford said later, "but he looks at me always with wonder when I tell him that."
So off Lansford went. The wind was pushing at his back when he arrived on the field. His holder, quarterback Steve Dils, waited for Lansford to choose his mark on the left hash. Lansford picked the 40-yard-line, making it a 50-yard effort. "It was a longer kick," he said. "I purposely put it back to 50 yards because I thought it would look better on the stats."
Lansford had tried 11 field goals this season before that final kick. None of his attempts had reached the 50-yard limit and only twice in his career had he passed that mark (two 52-yarders). But Lansford said he was feeling strong Monday night. The cold was having no effect on his kicks. They were long and true. And the broken blood vessels? What broken blood vessels?
"I felt as good as I've ever felt," he said. "I did feel confident. I really felt that I was kicking the ball well. I love these big games. I love these hostile crowds. I think that makes me concentrate more.
"I said it in New Orleans before," he said. "I think (the pressure) makes me focus on my job, makes me concentrate more."
Lansford waited for the snap. Mike McDonald, a former fireman and assistant high school coach, sent the ball to Dils. Lansford moved forward and swept his foot toward the ball. Seconds later, the kick passed silently through the goal posts.
The crowd made little noise as the Ram bench began its celebration. A water bottle was tossed high into the air. Ram linebacker Mel Owens was already on his way to the locker room. Players hugged.
"At the time, I was very calm," he said. "But after looking at what happened, I'm starting to get the jitters now.
"I felt very confident," Lansford said. "When it came off my foot, I just wanted to watch it. It was one of my better kicks."
So it was and it went nicely with an earlier 26-yard field goal in the third period. But the 50-yarder is the one the Rams will remember.
"We just knew he'd put it over," LeRoy Irvin. "We just knew ."
And so did Lansford, who was half-sorry he didn't try for even more dramatics. "Maybe even 60 yards," he said.
Lansford returned to the locker room. He had stood beneath the stadium rafters and explained his evening's exploits--barefoot.