MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S NOW AND THEN: Matt Prater and Eddie Murray

Posted Jul 22, 2015

Speaking from experience, Eddie Murray can relate to Matt Prater’s comfort level as he prepares for the start of his second season as the Lions’ kicker.

Speaking from experience – 21 years and 19 seasons as an active player with seven different franchises – Eddie Murray can relate to Matt Prater’s comfort level as he prepares for the start of his second season as the Lions’ kicker.

Familiarity – even from short-term experience – can breed confidence.

Murray experienced it from both sides – from rock-solid stability at the start of his career to feeling like a rolling stone at the end.

Murray began his career with a 12-year stretch with the Lions, then for six teams – including two stints with Dallas and Washington -- and never the same team two straight years.

Based on personal experience, Murray reached out to Prater when the Lions signed him after five games last season to solve their historically bad kicking problems. Murray knew what it was like to be a new man in town.

“He was in a new city, and I was sure he was living in a hotel,” said Murray, who has made Metro Detroit his home since coming to the Lions in 1980 as a seventh-round draft pick.

“If he’d like to get out to dinner, I was more than happy to drag him over to the house. It was like I relived that. I saw what he was going through. It’s not that easy.”

Prater feels at home as he begins his second season with the Lions and his ninth in the NFL. He signed a three-year, $9--million contract in March (the third year is a club option for 2017) to remain with the Lions.

“I was excited to get the chance to come back, and, hopefully, do much better this year,” Prater said during the offseason. “It’s real nice, and I’m a lot more comfortable – just knowing the guys at a personal level instead of kind of getting to know everybody.

“There are a lot more familiar faces, people I know by name and can talk to. It’s not a transition. You get used to the city – where to go, where not to go, and all that good stuff.”

Last season was an unusual one for Prater. After seven seasons with the Broncos, he was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of 2014 because of a violation of the NFL’s policy on substance abuse. The Broncos released him before he was eligible to return, which turned out to be a break for the Lions.

The Lions were desperate to add a quality kicker. Rookie Nate Freese (3-for-7) and Alex Henery (1-5) combined to go 4-for-12 in the first five games.

Prater made one of three field-goal attempts in his first game at Minnesota, but he went 20-for-23 in the final 10 games and 2-for-2 in the playoff loss at Dallas.

Success for a kicker, like golf and other sports where execution is based primarily on individual performance, depends a lot on rhythm, and Prater has the benefit of not having that rhythm interrupted. He’ll be working with the same set of specialists – long-snapper Don Muhlbach and punter Sam Martin, who holds for kicks.

Those elements aren’t all that provide a comfort level. So do the surroundings, and the security of playing on something other than a one-year contract. In some cases for Murray, at times it seemed like day to day.

He had numerous highlights in his 12 seasons with the Lions. He made the Pro Bowl twice, was the game’s MVP as a rookie, and made 20-of-21 field-goal attempts in 1988 and again in ’89. And being in one place for a dozen seasons was a highlight in itself, especially given the lack of security for most kickers.

All of that changed in 1992, when Jason Hanson was drafted to take over the kicking job. Hanson held it for 21 years, through the 2012 season.

While Hanson was beginning to build his own longevity log in 1992, Murray was starting a tour of what he calls “a leg for hire.”

Eddie MurrayK Eddie Murray (Photo: AP Images)

He kicked for two teams in 1992 – one game for the Chiefs and seven for the Bucs.

Murray caught the break of a lifetime in 1993. He was without a team for the regular season, and the Cowboys had started the season with two losses. Emmitt Smith did not play because of a contract holdout, and the Cowboys were having kicking problems.

Murray and Smith were signed on the same day. Murray gave the Cowboys an accurate kicker (28-of-33 on field goals) who came through in the clutch. The Cowboys went 12-2 the rest of the way and beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Murray has often said that his only regret about winning a championship ring with the Cowboys is that it says Dallas on his Super Bowl ring and not Detroit. He has made Metro Detroit his home since his rookie year and has remained close to the Lions.

After the 1993 season he spent full seasons in Washington (1994) and Philadelphia (1995) and partial seasons as an emergency replacement in Minnesota (1997), Dallas (1999) and Washington (2000).

 Murray was doing a Sunday night talk show in Detroit on WJR-760 when Washington signed him in 2000 for what would be the last four games of his career.

There were inconveniences in making so many changes, but Murray’s not complaining because the alternative – being out of football – was worse.

What seems like a minor thing – adjusting to a new snapper and holder – is not as simple as it seems.

“You look at us from afar and think we should do this all the time,” Murray said. “We should handle those things. Try doing that with the center-quarterback exchange. They make a big deal of that when it’s one game. Try doing that when you’re going to a whole new team.

“When I was in that ‘leg-for-hire’ situation, I’d go somewhere in the season and have to do all those things that are huge for any player. You have a family, and if you’re an older player, maybe you have kids in school. You’re not going to take them out school.

“It’s not all roses out there when you do make a change. It’s huge to have some consistency and normalcy, if you want to call it that. It makes your job much easier – when you know where you’re living, when you know nice places to eat, and your family’s there.”

He didn’t like living in hotels, except for one small perk.

“Living in a hotel, to be honest, it sucks,” he said. “It’s not fun. The only good thing is your bed is made every day, and I’m not much for making my bed.”