September 10, 2017 - 1:08 pm
Updated September 10, 2017 - 8:36 pm
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Giorgio Tavecchio was close to caving.
Mi arrendo, an Italian phrase for “I surrender,” began to sound sweeter to the Milan-born, Italian-American kicker the way a coerced confession might to a captive after six years of torture.
He participated in six NFL training camps since 2012. All ended in his release. He’d yet to appear in a non-preseason game since college. He is 27 now.
A thought reached his mind with unspeakable regularity.
“I’d rather not say,” he said. “It was a lot.”
Before Sunday, no player in NFL history had kicked multiple 50-yard field goals in his career debut. On Sunday, history surrendered to Tavecchio. The Raiders kicker was presented a game ball for his role in a 26-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, his day featuring a field goal on all four tries, including two from 52 yards.
The fourth attempt, from 43 yards with 1:09 remaining, sealed the Raiders’ season opener.
“That’s grit,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “That’s perseverance.”
Tavecchio has spent at least part of the past four preseasons with the Raiders. For the most recent three, he was present for the team’s entire training camp in Napa, California.
He knew where he stood along the way, a young left-footed leg who could develop behind franchise fixture Sebastian Janikowski.
He hoped his time for something more would come.
On Friday, the Raiders signed him to their practice squad with Janikowski, 39, ailing from a back injury. On Saturday, they promoted him to the 53-man roster while placing Janikowski on injured reserve.
On Sunday, Tavecchio appeared in a game whose result mattered for the first time since he was at California, facing Texas at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 26, 2011.
Tavecchio’s day started with a first-quarter extra point, which followed an opening touchdown pass from quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Amari Cooper. His afternoon continued with a serendipitous kickoff that clanged off the goal post for a touchback.
His first 52-yarder ended the first half. His second came in the third quarter.
“I have been dreaming about this moment for a very long time,” said Tavecchio, who also made a 20-yard field goal in the second quarter. “It is special. I am feeling gratitude, catharsis. You spend so much time waiting, hoping, imagining, dreaming. And then when it happens it is not necessarily anticlimactic, but you can’t be too caught up in the moment and what it means to you.
“This isn’t about me. This is about the Raiders playing the Tennessee Titans. I am just grateful that I got the chance to contribute. You can imagine it has been a crazy week for me with the highs and the lows. I am Italian, so I live it very fully. This was a great week of life for me.”
Before this, Tavecchio was down.
He missed a 36-yard field goal in the Raiders’ final exhibition on Aug. 31 against the Seattle Seahawks.
The kick baffled him. It was one he’s made thousands of times, one he knows he’s good enough to make, one he has to make.
He carried the failure with him on Sept. 2 when the club notified him of his release.
Family members and friends supported him, as he wondered aloud if he should end a career that hadn’t begun.
Those thoughts are gone now.
“Giorgio stepped up in a big way, and it couldn’t happen to a better person,” Carr said. “I hope our fans hear that and know that about Giorgio. He is one of the best people I’ve ever been around. Just his demeanor, the way he carries himself, what he’s all about. Everything about him is the same every day, so when he’s knocking those kicks, from coaches to players to staff, there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t smiling. Obviously, he’s doing things to help us win a game, but it’s more so for the person.”
Before Sunday, Tavecchio had a story to tell to his children or grandchildren.
It was a story about a dream, about a chase, about the importance of pursuing a goal and coping with the successes and failures along the way.
He still can tell this story, except now he’ll have a prop: a decorated football from Sept. 10, 2017, the Raiders versus the Titans, 26-16.
The game ball will be a symbol.
Tavecchio didn’t surrender.
Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.