PITTSBURGH -- If at first you don't succeed, well, you know the rest and so do the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After several attempts to replace last season's inconsistent rookie punter Drew Butler -- Brian Moorman and Zoltan Mesko tried to no avail -- Australian-born Mat McBriar gets his chance when the Steelers (2-5) face the New England Patriots (6-2) Sunday at 4:25 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
"There's a lot of tradition here, and football runs deep here in Pittsburgh,'' McBriar said Wednesday," McBriar said. "You get that sense when you walk in the door. I'm excited to play for the Steelers, and I can't wait to get started."
McBriar was a little surprised that he didn't get a call to continue his NFL career at the beginning of this season, but there were extenuating circumstances that led to an extremely successful eight-year tenure in Dallas come to an end in 2011. McBriar kicked for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, but he was a Pro-Bowl punter and second-team All-Pro in 2006 and 2010 and left the Cowboys as the most successful punter in team history.
"I had a drop foot, a situation with my left (plant) leg," McBriar said. "I had a cyst that was inside the nerve and basically blocked it, which paralyzed the leg. But it's better now. They don't totally remove it. They sparse it, and then it dissolves naturally. It just keeps getting better all the time. The nerve keeps regenerating, and it's good now. It's really strong now.
"But it was a little scary, because you basically wake up and can't move your foot. (So), it was a strange thing that happened to me, and you realize that things can change pretty quickly. (But) I kept at it, and my name was still somewhat out there. And my agent was pretty good at keeping it circulating, so I feel great. My problem is gone, and I'm just looking to contribute."
From 2006-10, McBriar was the best punter in the NFL. He averaged better than 47 yards per punt and 39.5 net yards during those five seasons. The most successful Aussie punter in the NFL was Darren Bennett, who kicked nine seasons for the San Diego Chargers (1995-2003) and one for Minnesota (2004) before retiring after one game with the Vikings in 2005.
McBriar owes a lot to his good friend, Bennett, who contacted former coach June Jones to connect the two. McBriar, then 21 and getting roughed up on a regular basis while Australian Rules Football, got a call to join Jones at the University of Hawaii to punt for the Rainbow Warriors.
After three successful seasons in Hawaii, McBriar was signed by the Denver Broncos in 2003 as an undrafted free agent, but he was traded during the preseason to the Seattle Seahawks. He was released before the season and signed by the Dallas Cowboys to their practice squad later that year. He became the starting punter for Dallas in 2004.
McBriar still lives in Dallas and was working out with a former SMU punter there before he got the call to come in for a tryout with the Steelers. He and another punter, who McBriar would not name, kicked Monday for the Steelers coaches. McBriar signed later that day and got to work Wednesday as a holder for place-kicker Shaun Suisham, who kicked for the Cowboys with McBriar from 2005-06 and in 2009 as well. The two kept in touch and now are reunited.
"Shaun's a great guy," McBriar said. "So, I think we'll work together well. You certainly keep an eye on the kicking around the league, but I basically just went through my agent. He did a good job of finding out which teams were interested, and I told him if there was a workout or anything that I wanted to be involved. So, that's how I ended up here."
And it's another chance for the Steelers and McBriar to succeed.
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