TAMPA, Fla. â€“ Men have faced much longer kicks in conditions far nastier. But when he lined up for a 24-yard field goal Sunday, no kicker in history felt as much pressure.
â€œI buried my son yesterday,â€ Matt Bryant said.
He wanted to honor him the best way he could by showing Tryson that his old man could still get the job done.
Tryson never got to see that down here. He was 3 months old when he died Wednesday. He passed in his sleep.
Tests may eventually show what killed Tryson, but we will never know why such things happen.
Bryant didnâ€™t show up for work Sunday to find that answer. Heâ€™d gotten back from the funeral in Texas late Saturday night.
But heâ€™d told Jon Gruden heâ€™d be at Raymond James Stadium to kick off. No explanation was needed.
â€œHe is a man of few words,â€ Gruden said. â€œHe always has been, and always will be. This was very important for him to play. I think he needed the game today.â€
He needed it for one reason.
â€œI wanted to go out there and honor Trysonâ€™s name,â€ Bryant said. â€œI didnâ€™t think it was very fair for his life to end so short.â€
Unfair is having a ref blow a call that cost your team a game. Tragic is going in to kiss your baby good morning and finding he wonâ€™t move.
Itâ€™s meaningless in comparison, but Bryant put people in an awkward position Sunday. The Bucs had no idea how he would respond. And what if kicks bounced off the uprights or sailed wide?
Bryantâ€™s teammates would have forgiven all. They couldnâ€™t know what Bryant was experiencing, but they could imagine being in that position.
You donâ€™t have to be in the NFL to know that feeling. The joy that is coming home after a bad day and having it all washed away by the littlest grin.
â€œHe smiled,â€ Bryant said of Tryson. â€œAll you had to do was talk to him and talk softly.â€
The game took on a weird feeling of destiny. Green Bay rallied to take a 21-20 lead, then the Bucs got a late chance to come back, and ended with Bryant facing that 24-yarder with 2:26 left.
It was perfect.
It was about as happy an ending as such a week could have. If youâ€™re lucky, youâ€™ll never know how hard it was for Bryant, or what it was like to go home to an empty crib Sunday night.
At least Bryant felt like Tryson was with him on the field and finally got to see him at work.
His baby boy must have been proud.
By David Whitley / McClatchy Tribune