The date was Nov. 20, 2005. The Baltimore Ravens were celebrating a 16-13 overtime victory over their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. A 44-yard field goal by Matt Stover provided the margin and erased a four-game losing streak that included a heartbreaking 20-19 loss at Pittsburgh.
Then-rookie Matt Katula had a vital role on that play, as well as two earlier field goals the team could not have done without. He had passed the ultimate test for an NFL long snapper, helping his kicker boot a game-winner, but his locker was not mobbed by the media. Then, on Monday morning, he opened the paper and skimmed the game story.
Katula was never mentioned, and he smiled.
Born Aug. 22, 1982 in Brookfield, Wisc., Katula is fulfilling a dream, following a successful tenure at the University of Wisconsin with a steady career in the National Football League. And he would rather you not know it.
"You don't know who I am unless I mess up," the Ravens' long snapper said. "I think that's the way we live as snappers. It's better that way. Just stay behind the scenes and do your job, and if nobody knows who you are, that's fine."
Amongst his peers, though, Katula is very well-known. His contributions to the Ravens' kicking game have given him a reputation as one of the premier long snappers in the NFL.
"Matt is one of the best snappers I've ever been with," said Stover, who enters his 19th season. "He's consistent. That's huge for my confidence. I just go when I'm supposed to go and I know that ball is going to be there. It just gives me that much more confidence to be able to kick it through."
That confidence comes with experience, as Stover, Katula and punter Sam Koch have teamed on field goal attempts – including four successful game-winners – for three full seasons heading into this year.
"We're in a rhythm," Katula said of the relationship. "This is our fourth year together, and everybody knows what the other guys are going to do. We just trust each other implicitly. That makes our job easier."
Too easy, perhaps, for Stover.
"Almost 10 out of 10 times, those laces are in front," Stover said. "I'm getting so spoiled with it that I have to be careful. There are times when I get other snaps thrown by a coach because Matt and Sam are that good that you just have to stay on top of your game so you don't get too complacent."
As with most snappers, Katula did not set out to play the position. He served as the long snapper as a high school junior, hoping to be rewarded with more playing time as a senior. The dedication paid off, and he was recruited by Barry Alvarez and the Wisconsin Badgers as a defensive end.
But once a snapper, always a snapper, and it didn't take long for Alvarez to discover his new recruit's talent.
"I was actually joking around on a walk-through practice snapping to some guys, and Coach Alvarez came up to me and said 'You're the new backup,'" Katula remembered. "The rest is history, as they say."
What started out as a joke with some teammates turned into years of dedicated hard work. The former defensive end quickly realized that protecting on kicks and sprinting downfield to cover punts were just as crucial as uncorking a snap with precision and speed.
"You've got to be accurate and fast, but you've got to protect, too," said Katula. "You can't let that go by the wayside. You've got to realize that on field goals, you're going to have 300-plus pound guys running into you and you've got to be strong in there. You've got to support the guys next to you.
"Don't be the weak link."
Now starting his fourth season with the Ravens, Katula has proven to be anything but a weak link in the Ravens' special teams.
With mounting pressure to end a losing streak and beat the Steelers that November day, Stover provided the kick the Ravens needed in overtime. The team had a win, and Katula's teammates had a new confidence in their young long snapper.
And that was exactly the type of recognition Matt Katula wanted.