Kicker Brett Maher is either the most persistent or most obstinate player in the league. Either way, he simply won't take no for an answer.
Six years after his first NFL tryout with the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie free agent, the 28-year-old from Nebraska finally cracked a 53-man roster. And he did so with the Cowboys on his second go-round with America's Team.
While Maher's first and last field goal attempt haven't gone his way, it's all the kicks in between that prove Maher is worth the wait.
He missed his first try in Carolina, and of course, had a 52-yard game-tying kick clang off the upright last week in Washington. In between, Maher made 16 straight field goals, including a game-winner vs. Detroit that earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Maher's 16 made field goals is the third-most by a Cowboys kicker in the first seven games of his career. But that career actually started way before this year. In fact, he wasn't exactly a new face when he joined this team this offseason.
Maher's first try with Dallas, which came in August 2013, lasted only two weeks before he was released. But this summer, thanks to an outstanding training camp and preseason, Maher outperformed the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, Dan Bailey, to win the job.
Six years is a long time, but a dream delayed does not have to be a dream denied.
"I felt like I was capable," said Maher. "But at the same time, you get told no enough times to where you're either going to shrink up and accept no as an answer, or you're going to figure out what little things you can do to make a difference to try to get to the next level."
Maher's journey has included tryouts for the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers as well as seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks (2014, 2017) and Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2015-16). It has also included signings with the Cleveland Browns (2017) and tryouts with numerous other teams, including the Houston Texans.
Over those half-dozen years, did he ever consider giving up on his NFL dream?
"I never did, no," he said emphatically. "I never did. I've always seen myself as a placekicker, as a guy who can kick field goals and kickoffs, but also as a guy who can punt as well. It certainly helped get me a job in Canada. Having an American passport means you have to do all three things – placekick, punt and kick off – if you want to play up there because they have ratio rules that limit the amount of American and/or international players on the roster. If I could handle all the kicking and punting duties, it could save them a roster spot.
"I never really stopped punting because I was playing up there. But even when I was in college and up through Canada, I've always seen field goals and kickoffs as my bread and butter."
Maher's experience north of the border also helped him perfect what could be a much-needed skill. The CFL's playing field is larger, totaling 150 yards long including end zones and 65 yards wide, compared to an NFL field, which is 120 yards long including end zones and 53 1/3 yards wide.
"Because the field in Canada is so large, up there you do a lot of directional kicking," noted Maher. "That is something that will help me in the NFL this year with all the new rule changes for kickoffs. Kickoffs are something I really tried to hone-in on because I thought it would be even more important this year.
"Playing up in Canada also put me in a lot of different situations, especially weather situations that I had to prepare for. I've done imagery sets in a cold tub to get prepared mentally. You sit in a cold tub and visualize because it gets cold up there. I've played in a lot of rain, a lot of wind, a lot of snow. And not just in Canada, but growing up in Nebraska."
Maher's home is still the Cornhusker State, as he grew up in Kearney and now lives in Lincoln. But for the past month, he's lived in an extended stay hotel in North Texas. He just hasn't had much time to hunt for a place to live. After all, he didn't know he would be sticking around for the regular season until the final 53-man roster cuts on Sept. 1.
"That's the nature of the beast in this league," Maher said with a shrug. "There are very few guys who woke up on the Saturday morning of roster cuts knowing that they were going to have a job."
Once he learned he would be on the team, it was time for him and his wife to make some hard decisions about relocating his family.
"My wife, Jenna, is the one who knows everything about my journey, and she's been through all of it. Her support has meant everything. Jenna just started the school year back home where she's a fourth-grade teacher. She taught kindergarten the past two years. The school year started before I knew whether or not I had made the team. She doesn't want to put the school system in a bad situation, so we'll be back and forth this year.
"We have two little kids as well. Our daughters are Maela, who is 4 years old, and Laekyn, who is 2. They'll come down for most home games. What Jenna is able to do for our family while allowing me to pursue this has been awesome."
Jenna is not the only educator in the Maher family. Brett's degree from the University of Nebraska is in secondary education, mathematics. His father, Dr. Brian Maher, is the superintendent of the Sioux Falls School District in South Dakota. Interestingly, it was through a contact in his dad's office that Maher found the person who he credits for helping put him over the top when it comes to the mental side of the game.
"I started working with Andy Gillham, a sports psychologist from South Dakota," said Maher. "My dad works with Andy's wife. That's how we met. I've been working with him for just over a year and a half. It's changed my thought process and my routine and being ready for different situations. I had been playing with the idea for a few months, thinking about what might take me to the next level, and I thought it was a piece that was missing for me. It all fell together and it's really set me up.
"I'd always been a confident guy and a physically capable guy, but I had always been on the wrong side of it a few too many times. Physically, I was capable enough to be in this league, so the mental side was the one thing I hadn't tapped into, other than reading a few books and doing what I knew. I wanted to take it to the next level."
For all those fans and media members who say that Maher is a first-year player who had never attempted a "pressure kick" in a regular season game, here is something to consider: When you're a journeyman kicker invited year-after-year to tryouts and/or signed as an "extra leg" to rest the veteran kicker and punter at training camp, every single kick in every single practice is pressure-filled.
In reality, Maher has lined up for pressure kicks since the first days of offseason practices back in May because it hasn't been a game on the line; it's been his career.
"Through OTAs and all of training camp and every preseason game, you're always on that razor's edge," he admitted. "To be honest with you, my blinders were on the whole time. Games are obviously different than practice, and I get that. But at the same time, the preparation every day should not change. If I'm kicking field goals outdoors on the grass field or inside AT&T Stadium on game day, I'm trying to make every single one.
"In this profession, everything you do is pressure-packed. Every kick is so important in how this league shakes down every week."
Looking back on the preseason, does Maher feel that the 57-yard field goal he drilled down the middle in the preseason finale at Houston was the kick that secured his roster spot? At the least, did he feel that lengthy kick would land him a spot on some NFL team, even if it wasn't the Cowboys?
"You can't control when your opportunity is going to come, so to say one kick is more significant than another is something I'm not sure is accurate," said Maher. "You never know when you're going to get an opportunity, right? I look back on the third preseason game against Arizona where we hadn't scored all game. We get in range in the closing seconds and I hit one from 45, so maybe that one is significant, too. It's more than the 57-yarder in the final preseason game. You have to maximize every opportunity."
Maher shared credit for his success this summer with deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur and holder Chris Jones and plans for the trio to carry that success through the remainder of the regular season.
"Chris and L.P. have been absolutely awesome," he said. "Talk about two great guys that I get to work with every day. I'm very lucky to work with them."
Maher also appreciates the support of Cowboys assistant coach Doug Colman and longtime scout Henry Sroka.
"We go back to my freshman and redshirt freshman seasons at the University of Nebraska when he was starting his coaching career," Maher said of Colman. "Every relationship like that helps because there are a lot of guys out there who are just looking for an opportunity and looking to be seen. To have someone here that you already have a relationship with, someone that can pull for you, is helpful. I also spoke with Henry, and I met him coming out of college, so I had a relationship with those two before I got here. It's good to have familiar faces around and people that I was already comfortable with.
"Now I'm excited to be with the Cowboys and plan to make the most of it. And the best way for me to go about it right now is to stay in my lane and do what I can to be prepped for Sundays."
Which he certainly seems to be. This has been six years coming, after all, with pressure kick after pressure kick not only helping to decide games, but his very future as well. No doubt he's earned his opportunity to be in the NFL … and the chance to keep walking that razor's edge.