Forty-five years ago, the title of “Mr. Irrelevant” was born, a label that refers to the final pick of the yearly NFL draft. Only two such players have won Super Bowl championships — linebacker Marty Moore with the New England Patriots in 2002 and fullback Jim Finn with the New York Giants in 2008 — although neither was on his team’s active roster at the time.
Sunday night, 2005 Hickory High graduate Ryan Succop will become the first Hickory native to play in the Super Bowl when his Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the 55th annual installment of the NFL’s biggest game. The final pick of the 2009 NFL draft — by the Chiefs, ironically enough — Succop is considered by many to be the most successful “Mr. Irrelevant” in league history.
“I feel a ton of support from a lot of my friends and family that are in the Hickory area and it’s really cool and special to be able to represent Hickory in the Super Bowl, so it’s something that I’m excited about,” Succop said during a virtual press conference earlier this week. “I obviously have a lot of fond memories growing up and playing at Hickory High and that’s where all of this got started, and it’ll be really special on Sunday to hear from a lot of my friends and family from Hickory. I’m looking forward to being able to represent them and hopefully we can go out there and get a win for everybody in that part of the state.”
The 34-year-old kicker has already played in more games (182) than any other final draft pick in NFL history, with the aforementioned Moore (112) and Finn (106) as well as defensive back Michael Green (104) representing the only others to reach the century mark. Of the 45 players selected last since 1976, 26 haven’t played in a single game and eight have appeared in nine games or less.
No “Mr. Irrelevant” has ever scored in the Super Bowl, something that will almost certainly change on Sunday. Shortly after the 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium, Succop is expected to be called on to either kick a field goal or an extra point after the Bucs’ vaunted offense puts him in position to do so. He has scored at least three points in every game this season, and has 168 points through 19 total games (16 in the regular season, three in the postseason).
“It’s been an amazing year, very blessed to be here obviously,” said Succop, who was released by Tennessee last March after an injury-plagued 2019 season, his sixth with the Titans. “Some of the things I went through last year in Tennessee were really difficult, there was certainly some adversity. Any time you try to come back from an injury and you don’t come back the way that you want to, it can be frustrating.
“... Oftentimes in my life or in football, when you go through some adversity a lot of times you grow as a person, and it’s something where I think it’s helped mature me as a person,” he added. “I think I’ve grown in my faith through that, and it’s been amazing just to see how the Lord has healed me and has brought me to a great situation here in Tampa and allowed me to work with a lot of great teammates and a lot of great coaches. And to have an opportunity to be here is just something I’m very grateful for.”
After finishing sixth in the NFL in scoring with 136 points during the regular season, Succop has 32 points in the playoffs, the highest mark among all players. He has made all eight of his field goal attempts during the postseason and is 8-for-9 on extra point tries, adding to an impressive regular season in which he converted 90.3% (28 of 31) of his field goals and 91.2% (52 of 57) of his extra points.
“I work with a bunch of great guys and I’m grateful for guys like Zach Triner and Bradley Pinion, my snapper and my holder,” said Succop. “Those guys do such a fantastic job and they really make my job a lot easier, and so I’m just grateful I get to go to work with guys like that each and every week. And as good as they are on the field, they’re even better men off the field and so that’s something that I’m really thankful for, really grateful for those guys and just very appreciative of them.”
Interestingly enough, Pinion played collegiately at Clemson, the chief rival of Succop’s alma mater, South Carolina. The Concord native and 2012 Northwest Cabarrus High graduate was drafted by the 49ers in 2015 and spent four seasons in San Francisco before signing with the Bucs in 2019. In addition to serving as Succop’s holder, he averaged a career-high 45.2 yards as Tampa Bay’s punter during the 2020 regular season.
“Bradley’s a really close friend of mine and he’s a great teammate,” said Succop. “He’s a great man and certainly we have our Carolina-Clemson differences, but in all honesty we kind of have fun with it and I’m really blessed to work with a guy like Bradley. He’s a great teammate and someone I’m really thankful for.”
Speaking of punting, Succop also handled those duties during his sophomore and junior seasons with the Gamecocks. He concentrated solely on kicking as a senior, a move that more than paid off. Succop made a Southeastern Conference-high 20 field goals during his final year at South Carolina, and was one of only two kickers drafted the following spring.
Following five seasons in Kansas City, Succop was released and subsequently signed with the Titans, remaining with them through the 2019 season. He was a perfect 187-for-187 on extra points during his first six years in the NFL, and is 390-for-405 (96.3%) overall in his 12-year NFL career.
Succop has also made 83% (264 of 318) of his field goal attempts, with 21 of his career makes coming from 50-plus yards and 104 from at least 40 yards. He made a career-long 54-yarder with the Chiefs in 2011 before matching it with the Titans in 2018.
Despite the way his time ended with both of his former squads, Succop harbors no ill feelings. In fact, he currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Paige, and their two children — a third is due later this year — and is also very fond of the years he spent with the Chiefs.
“Some of my best friends were on that team,” said Succop of the Chiefs. “... My wife and I, we loved our time in Kansas City, we actually still have a house in Kansas City. Arrowhead (Stadium) is obviously a special place and there’s a lot of great tradition there, and there’s just a lot of great people in the Midwest and in Kansas City in general, so for me I’d say the number one thing that stood out (about his time in Kansas City) is the people.”
Succop has also enjoyed his time as a Buccaneer, helping lead the franchise to its first playoff berth since 2007 and its first Super Bowl appearance since winning it all 19 years ago. Tampa Bay finished 11-5 during the regular season to earn the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs, where they earned three consecutive road wins — 32-18 over the Washington Football Team in the wild-card round, 30-20 over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round and 31-26 over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game.
The Bucs’ reward is becoming the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl. But in order to lift their second Lombardi Trophy, they will have to go through the defending champion Chiefs, who defeated the 49ers 31-20 a year ago to capture their first championship in 50 years.
The teams met in the regular season, with Kansas City jumping out to a 17-0 lead after the first quarter and holding on for a 27-24 victory. That game was also held in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs were 5-3 during the regular season, but that was over two months ago.
“I think our team has come a long way and we’ve continued to grow and we’ve continued to get better as a team,” said Succop. “And obviously I think the Chiefs have done the same, so it should be a great game and something that we’re really looking forward to.
“It’s been an amazing 12 years for me,” he continued. “The Lord has blessed my career, and he’s blessed my career in ways that I really never could’ve imagined. Not just for the longevity of it, but for the people that he’s allowed me to play with and the relationships that I’ve been able to build and just the people that have poured into me over my 12 years in this league. I feel very blessed to be in that situation and all glory to God for allowing me to experience this.”
GETTING TO KNOW RYAN SUCCOP
• Born in Hickory on Sept. 19, 1986
• Graduated from Hickory High in 2005
• Earned all-state recognition five times in high school (3x soccer, 2x football)
• Attended South Carolina from 2005-09
• Collected Second-Team All-Southeastern Conference honors in 2006 and ‘07
• Ranks 10th among Gamecocks with 251 career points
• Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs on April 26, 2009
• Signed with the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 1, 2014
• Signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 1, 2020
• One of 11 players from his draft class to play in 2020
RYAN SUCCOP’S CAREER NFL STATS
• 182 regular-season games played
• 264-for-318 (83%) on regular-season field goals
• 390-for-405 (96.3%) on regular-season extra points
• Longest regular-season field goal is 54 yards (2011, ’18)
• 347 touchbacks on 737 regular-season kickoffs (47.1%)