He has been back with the Bucs for three games, but he still doesn’t have a wood-carved nameplate over his locker. Nick Folk’s name is still over a stall.
"I’m just happy to have a locker," Patrick Murray said.
He has been the answer to a prayer. And this is a man who prays. A lot.
Remember when the kicking game was the Bucs’ cross to bear? Three games into his second stint in Tampa Bay, the 26-year-old Murray has settled in perfectly, 3-for-3 on field goals — one from 50 yards.
Murray can’t explain everything that has happened to him over the past few years, though he has tried to find answers. Oh, has he tried. He thinks about his first go with the Bucs as starting kicker, in 2014. He was humming along until a torn ACL in his nonkicking leg. He came back with the Browns last season but went down with another injury to the same knee. He was about to put his Fordham finance degree to work on Wall Street when Tampa Bay invited him to a tryout.
"This is the biggest opportunity of my life, coming back to play for this team," Murray said. "How cool is it to come back to the place where you started, to get to see guys who you began your journey with?"
Murray is pretty cool all by himself, chatty, inquisitive — and relentless.
"I’ve always been the underdog," the 5-foot-7 Murray said. "I’ve always been the guy who thinks he needs to work harder than anyone. … I’m not the tallest guy in the world. I’m not the strongest guy in the world, but my mom and dad pushed me to always be the best."
The lessons began in Mahwah, N.J., in a working-class family with a devout Catholic faith.
"We’re the family that sat in the same seats every Sunday at Sacred Heart Church," Murray said.
Murray’s uncle is a Salesian priest. When he served mass at the Murray home, Patrick was his altar boy.
"The Catholic education I received carried me through a lot of life lessons through 26 years," he said. "I know I believe in a God who will take care of me and has things planned out for me, and his timing is never wrong."
That doesn’t mean Murray always understood the plan. That’s why, after the injuries and coming back from them, he consulted with … a medium.
The Bucs are playing the Saints today, and the Christian holy day All Saints Day was this week, and New Orleans is full of fortune tellers, and …
Murray stops you right there.
"I think you’re reading too much into that, truthfully," he said.
He doesn’t sit at a felt-top table, across from someone in a gold turban. Murray met the medium through her husband, who trained at the same gym as Murray.
"It’s not hocus-pocus. Nobody is seeing into the future," Murray said with a smile. "There is no fortune teller in my life. It’s just someone who has helped me, someone who has helped me kind of realize why these things happened, these injuries, and put it into proper perspective. … You can talk to a psychologist if that’s what you need to feel good. You can talk to a medium if that’s what makes you feel good. You can talk to a priest. Whatever gets you in the right frame of mind and allows you to execute your job, why not do it?
"I’ve connected with people on the other side through my own experiences. I can talk to my grandfather who passed away. Now granted, is he going to say something back? He’s not going to stand in front of me, but that’s where my faith comes in. I know that I’m going to see that person again, so I can still talk to them, bring my problems to them. There’s comfort in that. I talk to a lot of people who’ve been on my side. Some of them are here, some aren’t. I’ve got the gift of gab. I could talk to a wall."
Murray’s father, Aidan, came to America from Ireland. Patrick holds dual citizenship. He nearly attended college in Dublin.
"My family goes to Ireland every summer," Murray said. "We have family there. It’s what resonates with me the most. When I go there, that’s not vacation. That’s home."
Murray is positive that if the world of NFL placekicking hadn’t been open to him, he would be living in Ireland, working in finance, playing Gaelic football, a rough-and-tumble sport that takes place on a pitch larger than an NFL field. Fifteen a side. Players use their hands — and feet.
"If it wasn’t for Gaelic football, I wouldn’t have this opportunity," said Murray, who grew up playing the game. "It taught me to be confident with the ball in my hand and kicking the ball, because it’s all punting. It taught me how to properly take a dead ball, putting the ball down and kicking it through the posts. And the physicality of it. Getting hit all the time. Jabs here and there. There’s no padding. That’s the way it should be."
Murray’s father, who is 56, can still kick 35- to 40-yard field goals and punt a ball 50 yards. He’s the only person Patrick trusts when it comes to his kicking technique. Aidan Murray oversees shipping and receiving at a college in Mahwah. Patrick’s mother is a special-needs teacher.
"If you want to talk about the embodiment of a saint, look no further than Linda Murray," Patrick said. "My dad is the hardest-working man I know. He did everything under the sun. When he was in college, he would go to Germany in the summer and work construction. When he came here, he would paint houses.
"He’s the handiest man I ever met. I’m pretty handy. I learned it from him. I can fix whatever."
And he has.
Kicking isn’t the Bucs’ biggest problem anymore.
Break on through to the other side.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.