METAIRIE - In just 2-1/2 seasons with the New Orleans Saints, kicker Garrett Hartley has experienced more highs and lows than a 25-year-old could ever imagine.
He’s made game-winning kicks, including one that sent the Saints to Super Bowl XLIV, and has missed kicks that would have won games in the closing seconds.
He’s also the only player in NFL history to boot three field goals of 40 yards or longer in a Super Bowl after making kicks of 46, 44 and 47 yards in a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Because of that, Saints coaches and management view the diminutive Hartley, who has an exceptionally strong right leg, as a valuable asset despite an occasional hiccup.
Aside from leg strength, another thing that sets Hartley apart is how he responds to adversity. Both times the former Oklahoma star missed a game-winner, he’s shaken it off and bounced back with a string of successful kicks.
“It’s really just believing in yourself and your own abilities,” Hartley said of the tough times he’s been through. “As much as you strive to be perfect and want to be perfect, sometimes that’s not the case. And it’s really about how you battle through it.
“Going into my fourth year, I believe I’m battle-tested,” he said. “When you’ve been through those things, your skin thickens and you approach the game with a different attitude and mentality. It’s been a great learning curve, so we’re here to just go out there and put points on the scoreboard.”
Fortunately for Hartley, Saints coach Sean Payton and special teams coordinator Greg McMahon are clearly in his corner.
They could have easily turned on him and even cut him loose after he botched chip-shot field goals in a loss to Tampa Bay in the 2009 regular-season finale and in overtime of a Week 3 setback to Atlanta last season which likely cost his team home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Payton, however, refused to put Hartley, who has heard boos from the stands, on a short leash even though he benched the youngster for two games last year and brought veteran John Carney in to settle things down.
Just like the 2009 miss, when Hartley came back with a 40-yard field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship game to send the Saints to the Super Bowl and then helped beat the Colts, he was a different kicker after the devastating miss against the Falcons.
In the next 12 games, Hartley, who credited Carney with being a friend and mentoring him in the bad times, converted 19 of 21 field-goal attempts - including his final 13 kicks counting the playoff loss at Seattle.
McMahon is hoping that’s the Hartley they’ll see this season.
“You certainly hope so, that’s for darn sure,” McMahon said last week. “I know that’s Garrett’s intent and it’s our intent. He’s had a good training camp and he’s really been consistent.
“We’re certainly excited, going into the season, about the way he finished last year. So our intentions are for him to go out and get a good start like he did at the end last season.”
The Saints’ front office was also excited about Hartley’s finish. Even though he was scheduled to be a restricted free agent and they likely could have retained him with a one-year tender offer, they gave him a new five-year contract before the lockout began.
“Once the negotiations started, it was out of my control,” Hartley said. “I knew I wanted to play here if it meant signing a one-year tender or a long-term deal. Obviously, I’m excited about being here at least for the next five years and getting this season under way.”
Hartley said he’s grateful the team’s decision-makers stuck with him and rewarded him for converting 85.7 percent of his career field-goal attempts (42 of 49) in regular-season play and being a perfect 8-for-8 in the postseason.
“Having the respect of the coaches and management means a lot,” said Hartley, who knows the only thing that matters is putting the ball between the uprights on a consistent basis. “It’s good to have job security, but at the same time you still have to come out here and prove week in and week out that their decision was right.”
But it all comes back, he said, to how you respond to things.
“That’s really how you judge one’s character,” Hartley said, “and everything I’ve been through my first three years here is defining that character.”
Saints fans have just one more opportunity to take in a training camp practice after Payton announced a change Monday. The final practice open to the public is on Tuesday from 4-6:30 p.m. - weather permitting. ? The Saints break camp in Metairie on Thursday, play at Houston on Saturday and then fly to Oxnard, Calif., for an extended training camp from Aug. 22-26 before their third preseason game at Oakland. ? Payton said running back Chris Ivory (foot/sports hernia) and defensive end Greg Romeus (knee) still haven’t passed their physicals. ? Also not practicing Monday were LB Clint Ingram (hamstring), RB Joique Bell (knee), T Alex Barron (knee), DT Tom Johnson (calf), LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar (quadriceps), CB Leigh Torrence (hip), DE Jeff Charleston (unspecified), CB Johnny Patrick (knee), LB Ramon Humber (quadriceps), and LB Ezra Butler (hamstring/sports hernia).