A kicking tee, the small piece of plastic that holds a football in place, is what disrupted Mike Lansford's path to the Rams.
"I kicked off a tee, but they take it away when you go pro, and that was the biggest obstacle for me," said Lansford, who played at the University of Washington and was chosen in the 1980 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. "So I'm no longer using a tee and I wasn't adapting quick enough. The Giants cut me, and then the next year, the Niners cut me, and then the Raiders cut me. I was still determined to try and figure it out. I just couldn't put my brain on what it was.
"And one day I was working out with a bunch of existing pros, and I threw on some old mud-stained shoes and they created a blister on my heel. I didn't want to waste this opportunity to work out with these guys, so after the first kick I just took my shoe off and that was it. By doing that, I lowered my foot on the ball just enough to get great height on the ball.
"It hadn't been easy to keep my confidence. Getting tryouts wasn't the problem, but once I got there, I wasn't very impressive. I was rapidly becoming the guy that couldn't make the transition out of college. I don't know whether I was just overly confident or just afraid of working for a living. One of the two. And it ended up being as simple as just taking my shoe off."
Growing up as a Rams fan, Lansford's dream came true when he went to training camp with the team in 1982 to compete against their four-year veteran and one-time Pro Bowler Frank Corral.
"Frank Corral kicked and punted, so that made things even worse. I couldn't just go in and beat him out as a kicker, someone had to beat him out as a punter," Lansford said. "And the guy that came in at the same time was John Misko from Oregon State.
"He and I struck up a great friendship at the time and just kind of encouraged each other as best we could. We had some great preseason games, and when it came down to making a change, the Rams did it."
After everything Lansford had gone through to make it to the NFL, his first season in Los Angeles was shortened because of a player's strike. And his second season was shortened because of a knee injury. But with the way that season began, it actually could have been worse for him.
"John Robinson came in and took over (as the head coach) for Ray Malavasi, and ended up drafting Chuck Nelson, who was my backup at the University of Washington. Once I left Washington, Chuck went on to set all these college records," Lansford said. "We were in training camp, and Chuck was struggling kicking off the grass, as well. He was going through the same thing I had been going through for the previous couple years. But I'd overcome it.
"And the second or third week, I blew my knee out. I ended up rehabbing and Chuck continued to kick the center in the butt like I probably would have had I made the Giants. The Rams looked around with like four games to go in that season and brought me back.
"We were 8-7 and the Saints were 8-7, and we were in New Orleans (for the season finale). The Saints had never been to the playoffs, and we hadn't been in the playoffs for a while, and the winner of the game goes to the Wild Card (Game). I hit a 42-yard field goal with two seconds left to put us over the top (26-24). That still remains the biggest kick of my life."
Lansford had game-tying or game-winning field goals peppered throughout his nine seasons with the Rams, including in a 1986 game against Chicago.
"The year after we lost to the Bears in the NFC Championship Game, we played them on Monday Night Football and it was a different game," Lansford said. "It ends up coming down to me. I hit a 50-yard field goal to not make up for us losing the year before, but it was the last kick of the game (to win 20-17) and it led us to another successful season."
Earning the reputation of being a clutch kicker, Lansford connected on 158 of 217 field goal attempts and 315 of 325 extra points. How rewarding was it to know that his teammates had faith in his longtime reliability?
"It was great, it really was," Lansford said. "You're strutting around the locker room with some of the world's best athletes, and just that you're a part of them, and you have their respect and they can count on you, you feel it. You feel it from them. It just makes a better-than-average kicker even better."
What made Lansford, who retired in 1991 as the Rams' all-time leading scorer with 789 points, and still ranks third on the list, most proud of his career?
"I think it's how it started," he said. "The fact that I overcame all the obstacles is probably the one thing I'm most proud of. And once I got into that position, I was a good pro. But the best part, I think, was I got to do all this in front of my family and friends. People I grew up with and loved."
Lansford, who has two adult children: McCall and Chase; makes his home near where he grew up in Orange County. For the past 20 years, he has been an independent contractor.
"I've been in payroll, work comp, insurance. Right now, I'm more of, for lack of a better word, a dealmaker," Lansford said. "I put rich guys together with great products and then I work my way into a position with those products and get paid accordingly. So I guess when you're around long enough in one spot, you get to know everybody, and that job seems to work for me.
"Plus, I don't think I'm employable. But I am good at it. I'm good at managing people and getting along. Those are my strengths. And I'm in the same area that I grew up in. I'm real close to my kids. Those are the things I really like about it."