The celebrity treatment is operating in full force for Tim Masthay. Masthay and his wife, Amanda, had just finished lunch at a Green Bay restaurant and were ready to settle up when they received a message from the restaurant's manager.
"They told us lunch was on the house," Masthay said. "That was a nice little surprise."
That's what happens when you're a Super Bowl champion in a football-crazed town and when you come up big in the NFC championship game against one of the organization's hated rivals.
Even if you're the punter.
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Masthay, who played for the University of Kentucky from 2005-08, is basking in the glow of the Packers' 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's Super Bowl, the organization's first championship since 1997. Thousands of fans welcomed the team upon its return from Dallas, and the Super Bowl celebration on Tuesday drew a sold-out crowd to Lambeau Field despite sub-zero temperatures.
"It's really been unbelievable," Masthay said. "The whole town really does revolve around Packer football. People recognize Packer players, even the punter. I love it, my wife loves it. They really welcomed us with open arms. It was definitely special to join this team and this fantastic organization. And to win a Super Bowl on top of it, it's all just been really cool."
Earning a Super Bowl ring was the latest highlight in what has been a precipitous journey for Masthay, who arrived at UK as an unassuming three-sport high school star (football, soccer, baseball) out of Murray who was slated to be the team's starting punter. Under the tutelage of Rich Brooks, Masthay blossomed into an All-Southeastern Conference punter as a senior.
Masthay signed as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 but was released before the first pre-season game.
He returned to Lexington and took a job as a tutor at UK's Center for Academic and Tutorial Services, while Amanda worked at a local bank. Masthay kept working out with hopes of eventually being picked up by another NFL team, but he was also prepared to move on with his life.
The son of Dr. Mark Masthay, the chair of the chemistry department at the University of Dayton, and Jean Masthay, the executive director of TriState Habitat for Humanity in Cincinnati, Masthay has always had interests outside of football. He worked with Trey Grayson's campaign for U.S. Senate. Masthay and his wife expressed interest in joining the Peace Corps, but the organization mandates that a married couple wait one year before applying for membership.
"The NFL was never an end-all, be-all," Masthay said. "I definitely wanted to play professional football, and I was going to continue working out and trying to reach that goal, but yeah, I wasn't going to let it ruin my life if I didn't make it. I didn't put a ton of pressure on myself and I think that helped."
Green Bay signed Masthay in January 2010 and he ended up winning a spirited battle for the Packers' punting job over Chris Bryan. But there were some early bumps. Masthay struggled with directional punting, and Coach Mike McCarthy made it clear after a Week 6 performance in a 23-20 loss to Miami that Masthay needed to improve.
The light started to come on for Masthay shortly thereafter. In a pivotal game at the New York Jets in Week 8, Masthay punted eight times for a 44-yard average in a 9-0 Green Bay win. McCarthy called it the best punting performance he'd ever been associated with, and Masthay was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Masthay's 37.6 net average for the season tied for the highest by a Packer since the NFL began keeping the statistic in 1976. He finished the season 18th in the league in net average and tied for 13th in average yards per punt (43.9).
"The production wasn't as good as it needed to be early on, but I was able to get on a roll and build some confidence," Masthay said. "I started to understand what it would take to be more productive and really focused on my placements, and a lot of it is just developing a mind-set of trying to beat the (punt) returner. (Special teams) Coach (Shawn) Slocum really changed the mind-set of the punt team, and we were able to play well the rest of the season."
Masthay came full circle in the NFC Championship game at Chicago. In his previous trip to Soldier Field in September, Devin Hester burned Green Bay for a 62-yard punt return TD, and Masthay had to make a last-ditch tackle to keep Hester from running another one back.
In January, Masthay's punting limited Hester to just 16 return yards and helped the Packers control field position in a 28-21 win.
"Facing the best returner in the game in the cold and wind on the road in the NFC Championship game, it doesn't get any more challenging than that," Masthay said. "But we were really geared up for it, and we had a great week of preparation. ... Coming through in that kind of situation is something I'll remember for the rest of my career."
Masthay has two years remaining on the reserve/future contract he signed last January. Terms of his contract aren't available, but the league's minimum salary is $320,000 per year. While contracts are not guaranteed, he's hoping that he's found a home in Green Bay, which has a nucleus led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers that could contend for Super Bowls for years to come.
"Aaron's really a good leader, a humble guy and a fun guy to be around," Masthay said. "I'm hoping I can stick around for a long time. I love playing for the Packers, and they've got a bright future."
And if Masthay keeps punting the way he did down the stretch, not only will he likely stick in Green Bay, he probably won't have to pick up too many tabs, either.