December 04, 1978 12:00 PM

Two months ago the National Football League season was new and the Atlanta Falcons had already lost their fourth game in six. Tim Mazzetti, 22, was a bouncer-bartender at Smokey Joe’s in Philadelphia making $50 a night. When the Falcons phoned, he didn’t get his hopes up, having failed to make five other NFL teams as a place kicker. This time he stuck, and now Atlanta is in contention for the playoffs for the first time ever, thanks largely to Mazzetti’s magic toe (actually instep, since he kicks soccer-style). Sound like an outline for a musical called Damn Cowboys? Mazzetti agrees. “I can’t believe all of this,” says the shy 6’1″ 175-pounder. “Me? A hero? Come on, it’s dreamland.”

Atlanta’s fans may have been thinking more along the lines of a familiar nightmare when Mazzetti attempted his first field goal against San Francisco. It was blocked. (“My fault—I was too slow getting into the ball,” Mazzetti says, though, in fact, the center’s snap was bad.) His second try was good, and then Tim got a third shot—with the score tied at 17 and one second left to play. “I could feel the bottom of my stomach dropping out,” he recalls, but he kicked a 29-yarder to win the game. By then, he laughs, “I had white hair.”

A week later Mazzetti’s five field goals scored all the Falcons’ points in a 15-7 upset of the division-leading L.A. Rams. In sum, he converted his first 10 points after touchdown, kicked nine field goals in a row and helped Atlanta win five of the first six games he played. Says head coach Leeman Bennett: “Everyone’s been playing better since Tim’s been with us.”

Mazzetti’s implausible Frank Merriwell route into pro football began in Old Greenwich, Conn., but he and his three older brothers grew up in Brazil, where his Italian-born father was in the textile-machinery business. As a teen in São Paulo, Mazzetti was such a natural jock that he was offered a pro soccer contract, and those were the days when Pelé was still around. “But I’d decided to go to college in the States,” he says, and at the suggestion of one of his Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers he tried out for the University of Pennsylvania football team. “I didn’t know anything about football,” he admits. “I didn’t know how to put on shoulder pads or even how many men were on a team, and I couldn’t believe they went in there and tried to kill each other.”

But he had a powerful kick, and Mazzetti went on to break most of Penn’s field goal records. “I am a clutch person,” he observes. After graduation in 1977, though, Tim failed to make the New England Patriots because of a hernia. It was a traumatic time—his father had just lost his job—so after an operation Mazzetti returned to Brazil to play soccer and practice kicking. Then this summer—after trying out and getting cut by the Eagles, Jets, Cowboys and Saints—he went to work full-time at Smokey Joe’s. “I forgot about football and learned a lot about myself,” he says. “I was lucky to have good people around me at the bar.”

Success “hasn’t gone to my head,” Mazzetti promises. After the Rams game, he and his Atlanta date (his real love is in New York) got drinks on the house, but Tim says, “I left a $10 tip, because I know what it’s like.” Another night he flew back to Philadelphia to be lionized at Smokey Joe’s. Tim swore he’d be back there at the end of the season—on the working side of the bar. But, like most modern pro athletes, he has a demand. Explains the new NFL sensation: “I want the regular Wednesday-to-Saturday shift.”

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