BALTIMORE -- This city's love for Justin Tucker began with ... a pig?
In 2012, Tucker was a relatively unknown kicker locked in a battle with Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff. Tucker went undrafted coming out of Texas, but the Baltimore Ravens were intrigued by his strong leg and even stronger self-confidence. He received no signing bonus or any guarantee of a long-term future.
By mid-August, Tucker had surprisingly won the kicking job with an impressive training camp and preseason. The Ravens didn't know they'd just discovered the most accurate kicker in NFL history, and Tucker had no clue how quickly fans would gravitate toward him.
Around the same time, Jamie Rash and his wife made a decision that would change their lives. His brother-in-law had picked up a Vietnamese potbellied pig from someone at a Georgia truck stop, then realized he couldn't properly care for it. He was going to drop off the pig at an animal shelter or a farm until someone spoke up.
"What are we going to do with a pig?" Rash asked.
"Save his life," his wife responded.
Rash and his wife are lifelong animal lovers but they had never owned a pig. They did have the land and resources to rescue one. There was just another challenge, unbeknownst to this endangered breed of domestic swine. What do you call your new pig?
"I wanted to pick a Ravens name for someone who was going to be around for a while," Rash said. "Tucker was killing it in the preseason. I was like, 'That's his name!'"
Rash took in Tucker the pig when he was 4 months old and, at 12 pounds, severely malnourished. The black-haired, large-sagging-bellied pet, who now weighs the same as his namesake at 190 pounds, waddles over with his short legs when someone yells "Tucker." He'll even open his mouth when asked to smile. At night, he plops down right next to Rash's bed, on a couple of cushions that were saved from an old couch.
Tucker the kicker has rewarded that faith, establishing himself as the best in NFL history. His winning kicks have put the Ravens (11-2) in position to clinch the AFC North title with a victory over the New York Jets (5-9) on Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox).
Baltimore's devotion to Tucker goes beyond his 90.6% percent success rate, which ranks No. 1 all time. Fans are drawn to his booming personality. They've watched social media videos of him beautifully singing opera, belting out "Ave Maria" inside a Catholic cathedral and of 3-year-old son Easton splitting the uprights in the backyard, and seen Tucker, in person, kicking at a local city park where children help him shag footballs.
Tucker the pig has never met the three-time All-Pro kicker because, well, you try getting him into a vehicle. Rash, though, has showed the real Tucker a picture at an autograph signing.
"That's just crazy!" Tucker responded when coming face-to-snout with the photo before hastily trying to clarify. "You're not crazy, but that's just crazy."
At a time when even the great Adam Vinatieri has struggled to save his job, Tucker's spot in Baltimore sports lore is even more remarkable. His No. 9 jerseys are everywhere at Ravens games, and Tucker has reached folk-hero status.
Just listen to the steady stream of Ravens fans who've named their dogs, cats, kids and, yes, at least one pig, after a kicker who has produced the most field goals (260) and has scored the most points (1,068) in the NFL over the past eight seasons.
"It's unbelievable," Tucker said last week. "To even be in the conversation of having a kid named after me is wild. It's certainly something I don't take lightly. With that comes great responsibility."
In 2014, Heather Bronson told her husband, who is a Dallas Cowboys fan, that he could name their son if he quit smoking by Oct. 1. When he was unable to do so, Bronson looked at different names until her search ended at the Ravens' Oct. 19 home game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Sitting in the first row behind the goalposts, Bronson heard the kicker's name over the speakers when he took the field to kick an extra point. She immediately called her husband.
"He's going to be named Tucker Bronson," Heather said.
Her husband started laughing. "It sounds like a weatherman," he said.
Bronson was due in January, but she had full-blown contractions on Dec. 9.
"I didn't even care that my kid was going to be a month early," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my God, we're going to have a baby and it's going to be on Justin Tucker's jersey number.'"
The baby eventually arrived on Dec. 29. And now, approaching his fifth birthday, he gets it.
"Every time he sees No. 9, he's like 'Tucker!'" Bronson said.
Brandon Paul and his girlfriend were inspired more recently. On Sunday, Oct. 6, when their son was born at 3:30 a.m., they hadn't decided on a name.
Just a little over 12 hours later, Paul was watching Tucker kick a 46-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on the hospital television.
"I was like, 'Wait, Camden Tucker, that works,'" Paul said. "It's the name. It's Justin Tucker because he's greatness."
For Paul Lewis, his Tucker was just the latest display of his passion for the Ravens.
Lewis and his wife were married on May 15, Ray Lewis' birthday, and their daughter is named Taylor Rae Lewis. When their dog died five days before the 2012 Super Bowl, they had him cremated and rushed back in time so he could be with them for the big game.
When they learned they were going to have a son, they didn't discuss any boy name other than Tucker.
"He's one of our favorite players of all time," Lewis said. "Everyone asks if he's named after Justin Tucker, and we're like, 'Of course!'"
When Janet Lally was looking for a name for her English Labrador four years ago, she went with Tucker, hoping some of the kicker's traits would show up in the pup.
"I wanted my dog to be friendly and work hard," Lally said. "To me, I thought it would be an ideal name for my dog."
This Tucker is a service dog who is an ambassador for Rebuilding Warriors, which provides highly trained companions to veterans who are amputees as well as those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Tucker has met this namesake dog twice and posed for pictures with him.
"The cutest part was the first thing he said, 'Oh my God, he's got on my jersey,'" Lally said.
Four years ago, Terry Moore was rescuing her fourth Doberman and had her mind set on another Ravens name.
"I was going to call him Suggs [after linebacker Terrell Suggs], and I saw him," Moore said. "I said, 'Oh no, he can't be Suggs. He's Tucker. Look at those long legs.'"
Moore is a season-ticket holder whose family room is painted purple. That's where she has all of her autographed jerseys, helmets and photos on the wall.
"When people come in, they ask my husband, they say, 'Oh man, I love your collection, and he tells them it's not his, it's his wife's,'" Terry said. "Everyone knows I'm a Ravens person. What else would I name my dog, you know?"
Cindy Gardner's husband calls her "the Ravens maniac." Every room in their West Virginia home has a Ravens item in it. She makes Ravens wreaths and Ravens blankets.
When she got her Pomeranian three years ago, the breeder kept calling him Blackie. Cindy told him the dog's name was Tucker.
"When Tucker came on the scene and we saw how he was saving all the games with his kicks, we knew he was good," Gardner said. "I became a great big Tucker fan."
Jenn Holste wanted to name a yellow Labrador "Mosley" a year ago after the Baltimore middle linebacker at the time, but she was overruled by her son and daughter.
"The kids tell Tucker to come sit next to them because he's lucky," Holste said. "If the Ravens are having, like, a bad stretch, that's just, like, the lucky charm. I don't know what's going to happen if [the dog] turns out not to be, but they swear by it right now."
Sandy Popp's first date with her future husband was at a Ravens game. For her wedding gift, he put Sandy's name on the waiting list for season tickets.
Six years ago, they got a mixed-breed dog, which led to a compromise.
"... I got to choose the dog's name and he got to name our daughter," Popp said.
Their daughter is Lily, and their dog ...
"I'm just a huge fan of Justin Tucker," she said. "He just seems to be very much into the community, and I love that." Her husband then yells, "Hall of Fame!"
This year, Tucker and his family made Baltimore their full-time home after splitting time between the city and Texas, where he grew up and played at the University of Texas.
"This community has embraced me," Tucker said. "It's really important that we reciprocate and show love back."
During preparation for Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013, fans approached Tucker in the lobby of his New Orleans hotel. He spent over an hour signing autographs and taking pictures.
"I remember how humble he was," said Bronson, who witnessed this before naming her son Tucker. "That kind of stuck with me."
Fans will come up and shake Tucker's hands whether he's walking around town or eating dinner. It's not something he shies away from.
In Baltimore -- whether it's a yellow Lab or toddlers or a 190-pound pig -- that love extends from one Tucker to the next.