It is late afternoon, and Nick Lowery is hustling. It is the last week of his off-season job as a special adviser to the director of the Office of National Service at the White House, and there is still much work to be done. Lowery looks so much at home in the Old Executive Office Building that it is easy to forget he has a more permanent job as a kicker with the Kansas City Chiefs.
On this day he has discussed volunteerism with several athletes, including Dave Winfield, Dan Marino and Thomas Hearns, and joined them for an audience with President Clinton. He has diligently plowed through the stack of phone messages on his cluttered desk. This evening he has two social obligations. The first is a book party for Edwin O. Guthman and C. Richard Allen, feting their publication of the collected speeches of Robert F. Kennedy. Afterward he is hosting a party at a friend's house in McLean, Va., for his coworkers.
At the book party Lowery talks with Peter Knight, Vice-President Al Gore's former senate chief of staff, about national service, the deficit, Bosnia and Ivy League football. Lowery played at Dartmouth, Knight at Cornell. Lowery then slides easily into conversation with Bob Goodwin, the executive director of the Points of Light Foundation, which provides assistance to volunteer centers around the country.
Soon Lowery is off to his own party in the Virginia suburbs. Mike Love, the Beach Boy, is there. So is Lowery's good pal Jim Slattery, a six-term Democratic congressman from Topeka, Kans., and all his fellow staffers from the Office of National Service.
Yes, Mr. Lowery has gone to Washington, and he is as adroit in this arena as he is on autumn Sundays at Arrowhead Stadium. Going into his 14th NFL season, Lowery, 37, has missed just 10 of his 91 field goal tries in the '90s. His 80.1 career percentage is second only to that of the Miami Dolphins' Pete Stoyanovich (80.8) in NFL history, and Stoyanovich has attempted 205 fewer kicks. In the history of the league only Jan Stenerud (373) and George Blanda (335) kicked more field goals than Lowery's 306.
Yet in the Office of National Service no one asks Lowery about his NFL heroics. "Nick does the grunt work, day after day, just like everyone else," says Eli Segal, assistant to the President and director of the Office of National Service. "Nick Lowery is what citizenship is all about."
Given his background, Lowery would appear to be far better suited to his off-season calling than to football. Sidney Lowery worked in Europe for the CIA, and Nick spent his formative years in and around the nation's capital—the Lowerys' next-door neighbor in McLean was Supreme Court Justice Byron White. After earning a degree in government from Dartmouth in 1978, Lowery worked as an aide to Rhode Island senator John Chafee. He would go on to work for presidents, senators, congressmen and a transportation secretary. A registered independent, Lowery has carefully straddled the political fence. He volunteered for Ronald Reagan, campaigned for Senate minority leader Bob Dole and now boosts Bill Clinton. When his playing days are over, he hopes to run for office.
"I think he could have a great future in politics," says Slattery. "Nick understands the concept of servant leadership, which is desperately needed in Washington." And, apparently, he understands how to get things done in the corridors of power. When Segal and his top staff were discussing ways to obtain bipartisan support for Clinton's plan to have students pay back their loans through national service, Lowery set up meetings for Segal and himself with four GOP lawmakers. Lowery also met with Dole to encourage him to back the plan.
"I want to give something back," says Lowery of his government work. "If you live for yourself, you're empty. If you help others, you're fulfilled."
In the meantime Lowery must focus on that most solitary pursuit, kicking. He is three years away from breaking Stenerud's record for most career field goals, so he will devote only his spare time to trying to be the next Bill Bradley. "I've met him," Lowery says of the three-term senator from New Jersey. "He told me, 'Get as many experiences as you can, in all facets of life. Do everything.' Here's a guy who played basketball in the NBA and taught children in Harlem. I really admire him."
Someday, they might be colleagues.
SHARON FARMER/THE WHITE HOUSE
The Chiefs' kicker, a would-be politician, is getting pointers on how to play the game of politics.