I was a sports broadcaster for 35 years, mostly covering the National Football League. I learned a lot of things in that time, but one thing stands out, and I’m going to share it with you now:
Kickers are weird
Go back and read it again, several times.
I put it in big type for a reason. It’s true! And you have to understand it. Kickers are very, very weird people.
Whole generations of NFL fans have grown up not knowing what a “straight-on” kicker looks like. Well, a straight-on kicker didn’t angle into the ball like today’s soccer-style kickers. He ran straight at the ball and kicked it straight toward the goalpost, wearing a shoe with a special hard, square toe in it. I know this is a foreign concept for some of you younger people, but bear with an old man for a moment.
The NFL record for field goal distance is still held by a straight-on kicker who actually had a deformed foot and had to wear a specially fitted shoe: Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints for sixty-three yards (since tied by Denver’s Jason Elam, for you stat freaks).
Another old-time NFL kicker, Ben Agajanian, also had a deformed foot and a special shoe. After his playing days, Ben became a respected teacher of the kicking arts. One of his pupils once asked Ben, “How can I get a kicking shoe like yours?”
“Well,” Ben said, “first you get a lawnmower…”
In the mid-1960s, the Gogolak brothers, Pete and Charley, came into the NFL, the first soccer-style kickers. And unlike the hulking, straight-on guys, they were smaller. And foreign. And they didn’t know much about football, American style. Stories abound of their running off the field after a successful kick shouting, “I keek touchdown!”
The last of the straight-ons, the Redskins’ Mark Moseley, retired in 1986. It’s been soccer style since then.
And kickers are weird in more than just the angle they take to the ball. They do strange things with their shoes. I was interviewing the Cowboys’ Chris Boniol back in the nineties, and he let it slip that he broke in his kicking shoes by soaking them in near-scalding water, while his foot was inside them. This, he said, made the leather conform to the shape of his foot. But that wasn’t the really weird part.
The really weird part is that Boniol wore a size nine street shoe. On the field, he wore a size seven!
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You take a size nine street shoe but you wear a size seven kicking shoe? How do you get your foot in there?”
“You just kind of wedge it in.”
“Doesn’t it hurt? Don’t your toes get all cramped?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Boniol said. He wanted it to feel like his shoe was just another part of his foot-one skin, so to speak. And since he was a co-holder of the record for most field goals in one game (seven-since broken), who was I to argue?