I was a sports broadcaster for 35 years, mainly covering the National Football League. I learned many things in that time, but one thing stands out and I am going to share it with you now:
Kickers are rare
Go back and read it again, several times.
I put it in big letters for a reason. It’s true! And you have to understand it. Kickers are very, very rare people.
Entire generations of NFL fans have grown up not knowing what a “straight” kicker looks like. Well, a straight kicker doesn’t lean toward the ball like today’s football-style kickers. He ran straight for the ball and kicked it straight into the goalpost, wearing a shoe with a special hard square toe. I know this is a strange concept to some of you younger ones, but bear with an old man for a moment.
The NFL record for field goal distance is still held by a direct 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 tying with Jason Elam from Denver). , for you statistics fanatics).
Another longtime NFL kicker, Ben Agajanian, also had a deformed foot and a special shoe. After his playing days, Ben became a respected teacher of the arts of kicking. One of his students once asked Ben, “How can I get a kicking shoe like yours?”
“Well,” said Ben, “buy a lawn mower first …”
In the mid-1960s, the Gogolak brothers, Pete and Charley, came to the NFL, the first football-style kickers. And unlike the big, straightforward guys, they were smaller. And foreign. And they didn’t know much about football. Stories abound that they ran off the field after a successful kick that screamed, “I want a touchdown!”
The last of the heterosexuals, Mark Moseley of the Redskins, retired in 1986. He has been football-style ever since.
And kickers are rare in more than just the angle they take with the ball. They do weird things with their shoes. He was interviewing Chris Boniol of the Cowboys in the 1990s, and he blurted out that he broke his kicking shoes by soaking them in near-boiling 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. In the field, he was wearing a size seven!
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You wear a size nine street shoe but you wear a size seven kick shoe? How can you get your foot in there?”
“You just fit it.”
“Doesn’t it hurt? Aren’t your toes cramping?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Boniol said. I wanted it to feel like his shoe was just another part of his foot one, the skin, so to speak. And given that he was a co-holder of the record for the most field goals in a game (seven since it was broken), who was I to argue?