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kickers are weird

I was a sportscaster for 35 years, mostly 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 weird

Go back and read it again, several times.

I put it in large print for a reason. It’s true! And you have to understand it. Kickers are very, very weird people.

Entire generations of NFL fans have grown up not knowing what a “straight” kicker looks like. Well, a straight kicker didn’t lean towards the ball like today’s football style kickers. He ran straight for the ball and kicked it straight into the goal post, using a shoe with a special hard square toe. I know this is a foreign concept to some of you younger ones, but bear with an old man for a moment.

The NFL field goal distance record is still held by a straight kicker who actually had a deformed foot and had to wear a specially fitted shoe: New Orleans Saints’ Tom Dempsey for sixty-three yards (since tied for Jason Elam of Denver, for the stat geeks).

Another former NFL kicker, Ben Agajanian, also had a deformed foot and special shoe. After his playing days, Ben became a respected master of the kicking arts. One of his students once asked Ben, “How can I get a kicking shoe like yours?”

“Well,” said Ben, “first you have a lawn mower…”

In the mid-1960s, the Gogolak brothers, Pete and Charley, arrived in the NFL, the first football-style kickers. And unlike the big, straight guys, they were smaller. And foreign. And they didn’t know much about football, the American way. Stories abound of how they ran off the field after a successful kick yelling, “I want a touchdown!”

The last of the directs, Mark Moseley of the Redskins, retired in 1986. It’s been football style ever since.

And kickers are weird in more than just the angle they take on the ball. They do weird things with their shoes. He was interviewing Chris Boniol of the Cowboys in the 1990s, and it slipped that he broke his kicking shoes by dunking them in near-scalding water while his foot was in 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 thing is that Boniol was wearing size nine street shoes. On the field, he wore a size seven!

“Wait a minute,” I told him. “Do you wear size nine street shoes but wear size seven kicking shoes? How do you get your foot in there?”

“You just fit it.”

“Doesn’t it hurt? Don’t your toes cramp?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Boniol said. He wanted him to feel as if his shoe was just another part of his foot, a skin, if you will. And since he co-owned the record for most field goals made in a game (seven since), who was I to argue?

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