Like any sport, American football has evolved dramatically over the years due to changes in rules, equipment, and technique. The invention of the forward pass, for example, was coupled with the development of the easier to grip oblong ball used today (previously, a more rounded, rugby-style ball was used) to revolutionize the game. Other major changes followed advances like the West Coast offense (the timing-based passing game), the blitz, and so on.
Maybe the most significant rule changes for the modern game is totally foreign (foreshadowing!) to most fans today. True fact: even the worst kicker in the modern NFL is better than the best kickers of 40+ years ago. Today, kickers routinely hit 80%+ of their field goal attempts, whereas for most of the game's history field goals were a 40% proposition or worse. There are two reasons for this. First, kickers were rarely specialists before the 1960s. Someone who played another position usually pulled double-duty as a (lousy) kicker. Hall of Famers at other positions, like Lou Groza, Paul Hornung, and Bob Waterfield, were also kickers for their teams.
The second change was the development of the Soccer-Style kick. The SSK was to football what the Fosbury Flop was to high jumping. Kickers used to approach the ball straight-on and kick it with their toe and the bridge of their foot. Accuracy depended on how squarely they hit the ball, which is to say they were not very accurate under game conditions. The ball also left the foot at a very high angle, meaning that lateral distance was limited.
Then along came two Hungarian brothers – Pete and Karol (Charlie) Gogolak. They started playing football when their parents immigrated to the U.S. Having grown up playing soccer they kicked the ball with an angled approach and the instep/arch of their foot, like a soccer ball. Everyone noticed that the ball went much farther with much more accuracy. When Charlie took the NFL by storm, other teams were so desperate for their own soccer-style kicker that Peter, a kicker at Princeton, became the 6th overall pick in the 1966 draft.
Since American-born kickers couldn't shake the straight-on habits they had been using for years, NFL teams had to look overseas for soccer-trained Europeans who could adapt to the NFL game. (Trivia note: the last straight-on kicker, Mark Moseley of the Redskins, retired in 1986). That's how the NFL, representing a quintessentially American game with few if any foreign-born players, was suddenly flooded with Europeans, Latin Americans, and others who did not look like football players, had no skills other than kicking, and had funny names.
This became a punchline in the 1970s and 1980s – it seemed like every team had a foreign kicker (remember Homer Simpson's line, "This country was built on immigrants. We need them. Without them, who would train our tigers and kick our extra points?") Their contributions greatly improved the game by turning the kicking game into a strategy rather than a crapshoot. One of them, Norway's Jan Stenerud, is still the only kicker in the Hall of Fame.
Here is my tribute to some of the scrawniest, most lovable foreign players to enliven the NFL during the Soccer Style craze and beyond.
More German Than German: Horst Muhlmann – A part-time bricklayer and soccer goaltender, Muhlmann was imported by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969. No, he did not have a handlebar mustache and he put up with plenty of Colonel Klink jokes. Honorable Mention: Uwe Von Schamann, whose name is more fun to say and who absolutely nailed the mustache befitting a German.
Adorable Little Fella Award: Garo Yepremian – Most Americans don't even know where Cyprus is, but football fans remember this Cypriot kicker. First, he looked less like a football player than anyone who ever lived.
Even non-fans recognize a line Yepremian shouted after kicking one game-winning field goal – "I keek a touchdown! I keek a touchdown!" – when it became one of Johnny Carson's favorite catchprhases. And finally, fans remember little Yepremian making one of the most embarrassing (and decisive) plays in Super Bowl history in 1973.
Polack of the Century: Czezlaw "Chester" Marcol – Packer fans fondly recall "the Polish Prince" for the time he ran one of his own blocked kicks in for a touchdown, which he later admitted he was able to do because he was high on cocaine. Look at this fucking guy!
Safety specs AND the single-bar facemask!
So British It Actually Hurts: Mick Luckhurst – If you're going to have a kicker from Redbourn, England, he better be named something as stereotypically British as Mick Luckhurst. Quite the handsome chap, too!
Speaking of Micks: Cornelis "Neil" O'Donoghue – Cardinals fans certainly remember this fucking twat, whose career highlights include missing the field goal that would have put them in the 1984 playoffs and the game in 1983 that ended in a 20-20 tie because O'Donoghue missed three (!!!) FGs in overtime.
The Flying Argentines: Bill and Martin Gramatica – After stellar college careers, these tiny sprites had only decent NFL careers. Older brother Martin, aka Automatica, kicked decently for Tampa and several other teams, while Martin is remembered solely for blowing out his goddamn ACL while celebrating a routine kick.
Colombian Superstar: Fuad Reveiz – This former Viking and Dolphin makes the list solely on the basis of his incredible nickname, "Fuad-o-Matic", and Chris Berman's habit of referring to his kicks as "Fuad Shots".
Rolls off the Tongue: Raul Allegre – Such a happy sounding name on this 1980s New York Giant hailing from Mexico. Dishonorable Mention: Cowboys Mexican kicker Rafael Septien, whose name wasn't as fun and who somehow avoided prison after pleading guilty to molesting a kid.
Not Just Europeans Award: Obed Ariri – How fun is it to say "Obed Ariri"? The pint-sized Nigerian kicked briefly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he apparently drives a taxi in St. Petersburg today. Honorable Mention: Donald Igwebuike, who idolized Ariri, replaced him on the Buccaneers, and eventually got busted swallowing balloons of heroin and trying to smuggle them into the U.S.
How Can I Only Pick One Swede? – Ove Johansson? Bjorn Nittmo? Ola Kimrin? I sure as hell can't pick just one. When I was 10, I was convinced that "Bjorn Nittmo" was the kind of name that takes you places, even if you're not talented (he wasn't).
Insert Hitler Joke Here: Austrian trio – Anton "Toni" Fritsch, Toni Linhart, and longtime 49er Ray Wersching all hailed from the land of the Fuhrer. Fortunately for them, I doubt most football players actually know Hitler was Austrian and not German.
The trend lives on today, with foreign kickers like Lawrence Tynes (Scotland), Sebastian Janikowski (Poland), and Shaun Suisham (Canada) currently kicking away. As the NFL becomes a bit more popular around the world, non-American players are hardly a surprise (Germany's Bjoern Werner was drafted in the 1st round last week). This is a great development for the league and for the game, but I have to admit that I could use the simple pleasure of the occasional lovably-accented placekicker named something like Olaf.
(Super Honorable Mention: Former Charger Rolf Benirschke was born in the U.S. to German parents, but he deserves mention because he retired after 9 seasons to become the host of Wheel of Fortune.)
36 thoughts on “NPF: A SHORT HISTORY OF FOREIGN PLACEKICKERS WITH FUNNY NAMES”
It's goal KEEPER, not goal tender in soccer. When will you yanks learn the proper terms???
Also, you got the Gramatica brothers the wrong way around. Sorry to be a gramatica nazi.
I'll get my coat…
You and Taibbi should get a beer.
The Mad Dreamer says:
Soccer says you're welcome, Ed.
You forgot Ali Haji-Shiek!
Both Sides Do It says:
"It's goal KEEPER, not goal tender in soccer. When will you yanks learn the proper terms?"
That wit is dryer than lint. Nicely done.
The Lions recently signed a Norwegian kicker named Havard Rugland, who has a trick-shot compilation video and calls himself Kickalicious. Between him and Susanne Sundfor I'm starting to really like Norwegians.
No mention of probably the greatest foreign kicker of them all, Morten Andersen (Dutch, if memory serves)? Or did he miss inclusion simply by being more recent than these other guys? I think he deserves the Hall of Fame every bit as much as, well, a kicker can.
Also, Gary Anderson I believe was both the last single-bar helmet player ever and, like Danish, or something.
Nay, Wikipedia sayeth that Morten is Danish and Gary South African. Still, cool.
There was also that 1970s fashion for barefoot kickers (what?) and that kicker who had a deformed foot and whose kicking shoe was full of metal bracing and hardened plaster (unsurprisingly, he set a lot of records).
Benirschke was a well-liked San Diego celebrity (he kicked on those great Dan Fouts/Kellen Winslow/Charlie Joiner teams) and he did a lot of promotional and fundraising work for endangered animal programs at the San Diego Zoo. He had this horrible colitis and nearly died during his playing years. He had most of his intestines removed and weighed only 123 pounds when he was discharged from the hospital, after which he returned to football and played another 8 years, including Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections. Killer stache, too.
As a fan of both rugby and USA/Canadian football, I can say that rugby kickers achieve distance and accuracy which would be considered very respectable in the NFL. World-class kickers from places like New Zealand and Wales could make absurd amounts of money in the NFL. Only love for rugby and their homelands can explain why they remain where they are.
It's all the more impressive given that, like old-style NFL players, rugby kickers are also expected to play a position on the field.
Also, rugby disallows forward passing, and penalty kicks are a vital way of scoring points, so good kicking ability is considered extremely important — maybe even more so than in football.
Comradde PhysioProffe says:
Awesome post, bro! Thanks for the history lesson.
c u n d gulag says:
What a GREAT list!
And I'm old enough to have seen everyong on that list, from Pete Gogolak, on…
If I could find it, I'd provide the clip from the memorable episode of that great series, "Taxi," where Louis DePalma has a large bet with Alex over a football game.
When Louis' team is down, and with no time left except to try a field goal for the win, Louis starts cackling, sure of victory – after all, his team has a great kicker!
And, if memory serves me right, he gave the following description, of the attempt.
"He lines up…
The ball is snapped…
He kicks it…
It's far enough…
HE MISSED!!!!! DIE! DIE! WITH LARGE FESTERING BOILS, DIE!!!!!!!"
And don't get me started on punters.
Like the time in that foggy playoff game in Chicago against "Da Bears," at the end of the first half, Giants punter Sean Landeta, punting deep in his own territory, missed the f*cking ball!
I'm sure that "Taxi" episode was still fresh in my mind, and I quoted Louis, verbatim – and, at the same volume.
Btw – the Giants lost, and because of that, the nation was exposed to "Da Bears" hideous "Super Bowl Shuffle:"
If you have a weak stomach, skip that video.
Yo: It's extremely uncool and fucked up to say someone was "busted" for smuggling heroin when they were found not guilty by a federal jury.
Well, mostly says:
My Dad taught me the old straight-on toe kick, based on his high school football days. It was a piece of crap way to kick. Hard but FUN! You never knew how far it would go or which direction. And I got to know ALL the neighbor's dogs hopping over fences to retrieve those wild shots. I remember listening to the announcers trying to pronounce those kickers' names – another bit o fun.
Hazy Davy says:
Came here to cheer, and to be second to mention Kickalicious.
Another small piece of trivia to add. Fuad Reveiz's son, Nick, went on to be a decent player at the University of Tennessee at a "real" position (linebacker): http://www.utsports.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/nick_reveiz_359934.html
I wonder how many others from this list went on to have football-playing children.
Ali Haji-Sheik was a third generation American, born in Ann Arbor, MI. I decided that missed the cut, but yes, hell of a name.
"Fair and Balanced" Dave says:
Stenerud is the only player who was solely a placekicker in the Hall of Fame. However George Blanda–who was both kicker and quarterback for the Oakland Raiders–and Lou "The Toe" Groza–who was both offensive tackle (!) and placekicker for the Cleveland Browns–are also in the Hall of Fame.
The player in the background of the Chester Marcol picture is Mike Hartenstien, Chicago Bears defensive lineman. Thought I would pass that on in case there are any old Bears fans out there.
I like old bears. Young ones? Not so much.
Kickalicious and Barkevious Mingo should get together.
Maybe next week Ed can answer my enduring question: why are ALL cinematographers foreign–or have foreign names. Usually Czech or some kind of Eastern European-sounding name, too.
Here is video footage of Marcol's overtime touchdown..versus the hated Bears! (Nearly as wonderful as Majik's "instant replay" touchdown, nine years later.)
DB Main says:
My favorite recollection regarding foreign born kickers was related to Rafael Septein, kicker for Dallas in the 70's. His worker visa was expiring, and based on the existing immigration law at that time, the Cowboys had to substantiate that Rafeal was not taking a job that could be filled by a US citizen.
As part of the process, the Cowboys had to post an ad in the local paper that said something like:
"Wanted: place kicker. Must be capable of kicking 40 yd field goals with high accuracy under high pressure situations. Professional experience a must"
What an asshole.
I'm 100% polish. I'm allowed to say that.
Jingo Unchained says:
I was glad to see "Fuad-o-matic" make the cut. I thought I might also see Nigerian-born Donald Igwebueke (EEG-way-bwee-kay) on the list. Former Vikings coach/all-time cursing champ Jerry Burns used to refer to him as "the little kicker" because he couldn't remember how to pronounce his name.
Bitter Scribe says:
Paul Hornung kicked for the Packers? Srsly? I thought Jerry Kramer was the Packers' designated "someone who played another position" kicker of that era.
Whenever I see a reference to Ypremian, I flash back to his cameo on an episode of "The Odd Couple." Oscar's secretary was thrilled to get a date with "the NFL's leading scorer" but less thrilled once he showed up. Later, asked how her date went, she sighed, "The restaurant made us leave when he kicked a roast through the window."
David Letterman loved Bjorn Nittmo. Back in the late 80's, he would mention the name at least once a show and even had some little catchphrase. Prior to Nittmo being a guest on Late Night, I was as skeptical that he even existed and Dave just made the name up because it was funny.
When Nittmo was finally brought on as a guest, I squealed with delight and clapped my hands the still makes me cringe for my 13-year old self.
Alan C says:
Bitter Scribe beat me to it: "Whenever I see a reference to Ypremian, I flash back to his cameo on an episode of 'The Odd Couple.'" I think Garo's only line was, "Keeck!"
How, how, HOW could you neglect the kicker/punter with maybe the greatest name in sports history–the one and only Zenon Andrusyshyn?
Patrick F says:
Don't forget Zoltan Mesko of the Patriots.
Not on a public forum. Thats for behind closed doors between you,
me, and our relatives. Also, the political references to old white
men is equally distasteful.
This is too great a blog such nonsense.
Rick Massimo says:
"He had most of his intestines removed and weighed only 123 pounds when he was discharged from the hospital, after which he returned to football and played another 8 years, including Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections."
I remember that when he kicked off, he ran straight off the field. He was under orders not to even try to make a tackle on a breakaway returner.
"Packer fans fondly recall "the Polish Prince" for the time he ran one of his own blocked kicks in for a touchdown, which he later admitted he was able to do because he was high on cocaine."
Srsly? I never heard the cocaine part. For realz?
Dolly Llama says:
This post needs more Donald Igwebuike.
Dolly Llama says:
Damn, Jingo Unchained beat me to it.
witless chum says:
What was decisive about Garo's play? It meant the Redskins (may they never win a game until they become the Washington Not-racial slurs) lost 14-7 instead of 14-0.
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