Ben Agajanian – December 7, 2002

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BEN AGAJANIAN

Kicker

Philadelphia Eagles – 1945

Pittsburgh Steelers – 1945

Los Angeles Dons – 1947-1948

New York Giants – 1949

Los Angeles Rams – 1953

New York Giants – 1954-1957

Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers – 1960, 1964

Dallas Texans – 1961

Green Bay Packers – 1961

Oakland Raiders – 1962

TT – Tell me about how you came to the Chargers.

BA – Well, I was retired.  1957 was my last year with the New York Giants, because I wanted to fly back and forth.  I held out for the Giants in ’56, and the Giants told me to get someone else.  I coached Gifford and Chandler, so they could kick.  But Gifford couldn’t kick and play, so they brought me back and we won the world championship in ’56 in New York.  I decided in ’57 that I was going to quit, but I flew back and forth.  In ’58 they brought Pat Summerall in, and he did the kicking, so I retired.  They asked me if I was going to retire and I said, “No, just give me a release.”  So in ’58 and ’59 I didn’t do anything, but in 1960 the Chargers were working out at camp, training camp, here in Chapman College.  So I went over and sat in the bleachers to watch them.  And funny thing, Sid Gillman looked at me and he yelled, “Hey, old man.  Can you still kick?”  And I said, “Yeah.”  He says, “Practice up and come over in a couple days.  Let me see you.”  And I said, “I don’t need any practice.”  So I went over there the next day and I kicked and we looked over, and their kicker picked up his helmet and shoulder pads and walked off the field and went home.

TT – You were what, 41 years old at that point.

BA – Yep.  Then Sid Gillman says, “You’re not eligible to play for us.”  I said, “Why?”  He said, “You belong to the Titans.”  I said, “How come?”  He said, “Well, the draft.”    The New York Titans selected me as one of the players from the Giants.  I was on their roster so to speak.  I didn’t know it, but they had selected me.  So what did I do?  I told Sid that I would take care of it.  So I called the Titans and they said that they were in South Carolina or something where their training camp was.  I said that I wanted to talk to Sammy Baugh.  They gave me the number and I called Sammy Baugh.  I said, “Hey Sammy Baugh, I’m coming back to kick for you.”  He says, “What?  Who is this?”  I said, “Ben Agajanian.  I’m on your roster and I have decided to come out of retirement and kick for you.”  He said, “Oh Jeez, we already have a kicker.”  So I said, “Why don’t we do this.  Why don’t we make a trade?”  I said, “The kicker for the Chargers also is a player (Bob Reifsnyder).  He’s a darned good player.  Why don’t we trade him for me?”  What the heck was the guy’s name?

TT – Bob Reifsnyder?

BA – Probably.  So he said, “OK.”  So I made my own trade and I came back and told Sid.  “Everything’s fine.  I made a trade and I’m on the team.”  He said, “OK, great.”  So I kicked and I had a pretty good year.  But then they decided to move to San Diego, and I said, “I can’t move to San Diego.  I’ve got my business up here.  I’m in the oil well business and I have the Long Beach Athletic Club.”  And I had sporting goods stores and discount houses.  So I didn’t need the money, but at the same time, when someone says, “We want you, we need you,” I go running.  So he said, “Can you come down and coach one of the kids,” Lincoln, I think it was.  And I said, “Sure.”  S I went down to San Diego for the preseason and I did some coaching.  I kicked in their inter squad game.  Then I came home and I told Sid to just give me a release.  So he did.  But in ’61 the Dallas Texans called.  They said, “We need a kicker, our kicker is hurt.  Can you kick for us?”  I said, “Sure.”  So I flew back there and met with Lamar Hunt and his man.  I kicked the first game and then the second game we went to New England and I got hit in the back after a kickoff.  A guy came around from behind, and I couldn’t raise my leg.  I kicked the ball very poorly.  I tried a field goal and the ball rolled down the field.  Somebody said I kicked like his grandmother and I was just as old.  Anyway, I came back and Hank Stram says, “Lombardi wants you at Green Bay.”  I said, “Oh Jeez, if you don’t want me, then OK.”  I was so excited to go to Green Bay, because Lombardi and I were together in New York for five years.  I said, “Well, if you don’t want me, then I’ll go to Green Bay.”  So I flew home and I flew up to Green Bay.  I kicked with Bart Starr holding and Paul Hornung was still there.  They made a trade.  Val Keckin, a quarterback, was supposed to go to the Dallas Texans.  And this was a secret trade between two leagues that were not talking to each other.  But Hank [Stram] idolized Lombardi, so Hank would do anything to help Lombardi, and I would too.  Well, I kicked up there with Bart and everything, and then I got a phone call from Lamar Hunt saying that he understands that Paul Hornung’s not going in the service until the following week and they need a kicker for one more week.  Could I come down?  I said, “Oh Jeez.”  I’m in Green Bay and it’s Saturday, and the game is Sunday.  I said, “Well, I’ll come down.”  Lamar says, “You can be free to go to Green Bay if you’ll just help us this one week.”  And I said, “OK.”  My wife was with me and it was her birthday.  And I said, “What do you want for your birthday?”  She said a record field goal.  And I said, “You’re crazy.  I’m 42 years old.  I can’t kick.”  We flew back.  You won’t believe this…  A little DC-3, Green Bay to Oshkosk to Fondelac (?) to Milwaukee to Chicago.  Stop, jump, stop, jump, up, down…  Then we go to O’Hare and then we have to take a helicopter to Midway.  My wife hates to fly and here we are in a helicopter with an open door.  Jeez!  And I said, “I’m taking my shoes in my hands.”  Because my kicking shoe with the square tow, if I don’t have it, I don’t kick.  So I wouldn’t pack it.  I carried it.  I knew.  Well, my clothes never showed up.  I got there Saturday night.  Sunday morning we got a cab and went to the Cotton Bowl.  I got dressed up and went out there and I kicked one field goal, and I kicked another field goal.  Then they called a 51-yard field goal.  I went out there and made it, and it was a record.  It was a team record and a Cotton Bowl record.  When I came jogging off the field, I looked up and my wife blew a kiss to me.  I blew a kiss back everybody in the stands thought I was kissing them, so they all threw a kiss at me.  So immediately after the game, I got dressed and was leaving and this kid comes up to me limping.  He says, “I’m the kicker here.  I was the kicker and you came in and broke the record.  I just want to shake your hand.”  I shook hands with him.  I don’t know who the guy was.  I left and I flew up to San Jose to open another store.  Sporting goods and discount stores was my deal then.  And I opened another store and I got a phone call from Lombardi saying…  He says, “The deal is off.  You can’t come to Green Bay.”  I said, “Why?”  He said, “Well, they won’t release you.”  And I said, “They already have.”  He said, “No way.”  I said, “Well, Lamar Hunt said if I went one more week, they’d let me go.”  When I called, I got ahold of Hank Stram and I said, “Hank, you didn’t want me when I missed one, and then when I make three in a row, you want me.”  He said, “Well, how could I explain to the fans?  They all love you.  The press…  How could I explain?  Jeez.”  I said, “Hank, you already released me.  I’m not gonna come back there.  I promised Vince I would go to Green Bay and help him.   Paul’s in the service now and they don’t have a kicker.”  He said, “Well, if I can’t talk you out of it, good luck in Green Bay.”  So I called Green Bay back and Lombardi got on the phone.  He started chuckling, and I said, “I made my own trade again.  I’ll be there Friday.”  He said, “OK.”  And I flew back and forth every week, and we won the championship at Green Bay in ’61.  Then in ’62 I go back for the All-Star game, but I go back there and I coach.  I taught Jerry Kramer how to kick, and Green Bay went that year, in ’62, and won the championship also, with Kramer kicking three field goals in the championship game.  Meanwhile, in ’62, I get a call from the Raiders.  Not Al Davis, but the Raiders called and said, “Would you kick for us?”  It was in the middle of the season in ’62.  They said, “What did you get in Green Bay?”  And I told them, “It was $1,000 a game.”  “Oh gee, we can’t pay you that much.”  So I said, “That’s OK, I’ll kick for nothing.”  So for $0 salary, I flew up there and they had a contract all made out with $0 salary.  Well, I X’ed out the option clause and signed it, and I flew back and forth to Oakland.  They didn’t win a game until the last game.  At one time there was nine men out on the field.  I kept yelling on the kickoff.  And they’d wave at me, “Nah, I’m not on that team.”  No one wanted to play.  Hell, I’m now 43 years old, and I’m kicking.  One time I kicked a field goal and they blocked it, and everybody went off the field except me.  I’m chasing this guy who’s going for a touchdown.  I’m limping and chasing, and I can’t catch him.  Then we punted to them once, and the guy’s going for a touchdown, and no one knew this.  As he went by the bench, I went out and tackled him and went right back to the bench.  Nobody knew this until Jim Otto and them were looking at films and I’m home.  Jim Otto calls me here in Long Beach and he says, “Goddammit, you were the guy that made the tackle, saved the touchdown.”  I said, “Yeah, I sneaked off the bench and did that.”  He just got a big kick out of it.  But finally, the last game I told the coach, “Why don’t we try an onside kick?”  It was raining and muddy, and I couldn’t kick it to the goal line then.  Oh I could, maybe.  But he said, “What for?  They’ll get the ball on the 40.”  And I said, “Well, they run them back to the 40 anyway, so what the Hell’s the difference.”  He said, “OK, go ahead.”  I kicked a perfect onside kick, we got the ball, we made one or two first downs, and I kicked a field goal.  3-0 the score is until the end of the game and we scored a touchdown and won the first game in 17 games.  That was in ’62.  Then ’63 I didn’t play.  In ’64 Sid Gillman calls me and I go down to San Diego to watch practice.  He says, “I want you to kick for us.”  I said, “No way.  I’m retired.  I’m 45.”  And he tells my wife, “I want Ben.”  And my wife tells me, so I say, “Well, if I can fly back and forth, I’m still busy with my businesses.”  Someone said, “Why did you kick for nothing for the Raiders?”  I said, “Well, I was making more money than they were, so why should I charge them.  I had all these oil wells and everything going.  So, at 45 I went and signed with the Chargers, and the funny thing, a couple days before the first game, Sid tells me that I’m ineligible.  I said, “What?”  “Yeah, you’re ineligible.  You can’t kick for us.”  “Why?”  “You belong to the Raiders.  Al Davis says you belong to the Raiders.”  I said, “That’s a lot of baloney.”  I think it was the day before the game.  He said, “Why?”  I said, “I X’ed out the option clause.  I’m not that stupid.  I know what the Hell’s going on.  I know how pro football works.”  So I said, “I X’ed out the option clause and I don’t belong to the Raiders.”  He said, “Well, let me call Joe Foss.”  In fact, Joe Foss, the commissioner, thanked me for coming into the league to help with publicity and stuff like that, an old, old kicker.  Anyway, they said, “Sure, Ben’s eligible.”  Well, Sid didn’t say anything to me until the day of the game.  I think Hadl threw a pass to Alworth for a touchdown.  I’m standing there, Sid looks at me and I said, “Do you want me to kick?  Am I eligible?”  He says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, go kick.”  So I ran in and kicked.  Well, after another two or three games, I think we went to Denver and I kicked a 47-yard field goal.  But one of my friends was the referee and he said, “Ben kicked a 47-yard field goal that went 47 yards, 47 rows in the stands, and he’s 47 years old.”  Well, he was exaggerating, but anyway, Lombardi called.  He said, “Paul Hornung’s having trouble.  Would you come coach him?”  I said, “Sure.”  So I flew to Green Bay, and I said, “Paul, how are you doing?”  And he said, “I can’t kick.”  So anyway, I gave him a lesson and kicked there.  And then I met the team in Kansas City.  That’s when it all ended.  I flew from Green Bay to Kansas City and the wind was blowing and it was Saturday.  I told Sid all this, that I was going to Green Bay to help and I would be back.  And Sid had me kick off on Saturday morning, a cold, windy day.  And I pulled a hamstring.  Tore a muscle.  I just couldn’t lift my leg.  They took me in the locker room and gave me about four or five shots.  And it bled from my groin down to my knee, it was all black and blue.  They gave me quite a few shots.  I dressed up and went out Sunday, and I still couldn’t lift my leg.  I tried in the pre-game warm up to kick and I just couldn’t kick.  So they got someone else to kick and that was it.  They went on and I think they won the championship or the playoff in Buffalo or something that year, in ‘64.  And that was my last kick, and I retired.  And then in 1969, no 1979, I was 50 years old and coach Halas, no ’69.  Coach Halas asked me to kick for them.  I said, “I can’t kick.”  He said, “I just saw you kick.”  I went to coach them and I worked.  I kicked a couple of 50-yard field goals to show the guys in scrimmage how to kick.  And he picked me up in his golf cart and we rode around the field after practice and said, “I want you to kick for us.”  I said, “I can’t kick.”  And he said, “I just saw you kick two 50-yarders.”  “Yeah, but I felt good today.  I’m 50 years old.  Maybe next week I won’t feel so good.  I just know myself.”  I played handball, so I was always in good shape.  But anyway, I said, “No way.  Thanks a lot for the thrill for a man at age 50.”  In fact my son said, “Hang in there dad, and we’ll play together.”  He was at UCLA and Green Bay drafted him later on, in ’78 or ’79, I think he was drafted.  But I kept all this time, in 1964 or 1965, I went to work with the Cowboys and their kicking.  I was an advisor with Tom Landry and their kicking game.  And in between coaching kickers, I worked with the Steelers.  Phil Austin was my teammate and he asked me to help him once.  And I worked with the Giants, I worked with the Bears, I worked for the Rams.  When the Rams, when George Allen moved to the Redskins, Tex Schramm of the Cowboys said, “You’re not going to help them and help us.”  I said, “Well, give me more work.”  I had sold out my sporting goods stores and so forth.  And he said, “Well, name your own schedule.”  So I would just tell them I would work all the preseason, I ‘d work the first two league games, I’d come home and I’d come back in the middle of the season, I’d come home and then I’d go back for the Super Bowl at the end of the season.  And that’s the way I did until Tom Landry got fired.  When he got fired Jimmy Johnson called me and said, “I don’t know what you do, but I can get someone cheaper.”  So he got this guy named Hoffman to coach the kickers because Hoffman was helping him at Miami for nothing.  And so that’s when I retired from coaching.  But I still have camps.  I still have camps where I teach kickers, and I’ve had quite a few go into pro football.  Brad Daluiso and Phil Dawson went to Cleveland, were a couple of them.  Recent kickers that went in.  Josh Bidwell, the punter for Green Bay, and a kid named Breens.  Allegre, Septien, these are all campers, kids that have been to our kicking camp.  And I’m still doing it.  But you gotta answer me one question.  You’re in sports writing and so forth.  George Halas wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame, recommending me.  And Tom Landry wrote a letter to the NFL Hall of Fame.  And the results are the man, Joe Horrington, calls and says, “You have not received enough support from the sports writers.”  This was about 5 or 6 years ago.  “But you’re now in the veterans group.”  Well, when are they going to realize the importance of the field goal?  I’m the one that invented the back three and over two for soccer kickers when I was coaching for the Cowboys.  Kids didn’t know how to line up, so I came up with this idea.  It was simple and everybody did it.  I was the first guy to have the center center the ball with the laces front.  I was the first guy to show the holder how to turn the ball, instead of putting it down and spinning it, but to turn it as he is putting it down to get the lace front, straight up and down.  I was the first guy to bow the line and have the outside guys protect.  A lot of guys are not bowing the line, even now they don’t know.  But I coached for 24 years for the kicking game.  Things that I have done that way, Landry said that I have done more for the kicking game in the past 50 years than anybody in the history of pro football.  The sportswriters don’t recognize the value.  In fact, they don’t know.  See, if they knew what I did, it would be different.  But they don’t know that I have a kicker kick the ball in 1.4 seconds in practice.  They don’t understand that becomes 1.3 in a game.  Some coaches say kick it in 1.3 because they’ll be rushing.  Well, if you kick 1.3 in practice, then in the game it is 1.2, and so damn fast that the holder can’t turn the ball and the kicker shanks the ball and they blame the kicker.  There is so much to kicking that you don’t know, that I initiated.  I came up with the standard of 4.5 seconds and 45 yards for a punt to be an NFL punt.  Anything and anything shorter would not qualify.  You kick a ball 50 yards and 4.2 hang time on a line drive, they’re going to return it.  But it all boils down to the speed of the outside people going down on punts, and your punter punting the ball high enough and deep enough where it is a fair catch.  And if you average 45 yards, you’re going to lead the league.  Anyway, those are some of the things I have done.  I am 83 and it just hurts me to think that I have been avoided.  I was the first kicking specialist in pro football.  I broke my arm with the Steelers in 1945 and they said, “You can still kick.”  And they kept me for kicking, and look at the record books.  I made four out of four in 1945.  The team was a poor team and they didn’t score much, and they didn’t kick much.  So I came home and quit football.  Jock Sutherland came out as the new coach and wrote a letter and wanted me to come back.  I said, “No,” and I opened a sporting goods store in Anaheim and moved to Long Beach.  After I came home, the Hollywood Bears called and said, “Would you kick for us?”  And I said, “Yeah, if I just kick.  I am not gonna play.”  They said, “OK.”  Well I kicked 15 field goals and the Rams called me, the Redskins called me, and the L.A. Dons were just forming and they called me and I signed with the L.A. Dons.  And I broke the records and everything, and kicked a 53-yarder, which was a league record.  It still is because the league folded up.  But anyway, I did real well and when the league folded, the Giants called me.  So I go back to New York and my wife wouldn’t stay at New York, so in ’54 and then ’55 I said, “I want to fly back and forth.”  And they said, “Well, come back here.”  And I went back and kicked for them.  Then in ’56 I held out and wouldn’t go back and forth.  So finally they let me go back and forth after Gifford missed a field goal.  He kicked the ball and hit the center’s ass with the ball.  His own center.  And the ball rolled back and Cleveland picked the ball for a touchdown.  I think it was Bob Gain, took the ball.  I think they tied Cleveland, and Gifford went to Wellington Mara and said, “Hell, if we tie Cleveland, Jimmy Brown and them, we can win the championship.  Bring Ben back, I can’t kick, I can’t do everything.”  So I flew back and forth every week and helped them out and we won the championship.  And you know what?  We had a big reunion 20 years later in ’76, then in ’96 we had another reunion.  We all went back to New York and I sat way in the back and Gifford has the microphone, and Sam Huff gets up and tells how he knocked Jimmy Brown out of bounds and fore-armed him.  Everybody’s bragging and talking, and I’m sitting way back there.  Somebody said, “Why don’t you say something?”  I said, “No, I’m nobody.”  If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be there.  I knew that.  The way I kicked several field goals that were instrumental in winning, and we won the championship by one game, the playoffs, then we went into the championship and beat the Bears on an ice-frozen field.  Even there I kicked two field goals on an ice field that you couldn’t walk on.  I had one tennis shoe and one kicking shoe without any cleats.  I took the cleats off and I did just a little one-step kick, and boom, kicked a 34-17, two field goals.  I think the 40-something was as good as any 60-yarder anywhere.  But in the field and weather and everything like that, that just made us roll.  And we beat them 47-7.  But I got no credit because the newspaper people don’t give a damn about kickers.  I kept saying things will change, I kept saying, “Everybody will have a kicker.”  I went 10 years as the only guy kicking.  Everybody was a player-kicker.  But evidently I had the talent that they wanted, and if people wanted me, I’d go.  I’d go for nothing.  I never argued about salary.  My first salary was $200 a game, with the Eagles.  And you know what?  I got married back in Philadelphia and I bought a ring and I bought a little car, and drove home, all on the $200 a game.  My room was $5 a week.  So I didn’t need any money.  That takes care of half of your questions.

TT – No kidding.  The Chargers coaching staff had three future Hall of Fame coaches in Sid Gillman, Al Davis and Chuck Noll.  Did it appear to be a knowledgeable or overly impressive staff at the time?

BA – When I got there, I was very impressed with Al Davis’ knowledge of football, and Chuck Noll’s toughness, but Sid Gillman was very, very smart.  Who else would get an old, old man to kick?  I’ll tell you who else.  Paul Brown.  Paul Brown was a genius coach, and he’s the only coach to this day that used the field goal as an offensive weapon, and not as a last resort.  “Oh dammit! We have to kick!”  Paul Brown would move the ball to the middle of the field and on third down Lou Groza would kick a field goal.  No other coach that I know has done that.  But Sid needed a kicker and I don’t know if he was just joking with me when he said, “Hey can you still kick, old man.”  And I didn’t know Sid at the time.  I said, “Sure.”  See, I have kicking clinics where every Wednesday I go out to the field and teach kids how to kick.  A lot of the kids that I taught there, Jim Martin, was one of them.  He kicked for Detroit.  Gerald Perry kicked for Detroit.  These kids, way back then, came out to Wednesdays and kicked.  And I’m still doing that.  Over 50 years I have had free clinics and in Dallas, when I moved to Dallas, I continued.  Then I moved back here two years ago and I’ve done it here again.  At Los Alamitos High School I have a permit and we go out on the field every Wednesday from 4 to 6, starting in March, until the end of May.  And then I have my camps in June and July, and part of August sometimes.  I give private lessons and I teach kids how to kick.

TT – What did you think of the AFL when you began playing?  Were you concerned that the league might not succeed?

BA – Well, when I played for the AFL, a lot of the guys from the NFL said, “They’re no good.”  But I said, “The All-American Conference, they said those teams were inferior and I said, ‘Hell, Cleveland will beat anybody.’”  And they laughed at me, but Paul Brown showed them.  He went in there to the NFL and he beat them all.  So I thought when the American League came, they robbed players and we had just as good of players as the other teams.  I don’t think there was much difference.  There was coaching.  Sid was a very smart coach.  He was, I think, a great coach.  But there’s some stories about him cutting out plays out of the game films when he would ship films.  And every now and then he would be a little late in sending his films to the other teams.  Oh, that Sidney.

TT – Tell me, do you have a favorite road trip memory?

BA – Oooooh boy.  No.  We had some poker games on the road trips.  We found one guy cheating and we told him we’d kick that little Hawaiian out of the hotel if he continued.  I think that was Herman Wiedemeyer.  I think that was the Dons, I think he was on the Dons.  Let me think here, with the Chargers…  Well, I always liked to play cards.  I played gin all the time.  I still play gin.  I don’t know of anything.  No, I can’t think of anything…  It was all routine.

TT – Is there anything that you did not like about being a pro football player?

BA – No, no.  Personally, I didn’t think I did anything outstanding.  The people brag about some of the things I have done in the past.  At that time I thought more about my business and my family than I did about football.  Football was secondary.  If you wanted me, OK, I would kick for you.  But if you didn’t want me, fine, I’d stay home.  Like a couple of years I could have kicked for somebody, but I didn’t even try in ’58 and ’59.  I didn’t try to kick for anybody.  The minor league teams folded up and I just stayed home and ran my business.  I started a little sporting goods store and built it up to 10 stores and discount houses.  I went in the oil business, and I built the Long Beach Athletic Club for handball and racquetball.  I was more proud of my accomplishments there than I was when I could kick a football.  I still don’t think that’s such a big deal.  I went to the NFL Alumni meeting a couple nights ago, and we just all visit and talk and stuff.  Boy, they just mention me all the time in the meetings and one of the guys stood up and said I taught him how to kick several years ago.  I don’t know.  I am proud of the fact that God gave me a little talent to teach, and I went on for 24 years with the Cowboys as their kicking coach.  We never had any trouble.  Since I left the Cowboys, can you count how many kickers they’ve had?  They’ve had about 12 kickers there.  This new guy, he just keeps getting rid of the punters and kickers.  The punter called me six months ago and he said, “Can you teach me how to kick off?  I’m a punter and I just signed with the Cowboys.  You helped my roommate at South Dakota State and he got 10 yards more.  He came out for one lesson and you helped him and he kicked 10 yards further on kick offs.  I want to learn to kick off.”  I said, “Sure, I’ll give you a lesson, but don’t tell the Cowboys.”  This guy has a big ego.  He said, “OK.”  A month later he called me and said, “The Cowboys don’t want me to come to you for a lesson.”  I said, “I told you not say anything.”  He said, “Well, I’ll call you back.”  So we go to Dallas for the kicking camps and the kid calls me again and he said, “The Hell with the Cowboys, I want to learn to kick off.”  I said, “Well, come to the field and I’ll give you a lesson.”  And I did.  He took a lesson, he went to camp, and they released him after training camp.  But after three weeks they signed him back and got rid of Micah Knorr, and signed Phillip.  And he’s the punter now for the Cowboys.  But he’s the kid who took a lesson.  I haven’t seen him kick off, but they got rid of the place kicker that couldn’t kick off and brought another kid.  They keep switching kickers like crazy.  I had Septien for 10 years there and Mike Saxon, a San Diego State kid.  He was there 10 years.  They were my two kickers that did great.  I coached for Terry Donahue for 20 years at UCLA.  They had All-Americans there, John Lee and Norm Johnson and Brad Daluiso, and all these kids that I taught how to kick.  Brad came up from San Diego and said he wants to try out for UCLA as a punter.  He grabs a ball and throws it out, takes two, three steps out and kicks it like a rugby kicker.  I said, “You don’t know how to kick.”  He said, “Watch me kick off.”  Well he put one 70 yards and I said, “Jeez, do it again.”  He kicked the second one 80 yards.  I called Terry Donahue and said, “I got a kick off man.”  He said, “I need a punter.”  I said, “You got a punter.”  So we signed Daluiso for two years only.  The second year Brad said, “I want to learn to field goal.”  I said, “OK, come to every Wednesday clinic I have and every lesson I give, and you’ll learn.”  So we took a little trip to Houston on private lessons and went to Oklahoma, and back to Dallas, and back to Long Beach, and Brad went with me.  And then the next year he says, “Guess what?  I’m now the kicker at UCLA.”  Only one year of practice field goals, and he ends up being the place kicker.  Then he signs a contract with Green Bay to kick off.  His kick offs are so great, he stayed four or five years just doing kick offs.  But he stayed with me doing field goals too.  The he got a chance.  He went from Denver to New York.  Then New York went to the Cardinals to play and Treadwell is the place kicker.  He can’t kick a ball 55 yards.  And the end of the game they needed a 55-yarder, so Dan Reeves put Daluiso in and he kicked it and made it.  A couple of weeks later Treadwell was released and sent home and Daluiso is the kicker.  So for four more years or five years, Brad was a place kicker and kick off man.  Then he had surgery on his knee and that really hurt, so he finally was out.  You know what?  They tried him at Oakland last year when Janikowski got hurt.  They brought in a couple of kickers.  They brought Brad in for one game. And I think he missed a field goal and of course they blamed him.  But when you have a holder hold the ball for a left-footed kicker all year, then you switch him around right-handed, I’m sure that there was a problem there and not Brad.  But, how many times do you blame the holder or the center?  I blamed them every time I missed.  Pat Summerall said once that I never missed a field goal that it was my fault.  Well shoot, I showed a coach once.  I said, “Watch this coach.”  I was with the Rams and during practice I kicked about 75 percent with the center and the holder and the big rush coming in.  I missed two or three of them.  I said, “Do you want to see something?  Stay after practice and let me show you something.”  I took the bag of footballs and I put them on the 20-yard line, I moved back to the 30 the left hash, the 35 the right hash, the 40, the 50, the 60.  I made all but one.  I said, “Now do you blame me, dammit?  It’s not me.  They keep blaming me.”  He got madder than Hell at me.  But I proved a point.  When Terry Donahue called me and asked me to help him, I said, “I want you to recruit a center that can just snap for field goals.”  He went clear to New York to find a guy.  Then I want a holder that has real good hands and has time.  I don’t want a quarterback, they’re too busy.  Especially first-string quarterbacks.  Give me anybody else.  Well, there was a little guy that went out for receiver.  5’6”, from San Pedro, Mary Star Clinton.  I made him the holder.  I made those two guys practice center and hold every single day, 50 times before practice, 50 times after practice.  John Lee comes in, a rookie, and breaks every record in the history of college football, except the distance record.  And why?  It’s the center and the holder.  People don’t understand what it is to kick a field goal.  All they look is that the kicker misses and they blame the kicker.  I told the coach, “Take the center and holder away and let me kick!  I’ll show you how I can kick.”  I remember Rafael told me once in Seattle, “Uncle Ben, did you see the hold?”  He missed a 19-yard field goal.  Horano was the holder, the quarterback.  He fumbled the ball and he put it down crooked and Rafael hooked it and missed it and came out.  I said, “Rafael, I saw the hold.  That was the same holder, the same football, the same stadium, the same day that you just kicked a 51-yarder.  Now if you’re going to take credit for the 51-yarder…”  And he says, “Oh get out of here.”  And he pushed me and walked away.  It just shows you that if you’re going to take the credit, you better take the blame for that one you missed.  The holder doesn’t get credit.  A long time ago I went to the Rams.  Rich Saul was at this banquet a couple of nights ago.  He was a center for the Rams.  I think it was in ’77 and Nolan Cromwell came up.  He was a rookie and he used to play cornerback.  He was a great defensive back.  I went out to Ram practice before the season started and just worked with those two guys, teaching them how to center and hold.  No kickers there, just center and hold.  Every day, every day.  Then I went Klosterman and I said, “I’d like to make a suggestion.”  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “I’d like to add at least $5,000 to each guy’s contract.  These two guys that are doing this extra work.  I think it is so important that if you, as general manager, point out the importance of it, and give each of them a $5,000 raise, it will really help.”  He said, “Get the Hell out of here and mind your own business.  You’re kicking coach.  You don’t run this team.”  See how stupid people are?  Oh brother.  Anyway, the importance of center and holder are very important and they should get paid for it.  But they don’t unless you get publicity.  You know, during our kicking camps, on the last day of the camp you have to run in when we call your name out.  Run like Hell with the kicking tee, put it down and kick a field goal in 10seconds.  And when you’re through, if you don’t thank your center and holder, the holder picks up the tee and throws it clear across the field.  You have to go shag it.  These little kids, cute as Hell, they run in and kick a field goal.  They make it and they smile and they jog off the field and boom!  There goes the tee and there they have to go.  Then they realize the importance that we teach.  The center and holder are important and you have to thank them.  You look at pro football and you see 90% of them, and some college kids now, thanking the center and holder.  If the guy kicks and runs to the sidelines and does a dance and thinks he’s a big shot, he’s gonna miss the next few.

Todd Tobias (766 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.


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