December 8, 2013

Greatest record in sports finally broken after 43 years

Today Matt Prater kicked a 64-yard-field goal in the thin air of Denver to finally break the NFL record of 63 yards first set in 1970 by Tom Dempsey in the humidity of New Orleans.

Why was Dempsey's feat my favorite record? Because it was the exact opposite of the modern era's Ivan Drago-style scientific athletic accomplishments.

The only reason the Saints' coach sent in the field goal unit with 2 seconds left and down by one was because he thought the Saints were on the Lions' 44-yard-line, not their own 44.

Back then, the goal posts in the NFL were on the goal line, not the back of the end zone like today, so the coach thought he was calling for a 51-yarder. The NFL record at the time was 56 yards, so 63 yards was unthinkable.

Dempsey, who was born missing a hand and half of his right (kicking) foot, booted it in the obsolete straight-on style. And Dempsey is said to have had quite a hangover after enjoying Saturday night New Orleans-style. The players had intentionally gotten drunk because they were mad at the owner for firing their coach Tom Fears and replacing him with the kind of idiot who couldn't tell which 44-yard-line his team was on.

Dempsey was famously violent for a kicker. Since he couldn't break any fingers on his stump, he was notorious for using it as a club on kick returners.

The endurance of Dempsey's record was odd because placekickers improved so much in the 1970s alone. The longest NCAA kicks were largely accomplished in 1976-77 in the old Southwestern Conference when I was at Rice:
FBS: 67 – Russell Erxleben, Texas vs. Rice, Oct. 1, 1977; Steve Little, Arkansas vs. Texas, Oct. 15, 1977; Joe Williams, Wichita State vs. Southern Illinois, Oct. 21, 1978[69] 
FBS: 65 - Tony Franklin, Texas A&M vs. Baylor, Oct. 16. 1976; Martin Gramatica, Kansas State vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 12, 1998. Longest without a kicking tee which was banned in 1989.

Most of these guys were soccer players, but Erxleben kicked his 67 yarder against Rice in the old straight-ahead style. (By the way, Texas beat Rice 72-15. Texas had Heisman winner Earl Campbell, so a 67-yard field goal on top of getting flattened all day by the greatest running back in the history of the state of Texas seemed a little like overkill. I see that Erxleben is currently in jail on his latest charge of running a Ponzi scheme, so maybe he inflated the ball with anti-gravity gas?)

But that wasn't the longest Texas college field goal of that brief golden era. In 1976 Ove Johannson of Abilene Christian in the NAIA kicked a 69-yarder.

It was widely assumed at the time in Texas 35 years ago that a 70-yarder was just around the corner, but that hasn't happened yet. I don't know exactly why. One reason is that NFL coaches rarely call for very long field goals.

Perhaps coaches dread more than anything a 109-yard return of a short field goal, such as Auburn's last week that cost Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide a berth in the national championship game. NFL coaches dislike not winning, but they hate being personally responsible for a loss the way Saban was last week. The coaches actually have good reason to fear 109-yard returns besides their egos: the guys who block for field goal attempts are chosen for their immobility, not their ability to cover returns. Thus, the very large and slow white guys Saban sent out on the field with 1 second left to keep Auburn from blocking the attempt at a game winning 59-yard field goal didn't come close to tackling Auburn's speedy returner.

Isn't it about time that the NFL did something to make field goals harder so that we can once again cheer when the guy makes it instead of roll our eyes when he misses?

In the comments, Reg Cæsar said:
Well, soccer-style wasn't an option in his case, was it? 
I always wondered if Dempsey's clubfoot was a feature rather than a bug. A similar deformity of the left hand sure was for the 1920s songwriter Harry M Woods. He could just barely bang out chords on the piano, but his club gave him a monster advantage in his favorite sport-- barfighting.  
The story is told that after a workday in Manhattan, he and a fellow songwriter stepped into a bar where a fight was already in progress. Woods joined right in and, Adam West Batman-style, immediately established himself as alpha dog. (These were total strangers, by the way.) 
An onlooker asked Woods's buddy "Who is that guy?"  
"Why, don't you recognize him? He's the man who wrote "Try a Little Tenderness!"

50 comments:

Reg Cæsar said...

Well, soccer-style wasn't an option in his case, was it?

I always wondered if Dempsey's clubfoot was a feature rather than a bug. A similar deformity of the left hand sure was for the 1920s songwriter Harry M Woods. He could just barely bang out chords on the piano, but his club gave him a monster advantage in his favorite sport-- barfighting.

The story is told that after a workday in Manhattan, he and a fellow songwriter stepped into a bar where a fight was already in progress. Woods joined right in and, Adam West Batman-style, immediately established himself as alpha dog. (These were total strangers, by the way.)
An onlooker asked Woods's buddy "Who is that guy?"
"Why, don't you recognize him? He's the man who wrote "Try a Little Tenderness!"

Supposedly a true story.

Reg Cæsar said...

By the way, Nikita Khrushchev may not have buried us, but in time he buried the traditional kick. The first and third soccer-stylers in the NFL were Pete Gogolak and his brother Charlie, refugees of the '56 invasion of Hungary. The second, Jan Stenerud, was from Norway, another country with a Soviet border.

Anonymous said...

If Cy Young's career number of wins is the most unbreakable sports record, this field goal record is virtually its opposite. A number of kickers are capable of booting seventy yarders, and this record was so easily attainable that Prater was able to break it in the cold.

As for making field goals harder, narrowing the goalposts would be a simple way of doing that.

wiseguy

Anonymous said...

F1 driver Sebastian Vettel broke a record set in 1952-53 this year when he won nine consecutive Grands Prix.

Anonymous said...

Steve, did you go to the Paul Walker Memorial today? It was right up in your neck of the woods.

"Paul Walker memorial in California draws thousands"

http://www.redding.com/news/2013/dec/08/paul-walker-memorial-california-draws-thousands/

"The sounds of high-performance car engines filled the air Sunday as thousands of fans, friends and car enthusiasts headed to the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita to pay tribute to Paul Walker at the site where the "Fast & Furious" actor died in a car crash.

The memorial, planned through social media, was scheduled to begin at noon, but mourners began arriving hours beforehand to leave flowers, candles, stuffed animals and other tributes. Throughout the afternoon, thousands of people, including entire families with children, dropped by."

beowulf said...

"Isn't it about time that the NFL did something to make field goals harder so that we can once again cheer when the guy makes it instead of roll our eyes when he misses?"

Extra points are even worse, when's the last time you saw a miss or a block? I say take a page from Doug Flutie and replace place kicks with drop kicks.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2S_7TT2a1H4

Anonymous said...

The story is told that after a workday in Manhattan, he and a fellow songwriter stepped into a bar where a fight was already in progress. Woods joined right in and, Adam West Batman-style, immediately established himself as alpha dog. (These were total strangers, by the way.)
An onlooker asked Woods's buddy "Who is that guy?"
"Why, don't you recognize him? He's the man who wrote "Try a Little Tenderness!"


LOL, what a great story! I remember in college a guy with a club hand opening a can of whoop-ass on a huge black guy I knew. He beat him unmercifully with that club hand and obviously this wasn't the first time he came out top dog in a bar fight.

Anonymous said...

And he only had half a foot to boot!

BOOOYAHH said...

Oh yeah? Well how 'bout that NORMAN ROCKWELL

Anonymous said...

Paul Walker certainly broke the landspeed record for inspiring the most # of inane comments about his pseudo-achievements in a 72-hour period

anony-mouse said...

I always thought Americans were supposed to believe that Mr. Marilyn Monroe-Coffee's achievement was the greatest.

You might want to google "Is Don Bradman still alive" given certain recent events.

Maxwell Power said...

Due to some accident in shop class (?) the guitarist for Black Sabbath had to tune down his strings to some inordinate degree in order to play comfortably; thus inventing the stoner-metal sound

Anonymous said...

I think Sam Cooke did that one best.

feats of strength said...

There was an Indianapolis Colts game a few weeks ago where the punter participated in blocking the return (actually tackling the returner!). This was considered so Astonishing and Unusual for Modern Football that the league decided to randomly drug test him the following week.

Anonymous said...

>>" feats of strength said...
There was an Indianapolis Colts game a few weeks ago where the punter participated in blocking the return (actually tackling the returner!). This was considered so Astonishing and Unusual for Modern Football that the league decided to randomly drug test him the following week."



The punter's name is Pat McAfee. He started out as a high school soccer player and played some soccer in college as well. Rumor he was thinking of playing in the MLS before being drafted.

He's also quite a character.

ben tillman said...

The only reason the Saints' coach sent in the field goal unit with 2 seconds left and down by one was because he thought the Saints were on the Lions' 44-yard-line, not their own 44.

Wow. I had never heard that, but it definitely makes sense.

Steve Sailer said...

That's what I always heard, but I didn't see any confirmation of that old story today.

Watching the video of Billy Kilmer on the preceding play wind up and heave a pass for a 17 yard gain, I don't think he could have physically thrown a 63 yard Hail Mary pass to the goal line, so a field goal was probably about as likely as any other option.

Anonymous said...

I heard he never washed his club foot. They say it smelled awful. Discolored too. It looked gangrenous.

Anonymous said...

beowulf sez: "Extra points are even worse, when's the last time you saw a miss or a block?"

Today in the Lions-Eagles game. I do think that was the only NFL game I've ever seen outside a 0-0 tie where there were zero points scored by kickers the whole game. (The final score was 34-20.)

Anonymous said...

As a non American I would have to argue that any US football record and "greatest record in the world" do not go together, based on the simple fact that nowhere in the world other than America is this game played. To put this into perspective, the furthest penalty kick in Rugby translates to about 70 yards, and the longest drop goal is about 65 yards, nobody calls these Rugby records the greatest records of all time.

The real greatest sports records would be something like beating the Sergei Bubka pole vault record, or Donald Bradmans average of 100 in cricket.



eah said...

The most amazing thing about Dempsey's FG is that it looks like he only takes about 1.5 leisurely steps - max 2 steps - before he kicks it.

Dave Pinsen said...

An alternative idea to making field goals harder: it happens very rarely, but occasionally a kicker will boot the ball through the uprights on a kickoff, in which case it just counts as a touchback. Why not score that as a field goal? In addition, as a reward for a successful 2 point conversion, why not let kickers kick off from their 40 yard line?

That could make games more suspenseful, as a team down 11 points with little time on the clock would still have a chance to tie the game up with, essentially, one possession.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, there has never been a scoreless tie in the modern NFL, so the game you saw might be the first one in a loooong time without a kicker scoring. Guess you'd have to consult the stat geeks to be sure, but if they don't know when the last time this happened was, congratulations on finding a way to stump 'em.

wiseguy

Anonymous said...

Dempsey would be a good Bond villain henchman with his deadly effective deformities. Imagine how much damage he could do to someone with that special cleated boot. Imagine being on the receiving end of that. It wouldn't be pretty.

Auntie Analogue said...


Fate is mysterious: some people get to break records, other people wind up in the Darwin Awards.

Truth said...

Lincoln-Douglas:

http://www.thefumble.com/metta-world-peace/kenyon-martin-and-metta-world-peace-fought-over-what.html

Anonymous said...

Check out this guy, he kicks like a pro!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDwbjHV8jLo

sunbeam said...

Neither here nor there I guess, but to me the most untouchable record ever is Dimaggio's hitting streak (57 games?).

I don't think anyone ever, will break this one.

I've done a little reading on this. Just taking batting averages at face value, the odds of Dimaggio doing it in the first place are microscopic. Even with batting averages in general being higher in his heyday.

I've seen speculation that he may have had a little "sympathy" from opposing teams, but while believable those are pretty hard to prove.

astorian said...

Actually, there IS a very simple and obvious reason that college football teams stopped letting their kickers attempt insanely long field goals, and it has nothing to do with what the NFL requires.

The NCAA rules changed in the Eighties. Before that, if a kicker missed a field goal, the opposing team got the ball on the 20 yard line. SO, coaches figured that there was no harm in attempting a field goal. At best, he'd get 3 points, and at worst, the enemy would be starting from deep in his own territory. A 60 yard field goal attempt was like a punt that MIGHT get you points!

Today, if a college kicker misses a 60 yard field goal, the opponent takes over at the previous line of scrimmage, the 43 yard line. That's NOT so safe. Hence, in today's game, you only attempt long field goals at the very end of the 2nd or 4th quarter, and only if you really NEED the points.

Anonymous said...

Erxleben, Franklin and the rest of those Southwest Conference kickers of the late 70s had a couple of advantages over kickers in the NFL. First they used a kicking tee on FG attempts. Also the SWC had a slightly under-inflated football that kickers could choose to use on FG attempts.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1092985/1/index.htm

ziel said...

The biggest reason I think for that record standing so long was the rule change that put unreturned missed field goals at the line of scrimmage rather than calling them touchbacks and putting them at the 20. That was made in '74.

Anonymous said...

I see that Erxleben is currently in jail on his latest charge of running a Ponzi scheme, so maybe he inflated the ball with anti-gravity gas?

Paul Walker invented the trick of putting anti-gravity gas in his car tires.

poolside said...

Russell Erxleben's son Ryan is a punter for Texas Tech.

http://www.texastech.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/ryan_erxleben_461770.html

Texas A&M placekicker John Lambo played professional soccer (he was a goalkeeper for FC Dallas) and was a member of the USMNT U-17 and U20 national teams.

When his soccer career stalled, he enrolled at A&M and tried out for the football team.

ben tillman said...

Watching the video of Billy Kilmer on the preceding play wind up and heave a pass for a 17 yard gain, I don't think he could have physically thrown a 63 yard Hail Mary pass to the goal line, so a field goal was probably about as likely as any other option.

Kilmer wouldn't be able to get it to the end zone from the opponents' 44.

get your kiks said...

Steve in Rugby if the ball is touched down for a try by the side lines then the conversion is kicked from he 22 meter line by the side lines, if its touched down in front of the goal posts then the conversion is kicked from the 22 meter line in front of the goal posts. that's one way to make the conversions more challenging.

ben tillman said...

It was widely assumed at the time in Texas 35 years ago that a 70-yarder was just around the corner, but that hasn't happened yet. I don't know exactly why.

It's because they changed the rule for where the ball is placed after a missed FG. In the NCAA this rule change occurred after the 1977 season.

Instead of placing the ball at the 20 after a missed FG(touchback), the ball started to come back to the line of scrimmage from which the kick was tried if the LOS was outside the 20 (1974 in NFL; 1978 in NCAA) and, later in the NFL (1994), to the spot of the kick. Also in 1988, the NCAA did away with kicking tees, and in 1990 the goal was narrowed the NFL width.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

what is that horseshoe-looking thing on the tip of Dempsey's right foot. Uh, I wonder how much help he got out of that???

Anonymous said...

The old SWC was notorious for the soft balls on 4th down, as evidenced by Erxlaben's stellar pro career.

Cy Young's 511 wins will never be broken, especially with the modern game going to the 5-man rotation. It will have to wait for the cyborg pitcher.

jody said...

a miss is a turnover. so coaches only want to take those 60 yard attempts at the end of the half or end of the game. if the kickers got more attempts the record would be higher.

comparison of recent long kicks:

63 jason elam 1998 denver right foot
63 sebastian janikowski 2011 denver left foot
63 david akers 2012 lambeau (hit the crossbar) left foot
64 matt prater 2013 denver right foot

as with no hitters and perfect games in baseball, 60 yard kicks are becoming more common. the kickers are getting better, just like the pitchers.

interesting question - can the kick be blocked on it's way over the crossbar, by the return man standing in the end zone? is it legal for him to jump up and deflect the ball? the crossbar is at 10 feet, the same as a basketball hoop. some of these kicks are over by less than a foot, so they are within slam dunk range for a vertical jump.

Paul Walker is still dead said...

OT: guy gets caught + beat after a failed knockout game (in a mall - how smart are these people?)

http://cnsnews.com/mrctv-blog/matt-vespa/knockout-game-goes-terribly-right-woman-wails-her-attacker

Anonymous said...

what is that horseshoe-looking thing on the tip of Dempsey's right foot. Uh, I wonder how much help he got out of that???

Good point. It looks like a piece of metal. Normal cleats don't have that.

dsgntd_plyr said...

The ball isn't placed at the 22. It's placed at the spot of the "touch down" then pulled back as far as the kicker feels necessary to get a good angle.This makes extra points harder. In rugby sevens all the kicks are drop kicks.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_(rugby)

ben tillman said...

interesting question - can the kick be blocked on it's way over the crossbar, by the return man standing in the end zone?

I'm still wondering 37 years after watching Vinnie Fusco kick a 57-yarder at the final gun, his 6th FG of the day. There was a 6'5" WR in the end zone, seemingly in position to do it, but the ball hit the cross-bar and bounced over.

ben tillman said...

Excuse me -- I should have said, he just stood there and watched as the ball hit the cross-bar and bounced over.

Harold said...

I second Sir Don Bradman’s batting average as the greatest record in sport. Just take a look at the graph on this page:

http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/the-most-remarkable-graph-in-the-history-of-sport/

Steven Wilson said...

Regarding blocking the kick at the crossbar: It is legal and I have seen it attempted but I don't if it every succeeded.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a field goal can be blocked at the crossbar. If I remember correctly (I think it was the 70s), the Chiefs had a 6'10" former basketball player they used to station under the crossbar on long field goal attempts.

ScarletNumbers said...

@jody

Don't listen to the others. It is illegal to block a field goal at the goal posts.

If someone is back there, it is to attempt a return on a short try.

Anonymous said...

Scarlet Numbers, blocking a field goal at the crossbar is illegal in the NCAA, legal in the NFL. You can legally block it in the NCAA, however, if you catch it.

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