Thursday, October 18, 2007

Garo Yepremian, The Man Who Saved The Perfect Season

Garabed Sarkis Yepremian. Cypriot of Armenian descent, creator of hand-painted ties, and one hell of a kicker. So good that Pro Football Hall of Fame voters selected him for their All-Decade Team of the 1970’s.

Today, most people know Garo Yepremian for two things:

1) “I Keek A Touchdown”. As Garo’s former Detroit Lions’ teammate Alex Karras told the story, Garo (who’d never even seen a pro football game before he suited up as a Lion), kicked a last-second game-winning extra point. As he ran off the field with his arms raised in triumph, Karras asked him, "What the hell are you celebrating?" Yepremian replied “I keek a touchdown”. As you might imagine, Johnny Carson loved this and thanks to him it wound up as a catch phrase symbolizing the influx of all the foreign-born kickers entering the NFL back then. To me, the story sounds just a little too good to be true (and I’ve also seen Tony Fritsch’s name associated with the quote). Regardless, Garo titled his autobiography “I Keek a Touchdown” and if he didn’t really ever say it, he should have.

2) Inexplicably handing the Washington Redskins a free touchdown in Super Bowl VII that briefly endangered the Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season. Wikipedia describes it this way:

After Miami moved the ball to the 34-yard line on their ensuing drive, kicker Garo Yepremian attempted a 42-yard field goal in what is now remembered as one of the most famous blunders in NFL lore: "Garo's Gaffe". As had been the case all day, Yepremian's kick was too low, and it was blocked by Washington defensive tackle Bill Brundige. The ball bounced to Yepremian's right and he reached it before holder Earl Morrall. But instead of falling on the ball, Yepremian picked it up and, with Brundige bearing down on him, made a frantic attempt to pass the ball to Csonka,[11] who blocked on field goals. Unfortunately for Miami, the ball slipped out of his hands and went straight up in the air. Yepremain attempted to bat the ball out of bounds,[12] but instead batted it back up into the air, and it went right into the arms of Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who easily avoided Yepremian's feeble attempt at a tackle and returned the fumble 49 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14-7 with 2:07 left in the game.

You know, reading about that play again convinces me that it's clearly the stupidest, most asinine play in football history. What are the other candidates? The Miracle in the Meadowlands? Yeah, the Giants should have knelt down but I'm not sure that was the standard strategy back then and still, how hard is it to just execute avsimple handoff? Marshall's wrong-way fumble return? He just got disoriented and ran the wrong way. An understandable mistake. But Yepremian's play...the whole thing makes no sense. It's 14-0 with just a little over two minutes left. Why try to do anything with ball? Garo said he was trying to turn a negative into a positive. But who the hell needed a positive? The game was over. Why would he try to throw a pass? He'd never thrown one in his entire career! He knew he couldn't throw. And who would he have thrown it to? It wasn't a fake. Nobody was going out to catch the ball. And once the kick was blocked, everyone would be running back to the ball, not turning into an open receiver with an insurmountable lead. And once Garo whiffed on the throw, why'd he bat it up into the air? KNOCK IT DOWN! The whole thing was completely insane! Following the TD Manny Fernandez threatened Garo with death if Miami ended up losing that game. No jury in the world would have convicted Manny! Sure they won in the end but Miami would have had the first and still only shutout in Super Bowl history and the 14-7 final score now forever belies just how dominant Miami actually was in that game.

But I digress. Despite those two legendary infamous moments, we must credit Garo as the man who saved the perfect season. As you might expect from arguably the greatest team of all time, few teams played competitive football with the 1972 Dolphins (until the playoffs). Only three of their games were decided by a less than a touchdown but, without Garo, Miami might well have lost two of them.

Game 3, at Minnesota
Trailing 14-6 late in the 4th quarter, a Miami drive stalled at the Vikings 44-yard-line. Coach Don Shula had Yepremian try a 51-yard field goal (the goal posts were at the goal line back then), even though his career longest was 48. Garo made it, Miami then forced a punt, drove the ball down the field, and scored the winning TD with 88 seconds left.

Game 6, vs. Buffalo
Miami won 24-23. The big play in the game? Yepremian’s 54-yard field goal, his new all-time longest kick. ''I remember later reading our yearbook about the unbeaten season,'' Yepremian said, ''and thinking, My god, what if I didn't make the 54-yarder?''

So remember Garo if you will as the little foreign kicker who barely understood football and made the stupidest play in NFL history. But don’t forget, without Garo, no Perfect Season.

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