Thursday, November 8, 2007

"We Are Kickers We Kick Ball"

Not until the mid-1960’s did the smart guys of the NFL finally realize that you could a football farther and more accurately by approaching the ball from an angle and kicking with the instep of the foot rather than kicking the ball straight ahead with the toe of the shoe. When Jan Stenerud of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs turned out to be the best kicker professional football had ever seen, the rush was on for “soccer-style” kickers. And who better to kick the ball soccer-style than actual soccer players? Now Americans probably hated soccer then even more than they do today so it was off to fertile foreign lands for football scouts eager to find the next Jan Stenerud (who was from Norway). By the time of the 1970 NFL merger, the league fielded seven foreign-born kickers. Seven years later, the number of foreign-born kickers had nearly doubled. 13 of the NFL’s 28 teams, almost half, started a kicker not native to the United States in 1977. The sheer number of these little kicking machines from far-off lands combined with Garo Yepremian’s “I Keek a Touchdown” line, cemented forever in the public mind the picture of a league stocked with kickers speaking broken-English who barely understood the game they were getting big money to play. The apotheosis of that picture came on January 24, 1987. That night, football legends Walter Payton and Joe Montana co-hosted Saturday Night Live on the eve of Super Bowl XXI. A year earlier, the Bears took the country by storm with their Super Bowl Shuffle video. Now, in that style of that earlier “masterpiece”, SNL created their own special music video featuring Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, and whoever the hell else as NFL placekickers rapping and celebrating their own unique football prowess. Unfortunately NBC won’t allow this classic bit to stay on YouTube. I know the chorus was something like: “We are kickers, we kick ball, we play with ball, we kick the ball.” Lovitz pleaded not to be traded to Green Bay, “No Green Bay, Brrrrrr Green Bay, please please please, no Green Bay.” Phil Hartman played a kicker named Horst.

The highlight of the bit was the pungi solo mimed by the actor dressed in snake-charming gear. What that had to do with any actual kicker I have no idea since as far as I know, no NFL team’s ever suited up a kicker from the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, or North Africa. (And yes, that includes Ali Haji-Sheikh a.k.a. "Ali Haji Shank". He was born in Michigan!). Foreign placekickers have mainly come from Europe and North and South America. Whatever, it seemed to work. Funny thing is, the trend toward foreign-born kickers was actually declining at the time of that SNL episode. There were only 10 foreign-born placekickers on NFL rosters during the 1986 season. A decade later, there were only four. Right now? Still just four: Lawrence Tynes (Scotland), Shaun Suisham (Canada), Sebastian Janikowski (Poland), and the ageless Morten Andersen (Denmark). Almost all NFL kickers now hail from the good old U S of A. The good times of dopey kickers butchering the English language appear all but over. Except for Janikowski. Now that guy’s a real idiot.

1 comment:

Mean Gene said...

Here's a link!