Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 | SUBSCRIBE

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

Placekicking: A Brief History

September-October 2012

In its early years, American football used a round ball that players would hold in their hands, drop to the ground, and kick on a low bounce. With the advent of the forward pass, the ball took on its current elliptical shape, making it easier to throw—but causing unpredictable bounces. So the drop kick gave way to placekicking, with tees (for kickoffs) and holders (for field goals and extra points).

For many decades, placekickers weren’t specialists: position players moonlighted at the task. Gino Cappelletti of the Boston (now New England) Patriots, for example, was a wide receiver, and the legendary Lou “the Toe” Groza of the Cleveland Browns was an offensive tackle. Groza converted 88.5 percent of his attempts in 1953, at a time when most National Football League (NFL) teams missed more than half their field goals.

In the 1960s, accuracy rose markedly with the advent of “soccer-style” kicking, which a Budapest-born Cornell graduate, Pete Gogolak, brought to American football. He kicked for the Buffalo Bills and then the New York Giants (becoming their all-time leading scorer) from 1964 until 1974.

One of Lou Groza’s kicking shoes resides in the Smithsonian, but no NFL rule requires that kickers wear a shoe at all. Rich Karlis, who kicked mostly for the Denver Broncos, was the last of the barefoot placekickers; he ended his career with the Vikings and Lions, retiring in 1990.

You Might Also Like:

Harvard’s Kym Wimberly scores his second touchdown.

Click on arrow at right to view additional images
(1/4) KYM DANDY Even while in the clutches of Brown's Harrison Ochs (5), Harvard's Kym Wimberly (1) reached over the goal for his second touchdown. The senior wideout bedeviled the Brown secondary, making a game-high eight catches.

Photograph by Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletic Communications

Football 2022: Harvard 35-Brown 28

Harvard football players limbering up for season-opening game

Click on arrow at right to view additional images
(1/4) OPENING STRETCH. Sophomore backup quarterback Charles DiPrima and his mates got limbered up for the 148th season of Harvard football.
Photograph by Dylan Goodman Photography/courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Football: Harvard 28-Merrimack 21

Running back Aidan Borguet runs up field through Columbia defenders.

Breakout season: All eyes will be on the Crimson's Aidan Borguet (21 in white, breaking loose against Columbia) as he steps into the lead back role. As a sophomore in 2021, Borguet was named second-team All-Ivy. 

Photograph by Owen A. Berger/The Harvard Crimson

Football: The 2022 Preview

You Might Also Like:

Harvard’s Kym Wimberly scores his second touchdown.

Click on arrow at right to view additional images
(1/4) KYM DANDY Even while in the clutches of Brown's Harrison Ochs (5), Harvard's Kym Wimberly (1) reached over the goal for his second touchdown. The senior wideout bedeviled the Brown secondary, making a game-high eight catches.

Photograph by Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletic Communications

Football 2022: Harvard 35-Brown 28

Harvard football players limbering up for season-opening game

Click on arrow at right to view additional images
(1/4) OPENING STRETCH. Sophomore backup quarterback Charles DiPrima and his mates got limbered up for the 148th season of Harvard football.
Photograph by Dylan Goodman Photography/courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Football: Harvard 28-Merrimack 21

Running back Aidan Borguet runs up field through Columbia defenders.

Breakout season: All eyes will be on the Crimson's Aidan Borguet (21 in white, breaking loose against Columbia) as he steps into the lead back role. As a sophomore in 2021, Borguet was named second-team All-Ivy. 

Photograph by Owen A. Berger/The Harvard Crimson

Football: The 2022 Preview