What Ever Happened To The Barefoot Kicker?
There are some iconic things about the NFL I remember as a teenager in the 1980’s. Watching Monday Night Football with my dad, big shoulder pads, big hits, “The Catch”, Cris Collinsworth contact lens TV commercials, and Steve Pelluer. Ok, maybe not so iconic, but they’re my 80’s football memories, nonetheless.
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But something else I cannot ever forget that some of you born post 1980-ish is the barefoot kicker. As a kid I was always enamored with the guy with one shoe trotting out on the field in Philadelphia in December to kick a 45-yard field goal to win the game. Barefoot. No sock, no shoe, and perfectly trimmed toenails.
Why? I always thought. What’s the point? It’s COOOOOLD!
Turns out that “guy”, one of the last barefoot kickers in the league, was former Aggie great, Tony Franklin. I did a little investigating as to why this was a thing, and possibly why it’s not anymore. Turns out there were two schools of thought, but neither one makes much sense to me today. The first was that the kicker gets a better “feel” for the ball going straight skin-to-ball. The trajectory and the force could all be “felt” better by the kicker’s foot than the shoe. I read during this research that an un-named barefoot kicker once said making a kicker wear a show is like making a quarterback wear mittens. The second theory, and maybe the most absurd, was that shoes and socks absorb kinetic energy, so kicking barefoot created more force to the ball. People who subscribed to this second theory also argue that barefoot kicking disappeared after the invention of the American soccor cleat, which had less padding than normal tennis shoes of the time.
So what happened? There are also two schools of thought for this too. Shoes and weather. Shoe technology has come a long way since the 70’s. Just ask Phil Knight. At the time, barefoot kickers liked the way they thought they could control the ball with raw skin than the shoe technology of the time allowed. With newer designs and shoes specifically designed for kicking, new kickers on the scene became more used to those. In the 90’s you’d see kickers wearing two different shoes. Morten Anderson wore 2 different shoes including one of the first specially designed “kicking shoes” that cost him $5000 EACH… Not for a “pair”. By the 2000’s kicking shoes were the normal and the barefoot kicker was all but extinct.
Even though most barefoot kickers kicked well in cold weather, we know the NFL is a league of “trends”. Teams copy other teams who are successful. Players imitate other players who are successful. When a barefoot kicker missed a kick in a snowy game all other kickers and teams took note for whatever reason, and suddenly barefoot kickers can’t play in cold weather. Perception is reality in the NFL.
In all of this, in the entire history of the NFL, there were only 9 kickers and punters who preferred flesh of foot over leather shoe.
The aforementioned Tony Franklin came into the league from Texas A&M where in college he had kicks of 65 and 64 yards in the SAME GAME. He would go on to play in two Super Bowls and one Pro Bowl. Rich Karlis played from 1982-1990 with the game-winning field goal over the Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game for the Broncos in frigid temperatures. Others of note who kicked barefoot in the league were...
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