By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Bears and Packers have both sent their thank-you notes to Baltimore Ravens placekicker Justin Tucker, who did his part to make sure both teams were in control of their playoff destiny.
Tucker was successful on all six of his FG attempts Monday night – including a mammoth 61-yarder in the final minute – to give the Ravens an 18-16 victory overJust the gasping Detroit Lions.
Tucker has made 33 straight three-pointers, and he made 35-of-37 attempts this season. Tucker provided all the points for the Ravens against Detroit, and his success this season is one of the main reasons the Ravens are still in contention for a playoff spot.
Yet, kickers are often among the most overlooked players in the NFL, and often the butt of clichéd jokes, They get ridiculed because they are not raging behemoths who are among the fastest and strongest men on the planet, like their teammates.
In some ways, nearly all NFL kickers are underrated because of the Garo Yepremian factor. While Yepremian’s career came to an end in 1981, his influence is still felt in many NFL locker rooms.
Yepremian was part of the first wave of soccer-style kickers in the 1960s. Yepremian, a soccer-playing tie maker from Cyprus, got his opportunity to kick for the Detroit Lions in 1966. He would later kick for the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Bucs.
Yepremian is famous for two incidents in his career. The first came during his two-year run with the Lions. At the time, Yepremian had not mastered the English language and had almost no understanding of the game of football. All he knew was that he was supposed to kick the oblong ball through the uprights after one teammate passed the ball between his legs to another teammate who caught it, and then held it in an upright position.
After Yepremian did this successfully, he ran back to the sidelines and yelled, “Hooray, I keek a touchdown!”
That’s how the late Alex Karras explained it, and in none too charitable of a fashion. He pointed out that he and the rest of his teammates had battled for 59-plus minutes, and that a tiny kicker – Yepremian stood 5-8 – had decided the outcome.
Yepremian’s most notable performance came in Super Bowl VII as the kicker for the Dolphins during their spectacular 1972 season.
Miami had rolled to a 14-0 regular season and won two playoff games before taking on the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. The Dolphins had a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter when head coach Don Shula sent Yepremian on the field in an effort to extend the lead with a field goal.
Yepremian’s attempt was blocked, and the ball bounded back to the kicker. Yepremian made an ill-fated attempt to pass the ball, but it slipped out of his grip and he batted it up in the air where it was recovered by Redskins defensive back Mike Bass, who returned it for a touchdown past the flailing Yepremian.
Yepremian had put the Dolphins’ perfect season at risk and head coach Don Shula was seething on the sideline.
The Dolphins managed to avoid any more errors and held on for a 14-7 victory and a perfect 17-0-0 season, the only one of its kind in NFL history.
Yepremian had more to do with making kickers outcasts than any other individual.
He eventually made his infamous “I keek a touchdown” quote into the title of his autobiography.
His Super Bowl blooper is also played regularly.
Most kickers now are American and they all use the sidewinding style that Yepremian helped make famous.
Today’s field goal kickers are far more successful than their counterparts from past generations.
They are stars in their own right, and while Tucker’s performance was sensational, it would not be a surprise to see similar performances from kickers like Robbie Gould, Stephen Gostkowski, Phil Dawson, Blair Walsh, Adam Vinatieri and Steven Hauschka.
Placekickers don’t have to be huge men who can lift the weight room or sprint like Olympians, but they are highly skilled players who are among the best pressure performers in their sport.
They deserve respect, and have for a long time.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.