Game-Changers – A Tale of Two Footballs

Sports innovation - football's debt to soccerVery few football fans under the age of 60 can tell you who Pete Gogolak is, but when he stepped onto the field wearing a Buffalo Bills jersey in the autumn of 1964, he irrevocably changed the face of the game. He took a fairly mundane part of the game, the field goal, applied some old world logic, and voila, the wheels were set in motion that changed the way field goals would be kicked from there on out. Pete Gogolak, in case you haven’t already figured it out, was the place kicker who introduced us to modern, or “soccer-style” field goal kicking. Prior to Gogoloak’s career in the NFL, field goals were kicked from directly behind the football, with the kicker generally taking one step before kicking the ball, usually with a specially crafted kicking shoe. Gogolak’s kicking style created instant debate among football fans and insiders. The sweeping motion of a soccer style kick had benefits that were quickly recognized. Perhaps the most significant of these is that the kicking style allows the kicker a greater margin of error. Because the contact point with the ball is so small when kicking straight on, with the toe, any error at all pushes the ball in the wrong direction, resulting in missed field goal attempts. The soccer style utilizes the instep, allowing more of the foot to contact the football. This style of kicking is more forgiving, resulting in the ball more often sailing in the direction the kicker had intended. “Frankly, I’m amazed nobody else saw the potential.”While this method of kicking was unorthodox at the time, perhaps football fans of the 60s shouldn’t have been so amazed with the odd set up, but more amazed with how long it took anyone to try it that way. Soccer, the sport most of the rest of the world refers to as football, has been in existence in one form or another since the Roman Empire. By the 1300s, it was popular enough to warrant being outlawed in England (as it was infringing on archery practice). So, how is it that nobody ever thought to try to kick an American football soccer style? Soccer players were clearly able to kick their balls farther and more accurately than football players. Gogolak himself has been quoted as saying, “I don’t look at soccer-style kicking as something I created. Frankly, I’m amazed nobody else saw the potential.” To this day, he remains the NY Giants’ all-time leading scorer with 646 points, having left the team in 1974. Within 20 years of the first soccer style kick in the NFL, straight on kicking was going the way of the dinosaur. In 1986, the last full time straight on kicker retired from the NFL, and in 1987, the last straight on field goal to date was kicked. The method was replaced by something better. Something that had been right under everyone’s noses for over 1,000 years before it was applied to football. What do we in the health professions have sitting right in front of us, just waiting to be applied?

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