Murphy Takes 5

Want to know the ins and outs and ups and downs of Lambeau and Lombardi and their teams? If you think you already know...you might not. Just ask Cliff Christl, team historian. Seriously. Ask him. E-mail him any question about any game, player, coach, or play, uniform, road trip, or rumor from 1919 to today to get the true story. E-mail Cliff with your name and hometown at history@packers.com. Find the answer posted here.

 
Print
RSS

Packers' kicking woes: 1968 to 1971

Posted Jan 25, 2018

A nightmare like no other in team history


Chris Jacke was the Packers’ placekicker from 1989-96, ranked second to Don Hutson on the team’s all-time scoring list and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2013. Ryan Longwell followed him and kicked from 1997 to 2005, broke Hutson’s record and will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame this summer. Mason Crosby arrived on the scene in 2007, broke Longwell’s record three years ago and almost certainly will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in the future.

Other than 2006 when Dave Rayner handled the team’s kicking, that’s almost three decades where the Packers didn’t have to worry about the reliability of their kicker.

During their 24-year famine between Lombardi and Wolf that wasn’t always the case. Their search for a kicker from 1968, following Don Chandler’s retirement, to 1971, before they drafted Chester Marcol, turned into one fiasco after another.

Those of you who suffered through it will no doubt remember the anguish, if not every detail.

1968

June 17 – Packers opened a four-day rookie camp with four rookie free-agent kickers on hand, including Canadian Metro Gerela and Ingmar Kauffeldt, a native of Gothenburg, Sweden. When the camp ended, Gerela, a soccer player who revealed he had been kicking a football for only 12 weeks, was invited to training camp. Lee Remmel, then a Green Bay Press-Gazette sportswriter, described Gerela as an “ambilateral” kicker. “The definition accurately describes the skills of Metro, a cargo supervisor on the Vancouver docks in more mundane moments, who produced more than a few elevated eyebrows during the Packers’ rookie camp this week by consistently launching kickoffs 55 to 60 yards, soccer style, with either foot, ” Remmel wrote.

July 10 – Packers rookies reported for training camp and there were two kickers on the roster of 30: Gerela and free agent John Giles of Davidson. Four days later, following the first practice with live tackling, Gerela explained why he had been kicking off with his left foot and kicking field goals with his right. “I can kick farther with my left foot and I’m more accurate with my right,” said Gerela.

July 13 – Chandler, the Packers’ kicker during the past three seasons when they won three straight NFL championships, announced his retirement.

July 20 – Guard Jerry Kramer, by all appearances the leading candidate to replace Chandler among the five kickers in camp, told the Press-Gazette, “I don’t covet the job… The ideal thing is to have a fresh man available for kicking.”

July 27 – Gerela was cut after missing two field goal attempts in the Packers’ annual intra-squad game two days earlier.

July 30 – Packers general manager Vince Lombardi acquired kicker Wade Traynham from Atlanta for rookie guard Steve Duich, a fifth-round draft pick. Traynham, a product of Frederick College (Va.), made 7-of-18 field goals for the Falcons in 1967. Previously, he kicked for the semipro Savannah Chiefs.

Aug. 6 – Fernando Souza, a 28-year old Brazilian soccer player who spoke fluent Spanish and Portuguese but not much English, was the talk of camp after signing as a free agent and putting on a kicking show at the end of his first practice. Remmel wrote in the Press-Gazette “even the world champion Packers … were slightly agog over what transpired near the close of Monday’s practice.” Remmel added, “The cause of their titillation,” was Souza, who consistently boomed field goals up to 47 yards and launched kickoffs five yards deep in the end zone. John Bertos, Souza’s interpreter, said it was only the second time Souza had ever kicked a football. The next day Souza kicked again and when he cleared the crossbar his new teammates started serenading, “Ole! Ole! Ole!” Lombardi signed Souza, who had been playing for the Fall River (Mass.) Astros of the American Professional Soccer League, upon the recommendation of the coaches of the Hartford Knights, the Packers’ minor league affiliate.

Aug. 21 – The Packers cut Souza. Although two days earlier he made 17-of-19 field goal tries in warmups before the Packers’ preseason game against Chicago, Souza panicked in the face of a rush and missed his two attempts in the game, including one from 20 yards, as the Packers fell 10-7.

Aug. 26 – The Packers cut Traynham after he made only 1-of-4 field goal attempts in three preseason games. Coach Phil Bengtson said he planned to start the season with Kramer as his kicker.

Aug. 27 – The Packers signed free-agent kicker Mike Clemons of Sacramento State to their taxi (or practice) squad.

Sept. 11 – The Packers added free-agent kicker Errol Mann of North Dakota to their taxi squad.

Oct. 6 – After making his first four field goal tries of the season, Kramer was replaced during the fourth game by backup kicker Chuck Mercein when his string of misses ran to five, including two from 20 yards out.

Oct. 21 – With Kramer sidelined with a knee injury and Mercein having made just 1-of-3 field goal attempts, the Packers activated Mann.

Nov. 3 – The Packers lost to Chicago, 13-10, as Mann missed 44- and 29-yard field goal tries and Mercein missed from 22.

Nov. 8 – The Packers signed 32-year old journeyman Mike Mercer and dropped Mann, who was 0-for-3 in two games. The Packers had converted only six of their last 17 field goal tries.

Nov. 21 – Bill Kiss, 32-year old sports director of an Appleton radio station, was added to the Packers’ staff as a volunteer kicking coach. “It’s a hobby with him,” Bengtson said of Kiss’ qualifications. “He does a lot of kicking himself.” Kiss offered his services to the Packers after watching Mercer miss an extra point and have both a field goal and an extra-point attempt blocked the previous Sunday against New Orleans.

Dec. 15 – Mercer missed a 41-yarder and had a 44-yard try blocked in the Packers’ final game of the season, although they beat the Bears, 28-27. Over the final six games, Mercer was 7-of-12 on field goal attempts, but three of his five misses were blocked. For the season, Packers kickers were 13-of-29 and missed three extra points. In all, starting with their June rookie camp, the Packers had at least 15 kickers on their roster or taxi squad. They finished 6-7-1, their first losing record in a decade.

1969

Jan. 28 – The Packers selected kicker Ken Vinyard of Texas Tech in the sixth round of the draft.

April 23 – The Packers signed 6-foot-1, 225-pound free agent Joe Runk, who had kicked for Las Vegas of the Continental Football League in 1968. Runk spent one year at Purdue, but didn’t go out for football and had dropped out of school seven years earlier. A plump, self-taught kicker, Runk was working as a systems analyst. He explained to Terry Bledsoe, then of The Milwaukee Journal and later an NFL general manager, that he had spent about $300 of his own money when he moved to Las Vegas to buy 12 official NFL footballs – “The Duke” – built his own goal posts and attempted 144 kicks each day.

July 21 – The Packers started training camp with three kickers on their roster: Mercer, Vinyard and Runk. A week into camp, Vinyard admitted he had been “terrible” going back to rookie camp. “I think the main trouble was in coming down to kick from the ground after using a two-inch tee for everything in college,” he said.

July 31 – Mercer kicked a 50-yard field goal in the Packers’ intra-squad game played before a record 41,137 fans, but had another 19-yard attempt blocked. Overall, the three Packers’ kickers were 4-of-8.

Aug. 9 – Mercer made 5-of-6 field goal attempts, including the game-winner from 17 yards out with 21 seconds remaining, and was named outstanding offensive player as the Packers nipped the New York Giants, 22-21, in their preseason opener.

Aug. 28 – The Packers cut Runk.

Sept. 10 – The Packers waived Vinyard without ever giving him a chance to try a field goal and then sold him to Atlanta. Mercer finished the preseason with 14 field goals in 18 attempts. Vinyard would serve as the Falcons’ kicker in 1970 and finish with nine field goals in 25 attempts.

Nov. 13 – The Packers signed Rick Duncan to their taxi squad and planned to try him as a kicker. While Duncan had spent two years kicking for the Wheeling Ironmen in the Continental Football League, he had only punted during a brief stint with Detroit earlier in the season and averaged 25.7 yards. The Packers dropped Duncan from their taxi squad 13 days later.

Nov. 16 – “We’ve got to do something about our kicking…,” Bengtson bemoaned after Mercer had a 42-yard field goal try blocked and sliced a straight-on, 22-yard attempt outside the upright as the Packers lost to Minnesota, 9-7. Nine games into the season, Mercer was 4-of-15 on field goal attempts. Mann, the kicker he replaced a year earlier, was 15-of-19 for Detroit, the Packers’ next opponent. When the Packers released Mann, they promised him another tryout in 1969. However, they reneged when he said during the offseason that the Packers forced him to kick with an injured leg.

Nov. 30 – The morning of their game against the Giants, the Packers signed 30-year old kicker Booth Lusteg and placed Mercer on the taxi squad. Lusteg had kicked for three teams during the previous three seasons – Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh – and was cut after each stint. In 10 games, Mercer was 5-of-17 with six kicks blocked.

Dec. 21 – Lusteg kicked a 28-yard field goal in the Packers’ final game of the season to finish 1-of-5. Overall, Mercer and Lusteg were 6-of-22, or 27.3 percent, far worse than the Packers’ 44.8 percent the year before. However, starting with rookie camp, they experimented with only six kickers, down from 15 a year ago. They finished 8-6.

1970

Jan. 27 – The Packers selected kicker Skip Butler of Texas-Arlington in the fourth round of the draft.

June 5 – The Packers opened their three-day spring camp with nine kickers on their roster, including free agents Tom Schinke, University of Wisconsin; Mike O’Hagan, UW-Milwaukee; Vaughn Conway, Platteville State; Jim Huff, University of Miami; Gary Stivers, Boise State; and Doug Marinak, Bucknell. Butler, Lusteg and Runk also were scheduled to participate, whereas Mercer remained on the roster but wasn’t expected in camp. Kiss, the Appleton disc jockey who had worked with the kickers in 1968, was back tutoring them at Bengtson’s request.

July 16 – The Packers opened training camp with only 28 rookies on hand because of an NFL lockout over a labor dispute, but five of them were kickers: Butler, Runk, Huff, Stivers and Tony Fronczak of Milwaukee Technical College via the semipro West Allis Spartans. Les Perry, a running back from Concordia (Minn.), also could kick. Veterans Lusteg and Mercer weren’t in camp, but were on the team’s roster.

Aug. 10 – One week after the lockout-turned-NFL-players-strike was settled, the Packers cut 10 players, including kickers Huff, Stivers and Perry. Fronczak had left camp earlier. That left four kickers on the roster: Butler, Lusteg, Mercer and Runk.

Aug. 24 – The Packers announced they were adding Dale Livingston to their taxi squad. He had served as Cincinnati’s punter the past two seasons and had also kicked extra points as a rookie in 1968.

Aug. 27 – The Packers cut Mercer without giving him a chance to kick in the first three preseason games.

Sept. 1 – The Packers cut Butler and Runk, but Bengtson said that didn’t mean he had settled on Lusteg as his kicker. Two days earlier, Lusteg missed field goal tries from 36 and 25 yards in a preseason game against Oakland. Bengtson said Livingston, Butler and Runk were all still in the running for the job. “It’s very difficult to select a kicker,” said Bengtson. Although Butler was the first kicker taken in the draft, the Packers never gave him a chance to try a field goal. He was wide left on his only extra-point try. Butler was signed to the taxi squad, but left a week later to join New Orleans. He would serve as the Houston Oilers’ kicker from 1972-76 and make more than 57 percent of his field goals. Meanwhile Lusteg, who had been kicking paper cups during idle moments in practice, said his two short misses didn’t bother him. “I’m more confident, in fact,” he said. “I’ve got those misses out of the way.”

Sept. 4 – The Packers activated Livingston from the taxi squad and added rookie kicker Jerry Warren, recently cut by the St. Louis Cardinals, to the taxi squad.

Sept. 14 – The Packers kept Livingston and waived Lusteg in the final cutdown. Livingston was just 3-of-8 on field goal tries in the final two preseason games, but averaged 44.7 yards on punts and was scheduled to handle both duties.

Sept. 27 – After the Packers lost their opener, 40-0, Livingston had both a 44-yard field goal attempt and an extra-point attempt blocked in a 27-24 victory over Atlanta. However, after averaging 29.8 yards on four punts in the opener, he had lost that job.

Nov. 8 – Tom Dempsey, who was born in Milwaukee and dreamed of replacing Chandler as the Packers’ kicker, booted an NFL record 63-yard field goal in his second season with New Orleans. Dempsey, a 6-2, 255-pound kicking specialist, was born with a shriveled right arm and no toes on his right foot. After kicking for Palomar College (Calif.), Dempsey wrote the Packers for a tryout in 1967, but was told by Lombardi to contact their minor league affiliate in Lowell, Mass. There, Dempsey led the Atlantic Coast Football League in extra points, gained national attention when he kicked a short field goal in the closing minutes to beat the Boston Patriots of the AFL, 3-0, in a July practice game and expected to be signed by the Packers. When they didn’t contact him, he went to the Chargers’ kicking tryout in July and spent two training camps with San Diego, the city where he grew up. As a rookie with the Saints in 1968, Dempsey made 22-of-41 field goal tries, but 10 of his misses were from 50 yards or more. He would kick in the NFL for 11 years and convert more than 69 percent of his field goal tries.

Nov. 9 – The Packers lost to the Baltimore Colts, 13-10, as Livingston missed a 39-yard attempt and had a 31-yard effort blocked.

Dec. 20 – The Packers lost their final game to Detroit, 20-0, and Livingston had a 25-yard field goal attempt blocked, although he finished the season 15 of 28 for 53.6 percent. He was the only kicker to appear in a regular-season game, but the Packers had at least 14 on the roster or taxi squad going back to their spring camp. They finished 6-8.

1971

Jan. 19 – New Packers coach and general manager Dan Devine, when asked about the Packers’ kicking problems at his introductory press conference, put out an all-points bulletin for Henry Brown, his kicker at Missouri who had a tryout with the Patriots in 1970. Instantly, Brown became a household name among Packers fans.

March 4 – Devine announced the signing of Brown, who was serving a six-month Army stint in South Carolina.

March 20 – The Packers signed free agent Karl Kremser, who made 13-of-22 field goals as Miami’s kicker in 1969.

April 2 – Six kickers attended Devine’s first spring camp at Arlington, Texas. They included Livingston, Brown, Kremser, and free agents Tim Webster of Arkansas, Wes Bean of Grambling and John O’Dell of Parsons College (Ia.) via the Racine Raiders.

April 24 – Devine announced he had hired Chandler to tutor the Packers’ kickers during a special camp in Tulsa, Okla., in mid-May. Devine would not attend the camp.

July 8 – The Packers announced the signing of former New Orleans kicker Charlie Durkee. Durkee was 33-of-69 as the Saints’ kicker in 1967 and ’68. With rookies due to report a week later there were at least five kickers on the Packers’ roster. Beside Durkee, they included Livingston, Kremser, Brown and Webster.

July 27 – Brown was cut almost two weeks before the first preseason game.

Aug. 1 – The Packers placed Webster on the taxi squad.

Aug. 18 – The Packers claimed kicker Dave Conway, a product of the University of Texas, off waivers after he was released by Dallas.

Aug. 23 – The Packers cut Kremser.

Aug. 31 – The Packers added 34-year old, left-footed kicker Lou Michaels to the taxi squad. Michaels last kicked with the Baltimore Colts in 1969 and made 14-of-31 field goals.

Sept. 4 – With 1:30 remaining and the Packers trailing 27-24 in a preseason game at Cincinnati, Devine summoned Livingston to try a 52-yard field goal. The problem was Livingston wasn’t wearing his kicking shoe so when long snapper Cal Withrow looked back between his legs there was no holder or kicker in sight. When Livingston finally got his shoe on following a timeout, he missed the kick.

Sept. 8 – The Packers cut Livingston.

Sept. 13 – On the final cutdown to 40, the Packers kept Conway and added two more kickers to their taxi squad: Jeff White, cut by Kansas City, and George Jakowenko, cut by New Orleans. That gave them five kickers in all before they cut White and Jakowenko two days later.

Sept. 16 – Three days before the season was scheduled to start, Devine admitted he still didn’t know who was going to be his kicker in the opener. “It’s a crazy situation,” he said. Conway had made 6-of-7 field goal tries in the final four preseason games, but lacked distance on his kickoffs. Meanwhile, Webster was cut from the taxi squad.

Sept. 19 – The Packers added Michaels to the active roster to handle kickoffs in the season opener against the New York Giants. Then after Conway missed his first attempt from 46 yards, Michaels stepped in and kicked a 28-yard field goal in a 42-40 loss.

Sept. 21 – The Packers cut Conway.

Nov. 1 – The Packers settled for a 14-14 tie with Detroit as Michaels missed 39- and 44-yard field goal attempts. Two weeks later, they’d lose to Minnesota, 3-0, when Michaels had a 23-yard kick blocked.

Nov. 28 – The Packers activated Webster, who had been on and off the taxi squad since early August, to kick that day against New Orleans.

Dec. 19 – Early in the fourth quarter of the Packers’ final game, Webster tried their final field goal of the season from 54 yards out, and had it blocked and returned for a touchdown in a 27-6 loss to Miami. Webster made 5-of-11 field goal tries over the final four games after Michaels had made 8-of-14. Overall, dating to their April camp in Arlington, the Packers had looked at more than 11 kickers. They finished 4-8-2.

 
blog comments powered by Disqus