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Stenerud brought stability to shaky kicker position

Packers struggled for years to find anyone reliable before Hall of Famer stepped in

Former Packers K Jan Stenerud
Former Packers K Jan Stenerud

Team historian Cliff Christl has been writing the official biographies of the members of the Packers Hall of Fame. Those bios will be posted periodically on

Jan Stenerud

  • Inducted: 1991
  • Kicker: 1980-83
  • Height: 6-2; Weight: 187
  • College: Montana State, 1965-66

When the Packers signed Norway native Jan Stenerud before the 13th game of the 1980 season, they were seeking nothing more than stability in a placekicker, a duty that had become the embodiment of instability for most of their previous 12 seasons.

Seven games earlier, Tom Birney had replaced Chester Marcol, whose career had imploded over the previous two seasons. Birney, in turn, proceeded to miss his first three field goal tries from 47, 24 and 36 yards, and also three of his last five from 53, 42 and 30 yards. He also shanked four of his 18 extra point attempts. A year earlier, Marcol and Birney were 11-of-19 on field goals and missed 5-of-28 extra points.

What's more, the torment caused by the kicking woes over a four-year period from 1968-71 had not been forgotten. Nine different kickers over that stretch had made only 49-of-105 field goal attempts, or 47 percent.

Stenerud turned 37 years old the day after he signed with the Packers as a free agent and hadn't kicked in three months. But the Packers' expectations were realistic.

"Let's face it, as you get older, you lose something," said Dick Rehbein, a special assistant in 1980 before taking over as special teams coach the next year. "I don't think you can ask a guy to come in and kick 55-yard field goals. But what we're looking for is a guy who can kick from 50 yards and in. And I think Jan can still do that."

Stenerud's statistics over three-plus seasons bear that out. He kicked only one field goal from beyond 50 yards – a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter of a 37-3 loss at Tampa Bay in 1981 – but he was 59-of-73, or 80.8 percent overall, and also made 115-of-118 extra points.

His consistency was a welcome relief and that's his legacy as a Packer. He was like a wonder-drug for what had seemed like an incurable malaise.

In 1981, when the Packers needed him to be perfect on a cool, mildly windy November afternoon on the baseball turf of Milwaukee's County Stadium, Stenerud was 4-of-4 on field goals from 32, 28, 35 and the game-winner from 23 yards out in the final three minutes as the Packers beat the New York Giants, 26-24. That season, he also set what was then an NFL efficiency record by making 22-of-24 tries, for 91.7 percent, although 18 of his conversions were from inside 40 yards.

When the Packers played in the postseason for the first time in 11 years following the strike-shortened 1982 season, Stenerud was 4-of-4 in two games, including 46- and 34-yarders in a 41-16 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

His biggest kick with the Packers was another chip shot, 20 yards long, but it came with 54 seconds remaining and decided the memorable 48-47, Monday night victory over Washington at Lambeau in 1983.

Stenerud also booted four other game-winners that season: a 42-yarder in a 41-38 overtime victory over the Houston Oilers in the season opener; a 36-yarder with one second left in a 27-24 victory over the Los Angeles Rams; a 19-yarder with three seconds remaining to lift the Packers over Chicago, 31-28; and a 23-yarder, again in overtime, as the Packers edged Tampa Bay, 12-9.

"Jan is a great clutch field goal kicker," said Rehbein. "He's a guy who gets the job done with money on the line."

The following year, Forrest Gregg took over as coach of the Packers and chose to hand the kicking duties to Eddie Garcia, who had been a 10th-round draft pick in 1982. Garcia held the job for 11 games, making only 3-of-9 field goal attempts and was replaced by Al Del Greco. Four months earlier, Stenerud had been traded to Minnesota, where he played two more seasons before ending his 19-year Pro Football Hall of Fame career with a league-record 373 field goals. He kicked 279 of those in Kansas City, where he played his first 13 seasons. Back in Green Bay, Del Greco held the job for only two full seasons before disaster struck again. In 1988, the Packers went through four kickers, who were a combined 13-of-25 on field goals.

Born Nov. 26, 1942. Given name Jan Stenerud.

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