Garo Yepremian: The Detroit Lions’ First Soccer-Style Kicker

Up until the mid 1960s placekickers approached the ball straight on, and virtually all of them played another primary position on the team such as Lion linebacker Wayne Walker.

However a soccer player from Hungary named Pete Gogolak would revolutionize placekicking forever.

As a kicker for Cornell University and later the Buffalo Bills, Gogolak became the first player to approach the ball from an angle and kick it with his instep. As we know, every placekicker today has followed Gogolak’s lead.

The Detroit Lions became one of the first NFL teams to use a soccer style placekicker when they signed a bald, 22-year-old, 5’ 7” 160 pound, left-legged kicker from Cyprus,
named Garabed Sarkis “Garo” Yepremian.

Yepremian had never seen a football game in person, had not attended college, but after watching a game on television he convinced himself that he could kick in the NFL.

In 1966 the Lions, unlike other teams, decided to give Yepremian a tryout, and after the soccer style kicker split the uprights at Cranbrook and Tiger Stadium prior to the regular season he was signed.

Legend has it that in his first game, Lion head coach Harry Gilmer told him that Detroit had lost the coin at which point Garo ran to midfield, dropped to his knees and began looking for the coin.

In one of his early games after kicking an extra point he ran off the field screaming with excitement. Alex Karras asked him, “why the hell are you celebrating?” upon which Garo replied, “I keek a touchdown!”

Oh boy.

However in a game against Minnesota Yepremian broke a record by kicking six field goals, a record broken the following year by Cardinal kicker Jim Bakken who nailed seven. Yepremian ended his rookie season in ’66 as the team leader in scoring with 50 points after kicking 11 extra points and 13 field goals out of 22 attempts. (certainly not great by today’s standards)

Yepremian played for Detroit the following year, but joined the Army in 1968. When he returned in 1969 the Lions refused to resign him so he sat out the year.

The Lions once again blew it.

In 1970, Yepremian signed with the Miami Dolphins where he would star for nine seasons and become one of the most celebrated kickers in NFL history. He was chosen as the kicker of the 1970s decade by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Sports Illustrated.

In 1971, his 37 yard field goal with seven minutes left in double overtime ended the longest game in NFL history sending Miami into the AFC championship game. Yepremian played in three consecutive Super Bowls (’72 through ’74) and was a World Champion twice.

Many may remember one of the most memorable gaffs in Super Bowl history when in Super Bowl VII after his field goal attempt was blocked, instead of falling on the ball he frantically attempted to make a pass that flopped straight up and was intercepted by Washington’s Mike Bass who returned it for a touchdown.

He also appeared in two Pro Bowl games and led the league in field goal accuracy three times. His 14 year NFL career ended with Tampa Bay in 1981.

“Detroit Lions kicker Garo Yepremian practices at Tiger Stadium in 1966 with placeholder Wayne Rasmussen.

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.