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The big boom
Elam's 63-yarder opened some eyes around the league
Posted: Thursday October 29, 1998 02:16 PM
Al Del Greco has kicked more than 350 field goals and punched through more than 450 extra points in his 15 years in the NFL. He's sloshed his way through muddy fields, kicked in half-empty domes, made some game-winners and blown a few along the way.
As the years and the points added up, though, he was starting to think he'd never see the day when someone would equal Tom Dempsey's record 63-yard field goal coming.
"I thought that was a record that -- well, I don't know if I never thought it would be broken, but I knew it would be very hard," said Del Greco, the Tennessee Oilers' kicker. "And that's not because there aren't a few guys in the league who can do it. I mean, there are. It's just to get the opportunity in a game."
The thing that made Elam's kick so shocking is that Dempsey's record hardly has been approached since he blasted it on November 8, 1970. Indeed, kicks of that distance are rarely even tried.
In 1991, Morten Andersen booted a 60-yarder for the New Orleans Saints -- through the dead air in the Superdome. It is the second-longest field goal in NFL history. Along with Dempsey's and Elam's, they are the only field goals of 60 yards or longer in NFL history.
"That sounded like very few balls I've hit," Andersen, who now kicks for the Atlanta Falcons, said of his 60-yarder. "It was like a cannon coming off my foot. It had a nice slow rotation. I have a tape of it. I think that thing would have been good from 70."
Andersen, who also has a 59-yarder, is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who in 1983 kicked three field goals of at least 50 yards in one game. Those days of multiple long attempts, though, are long gone, thanks to a rule the NFL passed before the 1994 season.
Prior to 1994, a missed field goal would be spotted at the line of scrimmage. Now, a miss is spotted at the point it was attempted -- seven yards behind the line. And there aren't a lot of coaches willing to risk that extra seven yards. That's why the only time you see kicks like Elam's these days are at the end of the half or the end of the game, when time is running out and the opponent won't get the ball even if the kick misses.
"With the rule change, that limited the opportunity to even attempt it," said Del Greco, whose personal best is a 56-yarder. "Throw that in there, and the fact that field position has become such an important thing, the strategizing of the game. And then you have to have the guy on your team capable of doing it. Plus, some coaches wouldn't even try it."
Elam was aided by the fact that the kick was made in the thin air of Denver, which some kickers say is good for an extra five yards or so. Still, many estimate that Elam's kick would have been good from 67 or 68 yards.
Cincinnati Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey had a chance at a 63-yarder in 1995. (A 63-yarder is spotted on the far 47-yard line, across the 50 from the goalposts.) He missed, the only miss in a streak during which he hit 19 of 20 attempts. His career long is a 54-yarder.
"I always thought it could be done," Pelfrey said. "The one I missed, I almost made it and I didn't hit it well at all.
"I think it's great for Jason, and great for us. I think every kicker in the league is envious of [Elam's kick]. It's what you kick for. You always talk about it, when you're young and kicking field goals in college, kicking a 63-yard field goal," Pelfrey said. "Everybody wants to have that kick."
Every kicker in the league knocks long ones in practice or in warmups before games. But when it comes time to smack the big one in a game situation -- if given the chance -- it's never that easy.
Even Andersen, the NFL's most accurate field goal kicker inside of 40 yards in the past five years, has troubles when it gets 50 yards or more. In his career, Andersen has made just 33 of his 71 attempts (46 percent) from 50 yards or longer. He's made 96 percent of his kicks from 40 yards and in over the past five years.
He'd love to get a chance at tying or breaking the mark now held by Dempsey and Elam.
"Those are win-win situations. You can't go wrong," Andersen said. "It'd be wonderful to get a chance. You just let your hair down on those."
Elam was named the NFL's special teams player of the week for his kick, and he's been mobbed with media requests and congratulatory calls ever since. The Hall of Fame wants his shoes. And he still has to keep his mind on kicking for the undefeated Broncos, who this week play the Bengals in Cincinnati.
"Usually when you get this much attention, you've done something really bad," he told The Rocky Mountain News. "So it's nice to have the other end of the spectrum."
Said Del Greco: "He has every right in the world to relish this for ... shoot, forever."
Around the AFC
EAST : With Craig Erickson out for the season after elbow surgery, the Miami Dolphins are not only hurting at quarterback for this season, but next, too. The Dolphins aren't expected to take a chance with a sore Erickson after this season. One possibility for the heir to Dan Marino, according to The Miami Herald: Scott Mitchell, the benched Detroit Lions starter who is expected to be released after the season ... New England Patriots offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong broke a season-long self-imposed media blackout this week. He said he hasn't talked because he hasn't had much to say. On the Patriots' problems, he said "we are what we are." Well, thanks for the insight, Bruce ... Some people stink after signing a big contract. Not Buffalo Bills linebacker John Holecek. After signing a four-year, $12.5 million contract two weeks ago, he had a career-high 16 tackles against the Jacksonville Jaguars and, last week, chalked up a team-high 11 against the Carolina Panthers.
CENTRAL : Former Minnesota Vikings executive Roger Headrick has talked with the Tennessee Oilers about running the team's operations in Nashville. Headrick was booted from Minnesota when San Antonio businessman Red McCombs bought the team and bought Headrick out of his ownership shares ... After taking over from Dave Shula two years ago, Cincinnati Bengals coach Bruce Coslet is a respectable 16-16 with the team -- a big improvement over Shula's 19-52 mark. But the Bengals are 2-5 this year and struggling for answers. As bad as the Bengals are, they're 12-4 at Cinergy Field during Coslet's watch and have sold out all four home games this season ... The NFL is looking into the possibility that Baltimore Ravens head coach Ted Marchibroda violated league policy by making his players available to the press only once this week. Marchibroda cited extra time needed to prepare for this weekend's opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
WEST : Starting quarterback and chief finger-pointer Elvis Grbac has made peace with his Kansas City Chiefs teammates. But K.C. is 4-3 and starting to look like just another team. ... You can talk about Jeff George (when he's healthy) and Tim Brown and Napoleon Kaufman, but the reason the Oakland Raiders are 5-2 is defense. Last in the league last season, the Raiders are allowing only 249.6 yards a game, tied with the San Diego Chargers for the NFL lead ... The league's leading runner, the Denver Broncos' unstoppable Terrell Davis, goes against the league's worst run defense, the porous Bengals, on Sunday. Some numbers: The Bengals have allowed 179.9 rushing yards per game. They've allowed 215 running yards a game the past four games. Last year, they gave up 215 yards to Davis, his best day as a pro.
Around the NFC
EAST : Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin hasn't had a touchdown catch since last December, a stretch of nine games, the longest of his career ... Another receiver who has yet to score this season: the Philadelphia Eagles' Irving Fryar. "Your dog has the same amount of touchdowns I do," Fryar told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Eagles host the Cowboys on Monday night ... The Washington Redskins are taking it from all sides. Former Redskins running back John Riggins ripped them on a television program, saying "They talk about caring, but they don't really care." And defensive coordinator Mike Nolan admits there have been "moments" when the Redskins have quit.
CENTRAL : The Miami Herald reported that the Detroit Lions tried to trade benched quarterback Scott Mitchell to the Carolina Panthers a few weeks back. The Lions wanted Mitchell to give back $2 million of his signing bonus to cinch the trade. Mitchell declined and the trade died on the vine ... Lucky the Chicago Bears are off this week. Starting quarterback Erik Kramer not only has a bum knee -- he had arthroscopic surgery this week -- but his throwing shoulder is sore, too, from a hit he took in a game against Arizona on October 11. Trainers think it may be a bruised rotator cuff ... The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are feeling plenty of heat after a 3-4 start, especially after last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints. Fans are crying for quarterback Trent Dilfer to be benched. They're looking for the head of offensive coordinator Mike Shula (the Bucs haven't scored an offensive touchdown in the first half this season). But coach Tony Dungy is staying the course. "Stubbornness is good if you're right," Dungy told the St. Petersburg Times. "I happen to think we're right."
WEST : The Falcons are allowing a sack once every 7.7 passing attempts, the worst mark in the NFL. It's an especially scary statistic considering what happened when backup Steve DeBerg had to play last week against the New York Jets (9-for-20, 117 yards). Starter Chris Chandler probably will start this week against the St. Louis Rams. But can the line protect him? ... The Carolina Panthers are downplaying the return to Charlotte of former Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins. But wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad told the Charlotte Observer "Our defense is probably looking forward to playing him. . . . It's an opportunity to see if we made a mistake or not" ... Garrison Hearst of the San Francisco 49ers is averaging just 55.8 rushing yards a game the past five games.Around the NFL appears every Thursday on CNNSI.com.
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