January 19, 1987
Rich Karlis is sitting at his desk, 22 floors above the Mile High City, a pair of two-tone loafers on his feet. The former barefoot kicker for the Denver Broncos is only a flick of his right ankle from a fond football memory. "I wear loafers because they're easy to get on and off," says Karlis, vice president of sales at GS2.NET, a Denver company that helps small and medium businesses find E-commerce solutions. "I still prefer to be barefoot."
Karlis's extra point had tied the 1986 AFC Championship Game at 20-20 with 39 seconds left in regulation after a John Elway to Mark Jackson pass that completed a now legendary 98-yard touchdown drive. Five minutes and 48 seconds into overtime, Karlis again trotted onto Cleveland Stadium's slushy turf. As the 5� windchill bit at Karlis's bare foot, he kicked the ball at the Browns' 23-yard line. "I pulled the ball down the left hash line," Karlis recalls, "and kind of snuck it inside the left post." The field goal lifted the Broncos to a Super Bowl berth, and the former University of Cincinnati kicker—who had been one of 478 hopefuls at a team try-out camp four years earlier—suddenly became the biggest thing in Denver since, well, Elway. "People in Cleveland swore I missed it," Karlis says. "They're still mad about it." Two weeks later, in Super Bowl XXI, the Broncos fell to the New York Giants 39-20.
Karlis spent seven seasons with Denver and one each with the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions before retiring in 1991. Family Tree, a Denver group that aids victims of domestic violence, was glad to see the charity-minded Karlis back in town: His contributions and fund-raising efforts led to the establishment in '95 of the Karlis Family Center, a haven for children that offers supervised visitation, custody exchanges and counseling. Karlis, now 41 and a divorced father of three—Andrew, 12, Eleni, 9, and Alexandra, 7—continues to raise money for Family Tree and does volunteer work for the Colorado Special Olympics, serving on its board and assisting with marketing and special events.
Karlis's heart is still in football. He is the secretary-treasurer of the Broncos Alumni Association and says he would like to open a kicking school. Over the past few years he has given one-on-one instruction to about a dozen youngsters, but he does not preach what he once practiced. "It's a lot easier to kick in adverse conditions with some tread on your foot," Karlis says. "So I encourage the kids to keep their shoes on."