The game with the Jets was crucial in the Bills' drive for the Eastern Division title. I kicked four field goals in four attempts and tackled Emerson Boozer on a kickoff return to save a touchdown. We won 33-23. The team gave me the game ball. It's a Buffalo ritual: the captain gets up, says a few words about the day's hero and gives him the ball. The guy who gets it isn't expected to say anything.
Not me. I made jokes. I said having this ball would give me something to practice with. (The other guys were all the time taking the ones I used.) I talked about how rough a two weeks it had been. I told them how pleased and proud I was and what an honor....
"Aw, sit down," Butch Byrd said.
The next time we came to Boston the Traveler shattered the remainder of my image with a front-page scoop: pictures of me and my brother separated by a black headline: BUFFALO BILLS' LUSTEG A GREAT IMPOSTOR. Al Hirshberg of the Traveler had investigated. He had put a call in to my mother. Mother didn't hesitate. She gave me away. (The Lustegs are a very close-knit family.)
I was the second-highest scorer in the league that year. Gino Cappelletti was the highest, but he played flanker as well as kicked and caught six touchdown passes.
When I reported to camp in July I had competition. The Bills had recalled Mike Mercer, who had been on loan to Kansas City, where he had kicked 21 out of 30 field goals. I was kicking better than Mercer, but in the fourth exhibition game he boomed a 44-yarder. Collier sent for me the next day. He said he was going with Mercer, and I was on waivers. He said they tried to trade me to San Diego but couldn't. He admitted it was ridiculous, the leading kicker in the league couldn't bring a deal.
I was claimed by Miami but blew a kicking contest with Gene Mingo. When the Dolphins cut me I was claimed by the Jets. I lasted a week. I finally agreed to join the Dolphins' taxi squad.
No wonder kickers feel insecure, look for any edge they can get. I was in a team meeting one time when I noticed that my competitor was no longer in the room. I sat there for a minute, slowly working into a panic. Where did he go? What was he up to? I sneaked out to find him. I went to the back of the training room, where there were some cubicles. It was almost pitch-dark. He was in there strapping on a surgical brace.
"What are you doing?" I said.
"Taping my foot."