First, some straight mathematics. Pay attention. David Eugene Lawson, age 21, senior, U.S. Air Force Academy, kicked field goals of 45, 52 and 41 yards against Notre Dame to become the most prolific placekicker in college football history. For the moment. As of last week, he had booted 45 in four years, which breaks the NCAA record. And, of course, he is very much alive and kicking. Earlier this season, through a cross-wind in Ames, Iowa, Lawson kicked a 62-yarder, which is a major-college record for distance. His 19 field goals in 1974 are a record for one season, but that may not last long. You see, Lawson does not kick alone.
Conventional or soccer-style, everybody's doing it. There are placekickers you never heard of—if you've never heard of Lawson, it's all right because we're going to fill you in on him later—kicking more footballs higher and farther and with a greater degree of accuracy than ever. Barring an unforeseen slump, we are about to witness a season in which 1,200 or more field goals will be kicked.
Second, history. In 1959 the colleges widened their goalposts by about 5 feet (to 24 feet), which was virtually a call to—well, to feet. That year 199 field goals were kicked, an increase of 93.2% from 1958. In 1969 there were 669 field goals, a 336% increase in 10 years. In 1973, there were 958, which is the record that will, at the present rate, be broken in November. Through last Saturday, 665 field goals had been kicked in 1,249 attempts, a .532 batting average, which is 33 points higher than the record .499 of 1973. Projecting out, the grand total will be 1,211 at season's end.
There's more. Death by field goal has already come in 63 games this year. Poor Wake Forest has lost to Appalachian 19-17 and to Clemson 16-14, both on field goals made with less than 10 seconds left. Stanford managed to tie Michigan on Mike Langford's 33-yarder with nine seconds to go, and Vince Lamia's 40-yarder lifted Wisconsin over Purdue with nine seconds to play. Virginia Tech edged Florida State 13-10 when Wayne (Munchkin) Latimer booted one from 61 yards out. And last Saturday Arizona remained unbeaten when Lee Pistor hit from 41 yards out to nip Texas Tech, while Tulane upset West Virginia 16-14 on Dave Walters' late 28-yarder. The record—91 games decided by a kick in 1972—obviously is in jeopardy. Ergo, one must conclude that coaches are sending their kickers in not only more frequently but also at more crucial times and under considerably more demanding circumstances. It has been proved that coaches no longer think twice about letting a good kicker risk spectacular failure. Rafael Septien of Southwest Louisiana needed binoculars to see the goalposts most of the times he was sent in last year. His average miss was 51.9 yards.
Lawson has a 58-yarder to go with his 62-yarder this season and one of 60 yards last year (no other major-college kicker has ever made two in the 60s). Against UCLA earlier he missed a 58-yarder. Chris Bahr, the icy cool Penn State kicker who is probably the best in the country, college or pro, has hit three 55-yarders. He missed one at 61. Windage was off, apparently. Pat Bolton of Montana State kicked four last week, two of them over 50 yards, while Florida's Dave Posey hit from 50 and 51 yards away. And on and on.
Percentages are up in every distance category. For example, in field goals attempted between 31 and 35 yards, the record made is .603 in 1969. Before last week's games, 114 of 170 kicks were successful at that distance, a .671 average. Tim Gibbons of Missouri has averaged 37.9 yards on 11 field goals. He has tried just one under 30.
Reasons given for so many dangerous kickers being on the loose might not all be satisfactory, but you can take your pick:
1) The emergence of the soccer-style kicker.
2) The proliferation of artificial turf, which affords consistent footing, uniform placement of the ball, etc.
3) More thoughtful athletes, especially small ones. (In the age of the unprovoked assault and the karate dojo, getting one's teeth knocked out trying to play split receiver is redundant.)