Sometimes 55-year-old Garo Yepremian can't believe his good fortune: He's a bald, 5' 7", former necktie maker from Cyprus with little formal education, yet he's a former NFL star, and such companies as IBM, Honda and Xerox pay him $10,000 an appearance to give motivational speeches to their executives. Yepremian loves telling audiences that he didn't know his chin strap from his jockstrap when he entered the NFL in 1966. "If I can be successful," he says, "anybody can."
In 1965 Yepremian was working in the basement of a London warehouse and playing semipro soccer on weekends. When his older brother, Krikor—captain of the Indiana soccer team—called with the idea that kicking an American football could be Garo's ticket out of the warehouse, Garo came to the U.S. for a visit. Once the brothers realized that his soccer career made him ineligible to play in college, they set up NFL tryouts. Garo was signed by the Detroit Lions on a Thursday in October, got his working papers on Friday and kicked against the Baltimore Colts on Sunday. "I never saw a game until I was playing in one," he says. "I had no idea how to put my uniform on."
When Yepremian missed the 1969 season while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, the Lions replaced him. Depressed, he returned to his suburban Detroit home and lived by making neckties in the basement Then, in '70, the Miami Dolphins called. Although he holds the Dolphins' career scoring record and played on two Super Bowl-winning teams, Yepremian is best remembered for comically trying to salvage a blocked field goal attempt in Super Bowl VII, only to end up delivering the ball to Mike Bass of the Washington Redskins, who returned it for a touchdown. Miami went on to win 14-7 to cap its perfect season, but Yepremian's gaffe left him shaken until he received an off-season letter of encouragement from Dolphins coach Don Shula. "I have great respect for Don and his ability to inspire people," says Yepremian. "He's the reason I'm a motivational speaker."
After retiring in 1981, Yepremian did commercials, TV and radio before he began speaking full time. "I've always liked to make people laugh," says gregarious Garo. Although he and Maritza, his wife of 28 years, raised sons Garo Jr., 25, and Azad, 23, he finds speaking to high school kids his toughest job. "If I can get a standing ovation from 1,200 high school kids," says Yepremian, "I know I've done something well."