Tom Ross: Kicking used to be a side job

Blanda would have been a fantasy football sensation


— Broncos veteran Jason Elam and Green Bay Packer rookie Mason Crosby reminded us Sunday why the game that preoccupies so many of us on autumn weekends is called "foot ball."

Crosby, who played at the University of Colorado the past four seasons, Buffalo-ed the Philadelphia Eagles, and Elam prevented the Broncos from being Buffalo Bill-ed near the shores of Lake Erie.

Are you with me so far?

Crosby kicked a game-winning field goal for the Packers, and Elam kicked one of the most heart-stopping field goals in the history of the universe to help the Broncos win.

The truth is, I no longer have the patience to sit still on the couch on a Sunday afternoon and watch an entire game of NFL football.

Even last-second field goals have become almost anti-climactic. If the offensive coach is out of time outs, he typically instructs his quarterback to spike the football to stop the clock, and out trots the place-kicker. Before the kicker can put the other team out of its misery, the defensive coach calls a timeout to "ice" him. Even if the network doesn't cut away to commercial, the announcers in the booth take the opportunity to plug the new fall lineup of reality shows.

It wasn't like that in Buffalo on Sunday.

Only a cool customer like Elam could have dashed out on the field and salvaged the win without stopping the clock, while a hostile crowd counted down the seconds.

His kick - which delivered the Broncos from a trip over Niagara Falls - caused me to elevate about two feet into the air. I could hear my neighbors shouting out loud at their flat screens.

Elam will almost certainly go down as the greatest Broncos place-kicker. But he is a member of the era of specialization - once, there were some pretty special NFL place-kickers who deserve a category of their own.

There is a reason why Lou Groza was nicknamed Lou "The Toe" Groza and not, Lou "The Instep" Groza. Yes, my children, there was an era back in the foggy gridiron past, when place-kickers kicked straight ahead with square-toed shoes and never contemplated kicking soccer style. Some of them even played other positions on their teams.

Groza was a starting offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns who also happened to be one of the best kickers in the NFL during a career that spanned three decades. He was named to nine Pro Bowls but is best known for the 1,608 points he scored with his toe.

Hall of Famer George Blanda played both quarterback and place-kicker in his 26-year career that set a record for longevity. He broke into the NFL in 1949 with the Chicago Bears and didn't become a starter until his fifth season. In 1954, his most memorable season was still 16 years in the future.

Blanda enjoyed a renaissance with the Oakland Raiders and in 1970, at the age of 43, he became the oldest quarterback ever to play in a title game.

Blanda got the Raiders to the Super Bowl during the course of five games in which he scored either on last-second field goals or touchdown passes.

He threw a scoring pass and nailed a 52-yard field goal against Cleveland, threw a winning touchdown against the Broncos and booted (with his toe) a last-second field goal against the Chargers.

The Baltimore Colts won the Super Bowl 27-17, but Blanda achieved immortality and scored all of the Raiders' points.

Of course, my favorite dual-purpose place-kicker was the Packers' great halfback Paul Hornung. He was my hero in 1960 when he scored 176 points in a 12-game season, galloping through the mud for touchdowns and kicking his own extra points. It was a standard that wasn't eclipsed until 2006, when LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers broke the record with 186 points in a 16-game season.

In one October game against the San Francisco 49'ers in 1960, Hornung scored 23 points on five points after touchdowns, two field goals and two touchdown runs.

That was one heck of a place-kicker. And I guess if the Packers can teach Mason Crosby to run the power sweep, he might be on his way to the Hall of Fame with Brett Favre and Hornung.

If you don't already have Crosby on your fantasy team, you might want to trade for him. Blanda is watching from his couch and is unavailable.


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