Kickers - don't you just love them
All the fun and games surrounding Martin Gramatica this season has just served to highlight the fickle nature of fans towards kickers and of course the kickers themselves. Expected to always do their job, maligned when they don't, and frowned upon by the rest of the team who don't regard them as real players. "I go keek a touchdown" was how former Lions' great Alex Kalas described the toed-wonders during his days in the NFL.
The Bucs have certainly had their fair share of interesting characters doing their kicking, starting officially with Mirro Roder and currently occupied by Jay Taylor. They have come from around the world, been successful and not, and the stories about them are as much an epitomy of the Buccaneer franchise themselves as anything else.
How about the names Wolfgang Taylor, Greg Enright, Booth Lusteg and Pete Rajecki for starters? Apart from going on to form a barber's shop quartet in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego in the late 1970s, they were the four kickers that the Bucs initially had in camp in 1976 and whom never made the team. Lusteg refused to play in the white shoes he was given, so equipment man Frank Pupello had to paint his normal black shoes white, before Lusteg would take the field. And Rajecki famously claimed that coach John McKay made him nervous when he watched him kick. "Tell Mr Rajecki that I plan to attend all the games" said the Bucs' head coach before releasing all four of them before the season started.
Mirro Roder was the Bucs' first official kicker but his first fieldgoal attempt against the Oilers hit the post. He missed his next two attempts as well and was released after two games. Punter Dave Green doubled up as kicker for parts of the next three seasons and scored the first points in franchise history.
Allan Leavitt led the 1977 Bucs in scoring with just 20 points and Irishman Neil O'Donoghue kicked the 19-yard fieldgoal in the rain against Kansas City that gave the Bucs their first-ever playoff appearance in 1979. O'Donoghue had been signed by the Bucs in 1978 but had been deported from the US over visa problems. Cypriot national Garo Yepremian replaced him in 1980, eight years after his botched pass during Miami's perfect season SuperBowl win over the Redskins.
Bill Capece took over in late September 1981 and lasted into 1983 when he was famously declared "Kaput" by McKay after costing the Bucs another game that season, a Monday Night debacle to the Packers. Dave Warnke cold-called the Bucs for a tryout and won the job for the season finale. Long-time Buc fan Tim Brooks remembers Warnke's as being "the worst kicker he had ever seen". His 29-yard attempt in the first half nearly hit one of the endzone pylons.
The Nigerian influence took over for the rest of the 1980s with Obed Ariri being replaced after one season by his childhood friend Donald Igwebuike. Englishman Vince Abbott was in camp during the 1984 season but didn't make it into the NFL until four years later with the Chargers.
After two good years from Steve Christie, the Bucs left him unprotected in the 1992 Plan B free agency market, believing they had an unwritten deal with him not to sign for anyone else. He bolted to Buffalo to replace Scott "Wide Right" Norwood and hence the Bucs did the same to Dallas for their kicker Ken Willis who lasted half a season.
Michael Husted had six good seasons in Tampa and remains one of the most successful kickers the Bucs have ever had, before being replaced by Martin Gramatica and his histrionics. You could also throw in the likes of John Carney and Doug Brien as temporary kickers during the past two decades, and Van Tiffin booted a 50-yarder during the strike games in 1987. And thanks to odd situations, punter Ray Criswell kicked an extra point in 1988 as did offensive lineman George Yarno in 1983.
The last few years have seen some NFL Europe blood introduced into Buc camps with Ralf Kleinmann seeing action in 2003 and Scotsman Rob Hart kicking and making the first actual tackle of the SuperBowl season during a brief 2002 camp appearance.
So who is the best? I'd probably go for Iggy as he never missed from inside 34 yards and even his closest misfire was during a blizzard in Green Bay in 1985. FUAT would be the most unpopular on this site and Warnke and Roder would go down as the worst.
Paul Stewart, December 2004