It's still out there, but it's mostly in the fringes - perhaps a young player experimenting with it or a former practitioner demonstrating it. It hasn't seen the big time in nearly a decade, when St. Louis Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins resurrected it for the first part of the 2002 season. Even when it was popular (back in the 1980's) not many did it. Nonetheless, it still captures our imagination.
To learn a little more about it, we asked kickers and punters the following questions:
For those who typically wear/wore shoes when kicking or punting, did you ever try kicking barefoot? If so, how was it? For those who typically kicked barefoot, did you ever come close to going back to wearing a shoe?
Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings punter 2005-present
"I tried kicking barefoot once in high school while goofing around before practice. I kicked the ball, got an immediate stinging sensation in my foot, and watched it go half the distance it normally went. After that I stuck to shoes."
Chris Husby, Special Teams Football Academy
"I've tried barefoot before but it hurts too much (for me at least). It needs a lot of repetition so your foot gets use to the skin to ball feeling. I think I was always afraid I'd break my toe somehow, so I didn't make too many attempts at barefoot kicking or punting. I have a friend that swears by it and did it in a semi-pro league and went to a free agent tryout and did one chart barefoot."
Filip Filipovic, Dallas Cowboys punter 2002, The Kicking Coach
"Kicking barefoot would have died out naturally even if the NFL and NCAA did not prohibit it. Broken in footballs feel good on your foot. But the "K" balls that NFL started using are not very broken in. Seams would be very painful to kick with a bare foot."
Tony Yelk, EKS (Elite Kicking Solutions)
"The idea behind kicking barefoot is that you have a better feel of the ball coming off your foot. My belief is it does not present any real performance advantages. It really has an adverse effect in my mind. Footing is always an issue for kickers and punters, as we generate ground based power by transferring energy into a football starting with our feet. The inability to plant or keep normal rhythm throughout a kicking or punting play can be detrimental to its success.
Throughout my playing career I always used a kicking shoe. I recommend to all the athletes we work with at EKS to find a full grain leather shoe (not synthetic) that is a size smaller than the tennis shoe you would normally wear. This will provide a tight fitting shoe that will give you quality feel of the football on your foot. This shoe still provides stable footing required to maintain smooth rhythm to the football. I also recommend to the athletes we work with, especially collegiate and pros, to use a different plant shoe. The plant shoe should be a style that you can buy molded cleats and interchangeable cleats (2 pairs). This will give you two different planting shoes that can be used in different weather conditions, yet still maintain the same feel on you plant foot because it is the same style shoe, just with a different cleat pattern.
Footing is vital. Don’t get caught unprepared."
Michael Husted, NFL kicker 1993-2002, NCS (National Camp Series)
"Yes, I tried it a few times and it did not feel good at all. This was in high school and I used to kick both the field goal block and the kick off tee with my shoe on and would hurt from time to time, especially in cold weather. So, when I did it barefoot, that was the end of the experiment. I used to watch in disbelief as Rick Karlis used to kick, in Denver of all places, barefoot. He used to wear a "moon boot" on his kicking foot and then would take it off and trot on for the attempt. I have heard that you eventually build up a callous and you get used to the sensation of kicking the ball without shoe. No thanks..."
Tony Smidl, Wisconsin Wolfpack kicker 2010
"Tried it once in high school. Doesn't really hurt if you hit it solid, but prefer the shoe since my big toe has a possibility of dragging on the ground."
Mike Lansford, LA Rams kicker 1982-1990, Mike Lansford Kicking
"I wore a shoe at Arcadia High School, Pasadena City College, and the University of Washington. I was able to use a 2" field goal block at all of those levels. When I was drafted by the NY Giants I struggled (understatement) with getting the ball up in the air... in fact, if I got it over my center's ass I considered it mildly successful (as did he). This lack of trajectory got me cut by the Giants, SF 49ers, and Oakland Raiders.
I was improving, but still not getting a clean hit on the ball...until I developed a blister, removed my shoe (only because barefooted Tony Franklin had just entered the NFL), made the LA Rams, and became the team's all-time scoring leader.
By removing the shoe, I dropped my foot lower to the ground...now I was hitting the ball clean with the same power I enjoyed when I kicked with the FG block.
A blister saved my career.
Even today, when I coach kickers, I'll remove my shoe to kick (much to the horror of my students and their parents). At times I'll make my kicking clients take their shoe off if they aren't getting their foot in the proper ball striking position. After coming out of shock they notice that their foot speed is incredibly faster.
Going back to a shoe was never an option. I've lost my big toe nail permanently as a result of the trauma, which ruined my foot modeling career."