the study of the kicking components within sports

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best Place-kicking Performance Ever?

"I believe that Frank Hudson [of Carlisle] was the greatest drop kicker ever - I think he was better than [Charley] Brickley of Harvard. The best place-kicking performance I ever saw was in 1901 when Mike Balenti [of Carlisle] kicked four field goals from field against Navy, two of them from near the 40 yard line. What made the performance all the greater was the fact that Balenti was a substitute playing in his first game." 

Heading into the game, both teams were unbeaten and once-tied - the Carlisle Indian School at 5-0-1 and the U.S. Naval Academy at 7-0-1. Kicking made the scoring difference, as noted in the game write-up in the the Special to The New York Times; Sunday November 1, 1908; sporting news section:
The Naval contingent is disheartened tonight over the first defeat of the season. It was inflicted by the Indians from the Carlisle School, and the score was 16 to 6.
Every one of the sixteen points was made by Balenti, the little Indian quarterback, who established a record by lifting four field goals from placement, accepting every opportunity he received. All the kicks were from the line-up, and in each instance the ball was sent squarely between the post and over the bar. Two of the kicks were from bad angles and the high wind made all of them difficult. His comrades were delighted at each successive kick and congratulated him warmly each time.
Astute readers will have noticed that the Indians' four field goals added up to sixteen points. Originally valued at five points, field goals were reduced to four points in 1904. The year after Balenti's big game, field goals were reduced to their current value of three points.

It should also be noted that field goal accuracy and expectations were significantly lower back in the day. When a player attempted four kicks one hundred years ago, missing all of them was disappointing yet not overly alarming. Making one was decent, making two was good, making three was excellent, and making all four was the stuff of legend. By comparison, if a current NFL kicker misses four field goals in game, he will definitely be unemployed by Tuesday. If he makes only one he will likely be unemployed. If he makes two, he will be on the proverbial hot seat at worst. making three is okay, unless the miss is a chip shot or in a critical game situation, in which case it is also hot seat time. Making all four is good. About the only way to even potentially be considered for legendary status now is to kick a game winning field goal in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter or in overtime of a championship game.

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