The Kicker Who Wasn’t

Other than winning a Super Bowl, David Akers has had one major goal throughout his career: to convince us all that he is a football player, not just a mere place-kicker.  Maybe that was just part of his make-up, or maybe it was all the time he spent in Philadelphia. This is the town where work ethic and grit are paramount to performance and talent. Kicking field goals wasn’t good enough; he wanted to show us how tough he was.

During his time as and Eagle, he would throw his 5’10” – 190 lbs. frame into oncoming traffic covering kickoff returns, he would make diving tackles on returners, and he would beast opposing coaches and then mix-it up with opposing players…by himself, on their sideline.  But it was one game against the Oakland Raiders that settled the argument, once and for all.  Akers isn’t just a kicker.

On September 25, 2005, the 1-1 Eagles were home against the 0-2 Raiders.  After the coin toss, the Rocky montage, and the fireworks, the Eagles lined up to kickoff to start the game. Akers approached the ball and just as he struck it, he collapsed to the ground and clutched the back of his right leg.  A flag flew and a whistle was blown; the Birds were offside.  Akers got off the ground, placed the ball on the tee, and limped back to his starting position.  On the retry, Akers collapsed again, and the Eagles were offside again.  This time Akers was taken off the field and trainers began working on his hamstring.  Mike Bartum was sent in and booted the third attempt at the opening kickoff out of bounds.

Akers’ injury kept him on the sidelines.  The trainers and coaching staff didn’t even think he could make an extra point.  After a Brian Westbrook 18-yard touchdown run in the second half, Mark Simoneau was chosen to try the game-tying extra point.  It wasn’t successful.  The box score reflects that it was blocked, but in reality, Simoneau drilled the ball into the back of his teammate, Steve Spach.  The Raiders led 10-6 at the half.

During halftime, Akers returned to the field with a heavily taped right leg and began trying extra-point length chip shots.  He had to alter his stance, his approach, and his weight distribution in order to give the ball the best chance of eeking through the uprights and him the best chance of not ending up in a heap after each kick.  It was clear he was in a lot of pain.

When the third quarter began, Donovan McNabb, who was battling through a sports hernia, got things going.  A short touchdown pass to Terrell Owens gave the Eagles a 12-10 lead.  Akers convinced the training staff and his coaches that he could make the extra point, so he limped out onto the field for the P.A.T.  And he made it, giving the Eagles a three point lead.  Then, after a Westbrook touchdown reception, Akers gingerly made another extra point to push the score to 20-10 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The lead wouldn’t hold; after a Janikowski field goal, the Raiders tied the game on a Doug Gabriel touchdown catch with 2:17 remaining in the game.

A touch back on the ensuing kickoff placed the Eagles on their own 20.  With a healthy Akers, the Eagles would have only needed about 50 yards to get into range for a game-winning field goal.  With a hobbled Akers, the Eagles were thinking end zone.  “We wanted to score a touchdown, so we wouldn’t have to worry,” said Reid after the game.  McNabb hit Westbrook on two consecutive passes to reach midfield, then Greg Lewis and T.O. chipped in catches and the Eagles found themselves on the 17 yard line with 31 seconds remaining.  But they still weren’t in field goal range.  After a Nnamdi Asomugha illegal contact penalty and then a T.O. 7-yard reception, McNabb spiked the ball with nine seconds remaining five yards from goal line.

The outcome of the game would rest on David Akers’ injured leg.  And just like he had countless times before, the dependable Akers made another important field goal.  He collapsed in pain again, but this time it was accompanied by celebration.

Said Mike Bartum after the game, “They call him a kicker, but he’s not a kicker.  He’s a football player…A tough guy.”

Akers will receive a very warm welcome this Sunday at the Linc when he returns as a 49er.  Not just because he holds the franchise records for points and field goals, but because he was more than just a kicker.  He was a leader.  A football player.

Joe Montana’s Finest Hour

With the Eagles taking on the 49ers this Sunday, we look back at a memorable game between these two teams.

It was week 3 of the 1989 season, and the Eagles were taking on the 49ers at the Vet. The Niners were the defending champs, the Eagles were seen as a team on the rise. As one of the announcers said in the pregame show, “Could we be seeing the team of the 80s taking on the team of the 90s?” The Eagles had started the season 2-0, and were looking to go 3-0 for only the 3rd time since 1955. With a 28-17 lead with 8 minutes left in the 4th, it looked like all but a certainty. And then Joe Montana put on one of the greatest 4th quarter performances in NFL history. This from a 1989 article in SI:

Not counting the two plays in which he fell on the ball to run out the clock, the 49ers had the ball four times for a total of less than six minutes in the fourth quarter. In that time Montana completed 11 of 12 throws for 227 yards, including touchdown passes of 70, eight, 24 and 33 yards to wide receiver John Taylor, fullback Tom Rathman, tight end Brent Jones and wide receiver Jerry Rice, respectively. “You relish being in those situations,” the happy but typically blase Montana said afterward. Philadelphia had thought it was pretty good at winning this kind of game until it met the experts. The week before, the Eagles had scored 21 fourth-quarter points to beat the Washington Redskins 42-37. Now the same thing had happened to them. “The difference between our fourth quarter last week and this one?” said Eagle quarterback Randall Cunningham. ” Joe Montana.”

You can watch video of most of those last 8 minutes here, though you’ll have the listen to the insufferable Terry Bradshaw do color commentary. My God, he’s awful. Here’s a short video about that comeback on The 49ers would win the Super Bowl that year. The Eagles would lose in the wild card round to the Rams.

Ted Williams Walks the Philly Streets

70 years ago tonight, the Red Sox were in Philadelphia, wrapping up their season at Shibe. The Sox were on their way to an impressive 84-70 finish, but that still left them 17 games behind the Yankees. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was resting at the bottom of the rankings. Mack’s boys would finish the year 64-90. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a meaningless late season matchup. But there was a personal goal on the line, so the games did mean something to Ted Williams. In the first game of the 3 game set, he had gone 1-4 in a 5-1 Red Sox win. That performance had dropped his average to .39955. Since baseball rounds up, he was guaranteed a .400 average if he rested for the doubleheader on Sunday, and he would be the first major leaguer to achieve that distinction since Bill Terry of the Giants did it in 1930. But Williams told a reporter, “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line.”

So he decided to play in that doubleheader on Sunday the 28th in Philly. But not without anxiety. This from a recent article in the New York Times:

Inside his room at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel (right) on Saturday, Sept. 27, 1941, Ted Williams was jumpy and impatient. That might have been an apt description of the mercurial Williams at most times, but on this evening he had good cause for his unease…waiting it out in the hotel was asking too much. Recruiting the clubhouse man Johnny Orlando for companionship, Williams marched into the streets of Philadelphia. They walked for more than three hours, with Orlando stopping at bars for occasional sustenance as Williams, who rarely drank alcohol, sipped a soft drink outside.

“I kept thinking about the thousands of swings I had taken to prepare myself,” Williams said years later. “I had practiced and practiced. I kept saying to myself, ‘You are ready.’ I went to the ballpark the next day more eager to hit than I had ever been.”

In the first game, Williams faced a young Dick Fowler, who had recently been called up from Toronto. Fowler would throw a no-hitter against the Browns in 1945, but on this day he was no match for Teddy Ballgame. Williams had 4 hits, and the .400 average was secure. In the 2nd game of the no-hitter, Number Nine faced Fred Caligiuri. This game would be the highlight of Caligiuiri’s career, as he would knock off Lefty Grove and the Red Sox 7-1, with Caligiuri going the distance for the first of 2 wins he would ever have in the Major Leagues. But Williams went 2-3, and at the end of the season Ted Williams sported a spiffy .406 average.

It was quite an accomplishment, but it didn’t make much of a splash. Only 10,000 Philly fans made it out to the ballpark that day, and it got limited national coverage. Williams didn’t even win MVP that year, as the honor went to Joe DiMaggio, whose 56-game streak that year had captivated the nation. But I’m sure that no-one in Shibe Park that day had any idea they were watching a drama unfold unlike any ohter that would happen in the 70 years since, a player battling to get above the .400 mark in the last week of the season.

If you’re curious, the closest anyone will come this year is Miguel Cabrera, who is batting .343. The only Philadelphia player since 1900 to hit .400 was Nap Lajoie of the Athletics in 1901. Incredibly, in 1894, the entire Phillies outfield of Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson all hit .400.

Chico F***ing Ruiz and the Bonehead Play of the Year

September 21st is, quite simply, the darkest day in Philly Sports History. It was on this date, in 1964, that a mediocre utility infielder born with the name Hiraldo Sablon Ruiz did one of the stupidest things a baseball player can do, and in so doing started a chain of events that resulted in one of the most monumental collapses in the history of sports.

Born to a cigar maker in Cuba in 1938, at the time of the events in question he was a 25-year old rookie known as Chico. He is today more famous in Philadelphia than he is in his native city of Santo Domingo. If you don’t know who he is, ask your father. Or better yet, don’t. He seems happy. You’d hate to ruin his day. If your father is the salty sort, he’d probably just utter, “Chico F***ing Ruiz…I don’t want to talk about it.”

Ruiz is the gut punch in Philly that Bartman is in Chicago, and nearly as unlikely. He was a utility infielder with a .236 batting average when the Reds faced off with the Phillies that afternoon in 1964. The Phillies had Art Mahaffey on the mound, and a 6.5 game lead in the National League with 12 games to play. At 2:30 that afternoon, a young second baseman by the name of Pete Rose stepped into the batters box at Connie Mack Stadium, and the darkest day in Phils history began.

The 1964 Phils were a team whose whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The Giants had Mays, the Reds had Robinson, the Pirates had Clemente, the Braves had Aaron, the Phils had…Cookie Rojas. But it was a gritty team, the kind that Philadelphia falls madly in love with (see ’93 Phillies, 2001 Sixers). Go Phillies Go! bumper stickers started appearing on cars, and when World Series tickets went on sale in September, 90,000 were sold within hours. When their plane landed in Philly on September 19th after a West Coast swing, 2,000 fans had greeted them at the airport.

Mahaffey had his best stuff that day, and the game went into the 6th inning at double nil. With one out, Chico Ruiz got a single. Vada Pinson lined a screamer off of Mahaffey’s glove and into right field. Pinson tried to stretch it into a double, but Johnny Callison nailed him at 2nd with a perfect throw. And so, with two outs and Chico on 3rd, up to the plate stepped the dangerous Frank Robinson. Mahaffey quickly ran up two strikes on the right handed slugger, paying little attention to the Cuban dancing off of third base. Mahaffey wound up to deliver the pitch that he hoped would quell the Reds rally…and inexplicably Chico Ruiz broke for home.

If there is anything in baseball that is stupider than stealing home with 2 outs, 2 strikes, and a right hander at the plate, I can’t think of it off the top of my head. Mahaffey would explain why years later“Chico Ruiz stole home with two outs and two strikes on Frank Robinson. Now you must realize that with two outs and two strikes, if you throw a strike Frank Robinson swings and knocks Chico Ruiz’s head off. It was just so stupid. Ruiz wasn’t even thinking. Robinson was so upset because he was one of the league’s leading hitters and near the lead in RBI and this guy’s stealing home with him hitting. It was just such a crazy thing. We didn’t know it was going to start a 10-game losing streak, but it couldn’t have started in more ridiculous way.”

Mahaffey was shaken by Rico’s brazen stupidity, perhaps scared that if he threw a strike he would be an accessory to an involuntary manslaughter. The ball went flying out of his hands, far outside of catcher Clay Dalrymple’s reach. Ruiz slid safely into home. There was a stone silence, as Phillies fans shook their heads in shock, and the Reds bench was dumbfounded by the stupidity of their 3rd basemen. “It was,” said Pete Rose years later, “The dumbest play I’ve ever seen. Except that it worked.” The Reds took a 1-0 lead, and they held it. The Phillies went 0-8 with runners in scoring position, and the game ended 1-0 in the Reds favor.

After the game, Phils manager Mauch would scream in the clubhouse,  “Chico Fucking Ruiz beats us on a bonehead play of the year. Chico Fucking Ruiz steals home with Frank Robinson up! Can you believe it?” The next night, Mauch ordered his pitcher to drill him in the ribs. Ruiz smiled as he walked to first.

The “bonehead play of the year” started the monumental collapse of 1964. The Phils would lose their next 9 games as well, manager Gene Mauch would panic and start his two best pitchers (Bunning and Short) on two days rest 6 times, despite having Ray Culp waiting in the wings. The rest of the collapse is another story for another day. But today is a dark anniversary of the steal that started it all.

As for Chico Fucking Ruiz?  In 1967, he became the first and only player to ever pinch hit for Johnny Bench. In 1969, he would utter one of the most hilarious sentences in baseball history. After starting for two straight weeks for injured shortstop Leo Cardenas, Ruiz stormed into the managers office with an ultimatum. “Bench me or trade me!” He was traded to the Angels, where he had a Gilbert Arenas moment with teammate Alex Johnson, allegedly pulling a gun on Johnson in the clubhouse. In 1972, he died in a car accident in San Diego. He was 33-years old. In his 8-year career, he stole home one time.

RELATED: A must read piece from the SI Vault. A 1989 article in which Steve Wulf recalls being 13 and having his heart broken by the Phils in ’64.

This Day in Phils History: Morandini’s Unassisted Triple Play

On September 20, 1992, the Phillies were floundering in last place in the NL East and facing the division-leading Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium.  Curt Schilling and Randy Tomlin dominated for their respective clubs pushing the game into extras with a 2-2 score.  The score remained knotted until the bottom of the 13th inning, when Jeff King smoked an RBI liner into center field off Keith Shepard scoring Cecil Espy and giving the Pirates a 3-2 win.

A 13-inning-win is exciting in and of itself, but this game will be remembered not for the score, but for a defensive play that occurred in the bottom of the 6th.  With the game tied at 1, Andy Van Slyke led off the inning with a single to right field.  Barry Bonds then hit a seeing-eye single between Juan Bell and Dave Hollins.  With no outs and men on 1st and 2nd, Schill was in a bit of trouble as Jeff King stepped to the plate.  King worked a full count then smoked a line drive towards Morandini.  The second baseman leaped to make the catch, stepped on second to double Van Slyke, who was almost to third, then tagged Bonds, who had taken off from first.

Morandini’s was the first unassisted triple play in the majors since Ron Hansen made one for the Washington Senators in 1968.  It was the first in the National League since Jimmy Cooney’s for the Cubs in ’27.

In terms of Philadelphia baseball history, Morandini was the first to accomplish the feat.  No Philadelphia Athletic is credited with an unassisted triple play and the only other Phillie to make one is Eric Bruntlett, whose game-ending triple play sunk the Mets on August 23, 2009.

Rawley Outduels the Doc

On September 17th, 1984, the Phils sent recently acquired Shane Rawley to the hill to take on the most electric rookie in baseball, 19-year old Dwight Gooden. The Doc was as good as advertised, striking out 16 Phillies, but he made a mistake in the 8th that cost the Mets the game. With the score tied at one and one out in the 8th, Rawley got a single, then moved to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third on an infield single, then scored when the young ace got rattled and committed a balk. Rawley went back out to shut down the Mets in the top of the 9th, and the Phils escaped with a 2-1 win.

Rawley became the Phils ace in the mid-1980s, and made the All-Star team in 1986.  In 1987, he got off to a sterling start, and was the frontrunner for the Cy Young heading into September. But after starting 17-6, he staggered to an 0-5 finish with a 7.82 ERA in the month of September, and the award went to his teammate Steve Bedrosian. He never regained his All-Star form, and his career was over by 1989. He currently owns a pizza place in Sarasota, Florida called Shaner’s Pizzeria.

RELATED: Here’s the box score of that game.

A Look Back: The 2004 NFC Title Game

With the Eagles facing Atlanta this Sunday night, let’s take a look back at the one Eagles/Falcons game that stands above all others:  The 2004 NFC Championship game.  It’s a game I will always remember; hell, it’s a game every Eagles fan who was around will always remember.  It isn’t so much the game itself though, it is what the game meant to this city.

It’s crazy how different the sports psyche of this town was in 2004 than it is now.  We all know the history.  Philadelphia hadn’t seen a championship since ’83 and was in the longest such streak for any city with 4 major sports teams. This was when Philly sports teams were cursed; we couldn’t win.  Even Smarty Jones fell short.  The Eagles were no different.  The Reid-McNabb led Eagles had made the NFC title game in 2001 and lost to the favored Rams.  The next year, the Birds again made it to the conference championship game, but were stunned by the Buccaneers in the last game at Veterans Stadium.  Then in 2003, the Eagles gave us 4th and 26th in the divisional game against the Packers only to lose horribly in the NFC title game against the Panthers at home.

For a franchise that hadn’t been to the Super Bowl in more than 20 years, ending the season one game short in 2002 and 2003 left the entire city in a collective clinical depression.  These losses were devastating.    Remember, this was when the entire city lived and died with the Eagles; it was long before the rediscovered love affair with the Phillies sparked back up.  Philadelphians were invested in the Eagles, and they had perpetually let us down just when we were on the brink of the promised land.

In the offseason prior to the 2004 campaign, Jeremiah Trotter came home and the Eagles added two key free agents in Javon Kearse and a little-known, quiet, role player receiver from Tenneessee Chattanooga.  After a blistering 13-1 start, the Eagles rested their starters for the final two games of the year.  With a bye in the first round and then an easy home win against the Vikings, the Birds again found themselves one win away from the Super Bowl as a home favorite in the NFC Championship Game.  Their opponent would be the Atlanta Falcons.

The game was played Sunday, January 23, 2005…just after a blizzard blew through Philadelphia leaving 2 feet of snow and 17 degree temperatures with brutal 25 mph winds. (Note: The snow was a good omen.  The Eagles won their first championship in 1948 at Shibe Park in a blizzard.  The weather was so bad that fans were given free entry into the game if they brought a shovel and helped clear the field.)  With those conditions, neither team could rely too much on the passing game and if the Eagles were going to finally get to the Super Bowl, they would need to limit Mike Vick’s game-breaking plays.

After winning the toss, the Eagles decided to kick and put their defense on the field first.  Andy Reid was confident in Jim Johnson’s scheme, which clearly focused much more on containing Vick than it did blitzing.  Jevon Kearse and Derrick Burgess played the edges and didn’t let Vick loose.  After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Eagles drove downfield to the Atlanta 29 where they failed on a fake field goal attempt to Chad Lewis and turned the ball over on downs.  After a 34-yard-drive, Atlanta was forced to punt at the Eagles 38 with a chance to really pin the Birds deep.  Swirling winds wreaked havoc on Chris Mohr though, who could only manage an 8-yard punt.  The Birds took advantage with a 70-yard drive that featured a 36-yard run by #36 and ended with a 4-yard TD plunge by Dorsey Levens, who was pushed into the endzone by Jermaine Mayberry.

On the ensuring possession, Atlanta took 9 minutes off the clock driving to the Eagles 2 with a 1st and goal.  With their backs against the wall, Jim Johnson’s bend-but-don’t-break defense came alive. On first down, the Birds stuffed T.J. Duckett for a loss.  On second down, Michael Lewis blitzed and knocked down a Vick pass attempt.  On 3rd and goal from the 4, Vick dropped back to pass, saw nobody open, and took off up the middle towards the end-zone.  That’s when Hollis Thomas made the first big defensive play of the game when he launched himself at Vick and planted him at the line of scrimmage.  A Jay Feely field goal made the score 7-3.

The Eagles answered with a drive of their own that was kept alive by Donovan McNabb.  On a 3rd and 11 at the Eagles 40, McNabb eluded three defenders in the pocket and then fired to Freddie Mitchell for a first down.  Then, a long completion on an underthrown ball to Greg Lewis put the Eagles on the Atlanta 4.  McNabb capped the drive with a TD pass on a play-action to Chad Lewis for a 14-3 lead.

When the Falcons got the ball back with about 5 minutes left in the first half, they got their running game going a bit.  Then Vick completed a long pass to Alge Crumpler at the Eagles 10, who was absolutely annihilated by Brian Dawkins, but somehow held onto the ball.  Warrick Dunn then raced for a TD through the middle to bring the Falcons within 4 points at halftime.

The Eagles opened up the second-half with a 60-yard drive (Westbrook accounted for 48 of those yards) that ended in a David Akers FG to increase the lead to 17-10.  From this point on, the Eagles defense played to perfection.  Burgess and Kearse didn’t allow Vick any freedom and Trotter and co. stopped Dunn from any significant gains.  Vick was sacked a total of 4 times and he lost more yards on those sacks than he gained through scrambling.

After both teams traded punts, the Falcons started on their own 10-yard line with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.  On 1st down, Dawkins picked off Vick and took the ball to the 11-yard line.  However, Atlanta stood strong and forced the Eagles to settle for another David Akers field goal and a 20-10 lead.

The Eagles entered the 4th quarter with a lead in the NFC Championship Game, something they hadn’t done in their previous three appearances.  The defense continued to limit Vick and the Atlanta offence.  Burgess picked up his second sack of the day on an incredible open-field, one-on-one tackle on Vick.  After two straight Falcon drives ended in punts, the Eagles got the ball on their own 35 yard-line 10 football minutes away from the Super Bowl.  Reid and McNabb would orchestrate their best drive of the day.  An 11-play, seven-minute drive ending in another Chad Lewis TD reception put the Eagles up 27-10 with less than 3 and a half minutes remaining.

That deal-sealing touchdown started the party.  The crowd at the Linc didn’t sit down the entire second-half, but it was much nerves than excitement.  That changed when Chad Lewis hauled in that pass.  The crowd erupted in pure, unadulterated elation.  A weight had been lifted off the Eagles and off this city.  Finally.  Chants of “Super Bowl! Super Bowl! Super Bowl!” went on for what seemed like forever.  Grown men hugging and high-fiving and crying and watching the clock count down to 00:00. As I said before, I’ll never forget it.

Vick vs. Cunningham

A pretty sweet video of some of Cunningham and Vick’s greatest plays.

The First Scorecard in Baseball History?

A very cool article in today’s Inky about an 1866 Philadelphia Athletic scorecard.

On Thursday, nearly 145 years after someone penciled in the starting lineups on it, this yellowing baseball relic will be auctioned at Swann Galleries in New York, where experts expect it to fetch $5,000 to $7,000.

“As far as anyone knows,” Swann’s Rick Stattler said, “this is the first printed baseball scorecard ever.”

It was handed out to fans who, in a virtually unprecedented move, were charged 25 cents to watch the Oct. 1, 1866, game between Philadelphia’s Athletics and Brooklyn’s Atlantics at a 15th and Columbia ball field.

According to various accounts, the promoters had sold 8,000 tickets in advance and, in another exceptional action, some of the nominally amateur players privately had agreed to split the proceeds.

Unfortunately, another 25,000 or so fans flocked to the North Philadelphia site that Monday afternoon, a gathering so large and rowdy that the game had to be canceled after just a half-inning.

“There was just no room to play, and the police couldn’t keep the crowds off the field,” said Stattler, citing various newspaper accounts. “The first baseman said he didn’t have any room to make plays at first base. There are reports that at least one spectator was pulled off with blood streaming from his head. Things got pretty rowdy. Finally, in the bottom of the first inning, when a New York guy hit a ball into the crowd, they decided they just couldn’t go any further.”

Someone had entered the lineups on the surviving scorecard, presently owned by collector Eric Caren, and filled in the activity from the top of the first. As was commonplace then, the home-team Athletics hit first, scoring two runs that further fanned the huge gathering’s fire.

A few notes about the game. First of all, one of the Brooklyn Players later played for the Phillies, and had the greatest nickname in Philly history. That would be Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson.

RELATED: How booze helped the A’s win the 1871 championship.

RELATED: Wes Fisler scores baseball’s first run.

Eagles Kicked Out of Playoffs By Falcons in 1978

There have been some really heartbreaking playoff losses by the Eagles over the years. The 2009 NFC Championship Game against the Cardinals, the 2004 Super Bowl, the Fog Bowl, etc. But their loss to the Falcons in the 1978 wild card game (The first wild card game in NFL history) ranks right up there with all of the above. The loss came about as a result of circumstances almost as strange as that thick fog that descended on Chicago 10 years later.

Temple grad Nick Mike-Mayer was the Eagles kicker in 1978. Mike-Mayer had been perfectly serviceable through the first 11 games of the season, but went down with a rib injury in Week 12 and was done for the season. So Dick Vermeil brought in 2nd year man Mike Michel out of Stanford. Michel was really a punter, but he had done some placekicking in college, so Vermeil hired him to do both. It was a disastrous decision. He missed PATs in his first two games as kicker, he once completely whiffed a punt in a game against the Redskins, and Vermeil started to go for it rather than kick field goals. And yet, despite the fact that he showed no confidence in Michel, he kept  him on the team.

On Christmas Eve, 1978, the Eagles and Falcons met in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. The Eagles dominated the game early, with Harold Carmichael hauling in a 13-yard scoring strike from Ron Jaworski. Michel missed the PAT, however, and the score remained 6-0 until the 3rd quarter, when the Eagles put together a drive that ended with Wilbert Montgomery scoring from the 1-yard line. The kick was good, and the Eagles carried a 13-0 lead into the 4th quarter. The missed extra point looked pretty harmless, especially when the Birds went deep into Falcons territory in the 4th quarter. But a fumble at the Falcon 15 midway through the 4th shifted the momentum.

Falcons QB Steve Bartkowski orchestrated a 7 play, 85 yard scoring drive through the cold rain, and the Falcons cut it to 13-7 with just over 5 minutes remaining.  After stopping the Eagles , the  Falcons struck quickly, with Bartkowski hitting receiver Wallace Francis on a 37-yard scoring strike with 1:39 left to play. The extra point was good, and the Falcons took a 14-13 lead.

But the Eagles weren’t done. Jaws led them all the way down the field, and with 13 seconds left, they had the ball on the Falcons 16. Out came Michel, with a chance to go from goat to hero. This from the Morning Call:

If you were watching the game on TV, you heard CBS announcer Jack Buck declare “It’s good!” with gusto.

(Merrill) Reese was almost influenced by that enthusiasm.

“He and Hank Stram were in the booth right next to us and, when I heard Jack, I almost called it good, too,” Reese said. “But I froze. I couldn’t get anything out. Which proved fortunate because the officials waved it wide right. I learned a valuable lesson that day, never call a kick, call the official.”

Reese will never forget what he witnessed next.

“I remember there were Eagle players lying all over the field like they were battle dead,” Reese said. “And I remember the cold drizzle.”

As far as the quiet plane ride home?

“Vermeil wound up walking to the back of the plane and putting his arms around a disconsolate Michel,” Reese said. “He said, “Mike, it’s not your fault. We asked you to do something you weren’t brought here to do and I appreciate your effort.’ Then he cut him the following spring. The team drafted Tony Franklin to do the placekicking and brought in Max Runager to punt.”

Mike Michel never played another game in the NFL. Mike-Mayer was traded to Buffalo where he would kick for the next 4 years. Tony Franklin would kick field goals for the Eagles from 1979-1983, when he was traded to the Patriots, for whom he would kick the winning FG in the famous snowplow game.