Why the NFL used to have barefoot kickers
The 1980s were a crazy time for America and its institutions. The White House was occupied by a B-movie actor, Hollywood seemed to want to make any cocaine-fueled idea for a movie that it could find, and football kickers were punting and scoring field goals in the dead of winter. Shoeless.
Barefoot kickers, cats and dogs living together, MASS HYSTERIA.
You don't see barefoot kickers in the National Football League anymore but there was a time when kicking with their shoes off was so common, it was cause for zero notice. Players for the Eagles, Broncos, Rams, and Steelers were all known to kick off their shoes before kicking off the game (except for the Rams – their kicker always wore shoes on kickoffs). The New England Patriots kicker Tony Franklin even made a 59-yard field goal while completely shoeless.
The video below features Franklin kicking in the 1985 AFC Championship game. It's not the 59-yarder, but at 23 yards, you can't even tell he's kicking barefoot, just as he had during every other game of his career.
The reasons some kickers preferred a barefoot kick were twofold: kickers believed they could control their kicks better with their feet than they could wearing kicking cleats of the time period. Other kickers had trouble hitting the football's "sweet spot" wearing their issued uniform cleats.
Why barefoot kicking went away is because the rise of the NFL as a big money sport finally created a market for shoe companies to create an athletic shoe designed for kickers. And nowadays teams have so much invested in their players, kickers and punters included, that kicking a ball barefoot poses an undue risk for a potentially season-ending toe injury, to say nothing of the idea that the opposing team always seems to fight their way to the kicker these days.
Also, it can get really cold out there. For you barefoot kicking fans, here's a better video of Franklin kicking barefoot, this time for the Philadelphia Eagles.
- Ray Didinger On Tony Franklin, The Barefoot Cannon ›
- For Former Kicker, the Price of Fearlessness - The New York Times ›
- The Era of the Barefoot Kicker | NFL Films Presents - YouTube ›