Pfc. Pete Gogolak sees more stress on FG

Pfc. Pete Gogolak, right, at work at Headquarters, Armed Forces Recreation Center, in Garmisch in March, 1968.


By BOO ODEM | S&S STAFF WRITER Published: March 8, 1968

GARMISCH, Germany (S&S) — On Monday, Feb. 26, Pfc. Peter Kornell Gogolak picked up a Stars and Stripes and a four-column headline in the sports section jumped at him — NFL May Drop PAT Kicks.

"My heart skipped a beat for a moment, because I thought I was out of a job," said Gogolak before reading the article. "But then I thought to myself, 'Gogolak, they pay you primarily for kicking field goals.' I was really surprised about it."

With the National Football League considering the elimination of the "automatic" point after touchdown, Gogolak, the ace kicker of the New York Giants and a foremost authority on "soccer-style" kicking, sees some good in the possible change.

"It would make the game more exciting since you would have to go three yards to make the point," said Gogolak, who is stationed here with Hqs, AFRC.

Drop in Percentage

"But a fantastic percentage in comparison to PATs would be lost. It won't mean as much if you score six points and then don't make the three yards for the extra point," said Gogolak.

"It will place more emphasis on the field goal than there is now," Gogolak maintains.

"A lot of tricky plays will be devised strictly for this occasion. If the rule is passed, I bet the percentage of successful extra points will be well below 50 per cent," said Gogolak.

Will passage of the rule relieve Gogolak of some of his responsibilility?

"No," he says. "It will relieve me of one of my duties but will put more responsibility on me due to the greater emphasis on field goals. They pay me to kick field goals — successfully. So my job won't be any easier."

'Not Automatic'

Gogolak disagrees with the concept that the PAT is "automatic," which the NFL is basing its proposed legislation on. "For an accomplished pro," says Gogolak, "it's an easy kick. But I assure you it is not automatic. There are too many things involved to make it automatic. Even in the pros, games have been won and lost because missed extra points," he said.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gogolak, who is beginning the final year of his two-year Army stint, will miss the 1968 season. The Giants at this moment have no one to take his place — or moreover, fill his shoes.

Giants Endured Pains

When Gogolak missed the first five games of the 1967 campaign due to an injured back sustained in basic training, the Giants endured some pains with numerous less-successful kickers during his absence.

"They have to get somebody else, and obviously if he does well, they may think I'm expendable," said Gogolak. "But I don't want to speculate. It remains to be seen. All I know is that it is going to be tough sitting out this year, and I know I am going to have to fight to get my job back.

"It's a tough profession — a year-to-year job — but I like the money," he said.

The Hungarian-born Gogolak has two aims in football — one is to play 10 years and "earn a pension of $800 a month for the rest of my life after reaching 60."

"Pro football is so big, so lucrative," says Gogolak. "The average salary is $17,500 for six months. Man, you can't beat that, and I would be lying to say that the money doesn't matter."

And no one can blame Gogolak for his monetary ideas and his freedom to make more. Nearly 12 years ago, as a boy of 13, he was running for his life on the streets of Budapest while Russian tanks ravaged the city.

His life, and that of his father and mother, Dr. and Mrs. John Gogolak, and his brother Charlie took a turn for the best when they came to the U.S. and settled in Ogdensburg, N.Y., in 1957.

He learned to play American football and recalls the incident that eventually led to his present profession.

"I was an end on the high school team at Ogdensburg," recalls Gogolak, "and the coach asked for volunteers to kick extra points. I, and several others, volunteered during the practice session.

"As soon as I lined up way off the line of the ball, the coach thought I was crazy and said, `We do things different in this country, kick the way we kick them.' I finally convinced him to let me try it my way," Gogolak continued.

"It was a bad, low kick that barely got off the ground, and bounced sideways into the stands," Gogolak remembers. "The coach and players all started laughing and told me to take my soccer style of kicking and get lost."

As it happens in every phase of life, the guy who gets laughed at is the one who returns the laugh. Right now, Gogolak is laughing $$$.

"As soon as I hit the ball that day, I knew I had something," Pete recalls. "I spent the whole summer working at it with Charlie. Getting the elevation was the toughest thing."

Though he didn't get to do much kicking during his senior year since "we had a lousy team," Gogolak was given an academic scholarship to Cornell.

He didn't really become known until he kicked three field goals — one a 48-yarder — to beat the Yale freshmen. After that, and for the next three years, the pros flocked around him and the New York papers sang his praises.

Despite setting an Ivy League record of 44 consecutive conversions — which was later to be broken by none other than Charlie — the pros were still skeptical about the Gogolak style of kicking.

Signed With Bills

Neither pro league drafted him, but after a tryout, Gogolak signed with the Buffalo Bills. He was second in league scoring in both of his seasons in the AFL with 102 points in 1964 on 45 of 46 PATs and 19 of 29 FGs, and with 115 points in 1965 on a perfect 31 of 31 PATs and 28 field goals in 46 attempts.

His 28 field goals still stands as an AFL record for the most in one season.

Gogolak joined a pathetic Giant team in 1966 after playing out his option with the Bills. The Giants could win only one of 14 games, but Gogolak managed to make 16 field goals.

Last season Gogolak, who was stationed at Ft. Belvoir, Va., saw action in the final nine Giant games where he booted 28 of 29 extra points and six of 10 FGs. One was blocked.

Gogolak sees an improvement over the Giants' surprising 7-7 record last year.

"Watch (Ernie) Koy, he's going to be a great one. They have babied him along to build up his confidence, watch him go next year. But we'll be hurting defensively," Gogolak said.

Pete didn't mention that they would be hurting field-goal wise, too.

The other aim of Pete's is to beat the NFL FG record of 56 yards. "I am still working at that," says Pete. "My goal is to get close to 60 yards, but you don't get many opportunities. They are afraid of a blocked kick or a long runback. And if there is a long runback, guess who the safetyman is? They don't think much of my tackling ability. Once I threw my body at a runner; I bounced off," smiled Pete.

Soccer-style kickers fill the college ranks, but there are only four in pro football — Pete, Charlie (with the Washington Redskins) Jan Stenerud of Norway, who is with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions' Garo Yepremian of Cyprus.

Pete, who likes to refer to it as the Gogolak System since he introduced it, comes from a 45-degree angle and hits the ball with part of his lower instep and higher instep.

"Stenerud and Yepremian kick at a lesser angle than 45, while Charlie boots from a wide 60-degree angle," says Pete.

The Army assigned Gogolak to Garmisch a month ago to take advantage of his hotel education. After receiving a BA in history, Gogolak took a two-year hotel management advance course at Cornell.

Col. Robert L. Moore, commanding officer of Hqs, AFRC, and Lt. Col. Robert M. Teasdale, deputy CO, Hqs, AFRC, are more than delighted to have Gogolak's services.

Gogolak is working in two divisions here — management review and conference convention coordination.

In the meantime, if you are in Garmisch and you see a man kicking a football from a tee using an unusual stance that you think is awkward, don't challenge him to an accuracy and distance contest unless you know he is not Pete Gogolak.

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