Going into last season there was great concern over the Alabama placekicking situation, but senior Brian Bostick raised his game to all-star level. That was the good news. The bad news is that now Bama has to do it again. Dave Ungerer, Alabama’s special teams coach, has his work cut out for him.
Placekicking can be extraordinarily dramatic as it was when Van Tiffin’s 52-yard field goal as time ran out lifted Alabama to a 25-23 win over Auburn in 1985, or when Philip Doyle nailed a game-winner over previously undefeated Tennessee in Knoxville on the final play of the 1990 game.
All manner of championships have been won–and lost–because of placekicking. There are a number of stories of the heroes of Alabama’s first Rose Bowl championship–Johnny Mack Brown and Pooley Hubert and Wu Winslett. But it came down to Washington’s placekicker making one extra point kick and Alabama’s kicker–Bill Buckler–making two in a 20-19 victory.
Tiffin and Doyle are part of a line of clutch Alabama kickers. The first kicking hero may have been Sandy Sanford, an end from Arkansas (though not as famous as his predecessors, Don Hutson and Paul Bryant), who literally kicked Alabama into the 1938 Rose Bowl as he made late field goals to beat Tulane and Vanderbilt and send the Crimson Tide back to Pasadena.
For many years the Alabama placekicker was not a specialist. He played another position until called on for a field goal or extra point try. Tommy Brooker, who kicked on Bama’s 1960 and 1961 teams, would go on to pro football as and end, but have his greatest fame as a placekicker, ending what was then the longest game in history. And although Brooker kicked Alabama to a 3-0 win over Auburn in 1960, he is best known for a kick he did not make–or even attempt. He was injured when Alabama played Georgia Tech that year and Digger O’Dell, and end from Lincoln, was called on to make the only field goal of his career. Bama won 16-15 as time ran out, but those listening to the Alabama radio network didn’t know until the newspapers came out the next day that it wasn’t Brooker.
One of the most unlikely Alabama game-winning field goals came in 1974. Alabama had the nation’s longest winning streak and Florida State had the nation’s longest losing streak when the teams met in Tuscaloosa. FSU surprised everyone by taking the opening kickoff and driving for a touchdown. And Alabama could get nothing but a field goal until the Seminoles gave up a late safety. In the final moments Bucky Berrey connected on athree-pointer to give Bama an 8-7 win and avoid the upset of the decade.
Tim Davis took over for Brooker and was the first true placekicking specialist of the Paul Bryant era. Davis would gain particular fame in the Sugar Bowl following the 1964 season. With quarterback Joe Namath suspended and snow on the sidelines at Old Tulane Stadium, Davis kicked four field goals and Bama defeated Ole Miss, 12-7.
Tim’s brothers, Steve (1965-67)m Bill (1971-73), and Mike (1975) would follow as Tide kickers.
David Ray would follow Tim and earn All-America. Other Alabama placekickers who have been All-America are Van Tiffin (1986), Philip Doyle (1990), and Michael Proctor (1993-94).
Although a handful of placekickers have been recruited and signed to scholarships out of high school, most today are walk-ons who first earn the job, thus earning a scholarship. It may be that Bama’s most unlikely walk-on was Peter Kim, who was kicking for Hawaii in his hometown of Honolulu when he decided to try his foot in big-time football. He was Bama’s kicker 1980-82, and scored the final Alabama point for Bryant.
Doyle holds Bama records for most field goals in a game (6 vs. USL in 1990), season (24 in 1990) and career (78, 1987-90) and for kicking points in a game (19), season (100), and career (339).
Tiffin holds the record for the longest field goal, 57 yards vs. Texas A&M in 1985.
Tiffin was 135 for 135 on career extra points. Red Lutz hit 11 extra points (in 13 attempts) against Delta State in 1951, while Bill Davis made 11 of 11 vs. Virginia Tech in 1973.
At the end of spring practice it was known that the placekicking job had not been decided. Jamie Christensen, Bama’s kickoff man last year, missed two scrimmages with an injury. He’ll compete with C.J. Rhody and Ryan Saxby, as well as incoming walk-on Andrew Friedman.
Alabama will kick off the season September 3 hosting Middle Tennessee State.