Garo Yepremian is dead from cancer at age 70. One of the most innovative kickers in NFL history, Yepremian will always be better remembered for a comical pass attempt in the 1973 Super Bowl. But Yepremian, who played 14 seasons in the NFL despite never having seen a football game, much less played in one, before emigrating to the United States at age 22, kicked for two Super Bowl winning teams — and was part of the only undefeated team in NFL history.
Garabed Sarkis Yepremian was born to Armenian parents in Cyprus on June 2, 1944. After emigrating to America with his brother hoping to secure a soccer scholarship to Indiana University, he arrived only to find that the school did not offer scholarships to soccer players.
After seeing an NFL game on television, he realized he could apply his considerable soccer skills to kicking a football, so he taught himself to do just that. At the time, American football placekickers approached the ball on a straight line and kicked with the front of the foot.
But Yepremian used a “soccer style” technique, taking an angled route and impacting the ball with the instep of the foot. It worked for Yepremian, who managed to secure a tryout with the Detroit Lions though he had never played football before and, at a diminutive 5’9″ and 170 pounds, he hardly fit the part.
By the time Yepremian retired in 1981, the soccer style kicking technique was common, and today, all NFL kickers take Yepremian’s approach.
Yepremian was also known as a colorful character in the far less regimented National Football League of the late 1960s and early 1970s, recognizable by his outrageous, multicolored wide neckties and his often hilarious broken English — once declaring, “I keek a touchdown!” after hitting one of his first field goals.
But his bizarrely botched pass for the then 16-0 Miami Dolphins in the 1973 Super Bowl against the Redskins nearly cost the Dolphins their perfect season and left Yepremian answering questions about the play seemingly every day for the rest of his life.
Even President Barack Obama kidded Yepremian about the play during a 2013 White House visit celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Dolphins’ perfect season.
“After a while it bothers you. If it was anybody else he would go crazy,” Yepremian said recently. “But fortunately I’m a happy-go-lucky guy.”
According to his wife Maritza, Garo Yepremian was diagnosed with cancer last year and passed away at a hospital near his Avondale, Pennsylvania home on May 15.