I HAVE BEEN ASKED to set down the exact circumstances concerning the 70- yard field goal that I kicked recently and that won the opening game of the season for the Redskins. My comparatively advanced age (69 years, 5 months, at the time of the event) has caused considerable comment, including suggestions that I might be much younger, perhaps a disguised professional seeking extra attention.
First, let me say that all such rumors are false. I am reasonably well-known in Washington and other parts of the country, my birth date is easily verified and the fact that I spent long years as a journalist rather than an athlete is irrelevant. I am not the first nor will I be the last to discover a new talent late in life.
What happened was this. I was throwing a football back and forth with one of my grandchildren, Peter, who is 10 ears old. After a few minutes, during which I would drop back, in the manner of Joe Theismann, and Peter would button-hook four yards downfield (the limit of my arm), he asked me if I would show him how to place kick. I said I was not sure I remembered, but I would try. I told him to go back 15 or 20 yards. I dug a little notch into the turf with my heel as I remembered doing during the 1930s and put down the ball. It fell over a few times but finally I got it standing on one end. Then I backed off a few feet and shouted to Peter to catch the ball and run it back. I moved forward, swung my foot, and, to my considerable amazement saw the ball take off in a lovely high arc. It cleared Peter on the rise, soared up and onward across the boundary fence and finally came to rest down a concrete alleyway almost as far away as the eye could see.
"You really smashed that one," shouted Peter, "You ought to be kicking for the Redskins!"
When I got to the ball I found that it had traveled about 75 yards, including the roll.
"Go get your father," I said to Peter, "He won't believe this." Peter ran into the house and came out with his father. "What's this all about, Dad?"
"Watch this," I said. Again I swung my foot at the ball, again meeting it nicely, and again it took off like a startled grouse, this time landing even farther away. "My God!" said Chris, my stepson. He went into the house and came back with a tape measure. The ball had traveled 86 yards.
Chris, Peter and I got into the car and drove over to a school athletic field. Chris brought with him a regulation size football. I had been kicking a junior size ball.
"Let's see what happens with a big ball," said Chris. "Also whether you have any accuracy."
For the next half-hour I banged away at the regulation size football, one that had the signatures of all the Redskins on it. As it happened, the place where my foot would meet the ball was just where the signature said "Mark Moseley." It turned out that I was very accurate, putting perhaps eight out of 10 through the posts at all distances up to 50 yards. When Chris held for me, the range went up to 60 yards or more.
"Everyone should do something when they retire," said Chris. "This must be your thing. What are you going to do now?"
"I just want to be the best in the world," I said modestly.
"You are the best in the world," said little Peter, loyally. "Isn't he, Daddy?"
"It's crazy," said Chris. "No one will believe it."
"Seeing is believing," I said. "All the world wants is results."
"Who do you know at the Redskins?" said Chris.
"I know George Allen," I said. "We used to be good friends."
"I have a John Riggins sweatshirt," said Peter. "We'll find a way to get you in to see Joe Gibbs. If he saw you kick just one there is no telling what might happen," said Chris.
"I feel sorryfor Mark Moseley," said Peter.
"I may not even make the team," I said, but, of course, as everybody knows, I did. I HAD A PLAN. Through a sportswriter friend I found out what time the very first people arrive at the Redskins practice field. I scouted the field a couple of times and found out that although it would be very difficult to get onto the field during practice it would be easy to slip in an hour or so before the staff and players arrived. Someone would get there and find someone already in action, booming them through the crossbars from way, way out. That would be me.
I snuck in one morning, wearing jogging pants and the sweatshirt with Riggins' signature on it, which Peter made me promise to bring back, plus a Redskins helmet I had bought from a street vendor on the day of the Dallas playoff victory in 1982. The helmet was to cover my white hair.
I found myself all alone on the big empty field. Chris and Peter had offered to go with me, but I waved them off. "It wouldn't look good if you got arrested while they carted me away," I said. "It would get in all the papers."
"It will get into all the papers anyway," Chris said. But I was firm.
"This is my show," I said. I set the ball down on the 50-yard line and began kicking field goals, booming them through, as usual, one after the other.
Finally I heard a voice from a distance holler, "Jeez, Mark, you're really punching 'em today."
As the man came closer he realized I was not Moseley. At just that moment I had teed up the ball. I took one step, kicked, and sure enough the ball whistled through, clearing the posts dead center, with feet to spare.
"Who the hell are you?" said the man. "You're not even on the squad, are you? What the hell do you mean kicking in here? No one is allowed in here."
"I was just kicking a few easy field goals, here from the midfield stripe," I said. "I didn't mean to disturb anyone." I gave him my name and took off my helmet.
"You must be some kind of a nut," he said. "You better come with me." I followed him into the fieldhouse, down a corridor and into an office. There was a big blackboard along one wall, with plays chalked on it, just as I had dreamed where it would be. Behind a small desk, dressed in a cream-colored sports shirt, sat the Coach. The man who had found me had me firmly by one arm. I held the football in my other hand.
"Coach, I caught this old geezer on the playing field without permission, kicking field goals by himself from the 50-yard line. You know what a thing we've been having about security." The Coach threw back his head and laughed. "Kicking field goals without permission from the 50-yard line. That's terrible. How do you plead, guilty or not guilty, Pop?"
I said nothing. I'm not crazy about people calling me Pop.
"The thing of it is, Coach, about them field goals, I saw him make two in a row while I was watching. I know it sounds crazy, but he did."
Coach looked at me and asked: "Did you?"
"Yes, sir. Actually, it has been six out of seven from the 50 this morning."
"Whoever you are, I don't have any time for gags. We open the season in less than three weeks."
"It's no gag," I said.
"He's not kidding," said the man who had me by the arm. "Coach, you never saw anyone kick the football like this ever."
Coach Gibbs looked from one of us to the other. Then he got up from his chair. "Okay," he said, "Let's go."
We walked back out and onto the field. A few players were already warming up. I spotted a few of my heroes, Neil Olkewicz, George Starke, guys like that.
Gibbs looked at my feet. "What are those you're wearing, loafers?"
"All I ever use to kick," I said. He shook his head.
"Play in college?" he asked politely.
"Just as a freshman. In 1934."
"That's 50 years ago!"
"Just let me kick one, Coach," I said.
"You better hurry. Anybody sees this, they'll never let me forget it."
I saw a kicking tee lying on the field. I set it down on the 35-yard line. I put the ball on the tee.
"First, a kickoff," I said, and sailed into the ball. Later people who saw that kick said it did not appear that I hit the ball hard, or with much follow-through. But I got it square. The ball screamed through the end zone 65 yards away, narrowly missing the lefthand post.
"A little off line," I muttered.
"I saw that," said the Coach, "but I didn't believe it. How old are you?"
"Younger, much younger than the president. I won't be 70 till April."
A few of the players began drifting over. I put another ball on the tee and clipped one just about as far, and this one went cleanly through the middle of the uprights. I saw that one of the men watching was Moseley.
"What's going on here, Coach?" he said.
Gibbs looked at him and said quietly, "If this man here were 40 years younger you'd be in a lot of trouble, Mark."
I put another ball down and kicked it a mile. I heard someone say, "Man, he must be on to some kind of stuff." By the time I had kicked a few more balls, the whole squad had gathered around. Soon they were applauding after each kick and I heard cries of "Nice going, Daddy-o" and "Way to bang it Grampa." It felt good. I had cheered Redskins for so many years. Here they were cheering me.
Finally the Coach said. "What's the trick? How do you do it? Let me see your leg."
"There isn't any trick," I said. "I kick it and it just goes. For years I've wanted to have it sail away like that but it never did. Nowadays it just goes."
"Coach," I said, "don't you think I'm ready to kick for the Redskins?"
"No way," he said. "The first time someone hits you, I'll be up on a manslaughter charge."
"It can't happen," I said. "They can't lay a glove on me, my release is too quick."
"What about kickoffs, when youre the last man between the kick returned and the goal? You fling yourself at the ball carrier and they carry you away in little pieces."
"It can never happen," I explained. "You saw it. When I kick them they all go out of the end zone. If they can't run 'em back, I can't get hurt."
Someone yelled, "Right on!"
Gibbs looked bewildered. Then he looked at me and said, "Are you a free agent? Any other teams got their hooks in you?"
"I just want to kick for the Redskins."
Then he said, "Someone fix this man up with a uniform. We got to get this old fellow in shape. He looks flabby as hell to me."
The whole squad, with one or two exceptions, gave a little cheer. I looked over and saw Joe Theismann and I thought I heard him say to no one in particular, "It's a good thing the old guy can't throw."
That's how it came about that I got my chance to play.
THE EVENTS that followed are public knowledge, of course. Within an hour reporters covering the Skins learned that the team was giving a tryout to -- as the first stories put it -- "a septuagenarian." Before the end of the day I was cornered by sportswriters, and later that afternoon, in order to keep them at bay, Gibbs arranged for me to give a short exhibition. I was tired from earlier practice and a few of my kicks were wide. Nevertheless, with Theismann holding I split the uprights, as the saying goes, three straight times from 55 yards. TV crews were on hand from the Washington stations. They insisted that I kick without a helmet so that my white hair would show.
Pictures of me at work dominated not only the Washington press but papers and TV all over the country. Dan Rather did a piece at the end of his show pointing out that I had once been his boss and ending with: "We always wondered what he would do after he retired. We never dreamed it would be something like this. Go get 'em, Bill."
After the initial flood of publicity came the questions, and the controversy. Was it a hoax? If not, how was it possible? Would I actually get a chance in a regular game? Would the league move in to prevent it? Within a few days imitators were everywhere. An 80-year-old man claimed he could throw a baseball 100 miles an hour. A 6-year-old girl was filmed trying out as a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. But I remained in the center of the TV screen. The White House was with me. Pravda said I proved Americans would swallow anything.
As opening day approached, Gibbs continued to say that Moseley was the Redskins kicker, but, as everyone knew, it was becoming difficult for him to justify his cice. The team, meanwhile, was split right down the middle. About half of the gang felt that kicking was important enough to make sure the best possible foot was applied to the ball. But at least as many thought I might be ruining the game. They saw a time when jocks would be out the window and crazy specialists in the door.
OPENING DAY saw Moseley announced as kicker. The crowd screamed its disapproval. Nearly every fan could identify with me. And no wonder. They had all dreamed the same dream.
You remember the game. We trailed 14-7 going into the last minute of play when we got very lucky and scored on a Theismann bootleg.
We won the toss and chose to receive. We worked the ball up to our own 47. Fourth down, five yards to go.
I was standing next to Gibbs. I saw he was about to send in the signal to punt.
I stepped in front of him. "Don't do that, Coach! I can hit it from there. Coach, listen to me. You've seen me do it."
I had his attention. I could feel the computer of his great football brain at work.
"Get in there," he said. "Crush that ball."
The whole world knows I did exactly that. Won the game. New NFL field goal record.
Even today, it almost seems like a dream.