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Today's Tidbit... From Goat to Good
Teams did not kick field goals in the 1950s with the same frequency as today. College teams often did not attempt field goals in situations we would consider nearly automatic today because straight-ahead kickers were less accurate, did not kick as far as the sidewinders that soon became popular, and the limited substitution rules of the time meant the player doing the kicking was generally among the team's eleven starters. The kicker was often the best all-around athlete on the team, which is why they kicked in the first place.
That was the case with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 1957. Coming off a 2-8 season in 1956 -the worst record in program history- the Irish started the 1957 season with shutout wins over Purdue and Indiana to earn a #12 ranking. In the season's third week, they faced #10 Army, led by Pete Dawkins, who would win the Heisman in 1958.
In the Purdue game, which the Irish won 12-0, end Aubrey Lewis missed the first extra point, and quarterback Don White missed the second. Versus Indiana, White made two of four extra points on their way to a 26-0 victory.
Anticipating a tight game against Army, Coach Brennan decided to switch things up and hand the extra point duties to end Monty Stickles, a 6 foot 4 inch, 225-pound sophomore end who was one of those exceptional athletes mentioned earlier.
West Point scored early in the first quarter and converted, while the Irish returned the favor in the first half, with Stickles making his first extra-point attempt. Two Army touchdowns and conversions in the third quarter made it 21-7 as the Irish returned to the poor play that marked the 1956 season. However, Notre Dame's luck turned around as it roared back, scoring a second touchdown with Stickles converting.
In the fourth quarter, the Irish held Army and managed a third touchdown with six minutes left, so Stickles lined up again to attempt the extra point to tie the game. Unfortunately, Stickles missed the extra point, leaving the Irish down 21-20.
Had the game ended there, Stickles would have been the goat (not the G.O.A.T.), but on West Point's next series, the Irish tipped and intercepted an Army jump pass to give themselves an opportunity, but the Irish did little against the Army defense, resulting in fourth-and-six at the Army 22-yard line.
Then, in a move Irish fans considered a mix of sheer stupidity and divine inspiration, Brennan ordered his team and Stickles to attempt a field goal. So, in an era of inaccurate kickers and a game where his kicker had just missed his last extra-point attempt, the Irish went for broke.
But that is not all there was to the story. While Stickles had proven in practice to be Notre Dame's best option for kicking extra points, he had never attempted a field goal -not in a game, not in practice, and not in his high school days in Poughkeepsie.
Sure enough, the snap was true, the holder placed the ball on the 29-yard line, and Stickles steamed straight ahead, sending the ball sailing toward the goal posts.
Poor Monty Stickles had felt the pressure when attempting his first field goal before 95,000 fans at Philadelphia's Memorial Stadium (aka JFK Stadium), with millions watching the game on television. Like the snap, however, Stickles' kick was also true, and it sailed between the uprights to give the Irish a 23-21 lead and, a few minutes later, the victory.
That Irish team later lost to ranked Navy, Michigan State, and Iowa teams while also ending Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak. Still, few moments were more dramatic than an untested sophomore booting his team to victory on his first ever field goal attempt.
Stickles went on to All-American status his junior and senior seasons and was drafted in the first round by the NFL and AFL, spending nine seasons as an NFL tight end before embarking on a long radio career. But, he first came to the nation's attention that October afternoon in Philadelphia when he went from goat to good.
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