On Placekicking During Kenny Washington’s Era Of Single Wing Football

ucla-39-kwash-close-upContinuing to ride the same train of thought that KENNY WASHINGTON’s 1938 & 1939 UCLA BRUINS could have changed the outcomes of five of their football games with better placekicking, it should also be pointed out that a great many collegiate squads all throughout the country in the late 1930s would have been most proud to boast of more accurate placekicking, too.

It should always be remembered that, up until the start of the 1941 NCAA season, the substitution rules were extremely limited by modern standards. Any player who left any given game was not eligible to return to action until the start of the next quarter while any player leaving the field during the fourth quarter was finished for the duration of that particular game. Therefore, highly specialized players did not simply come off the bench for the sole purpose of kicking extra points and field goals, as is the case with today’s contemporary football, of course.

Whereas punters during the pre-World War II era were always one of any given team’s four backfield players (because teams sought to retain the viable option to utilize the surprise “quick kick” tactic on any given play), any one of any given team’s ten offensive players other than the center were just as likely to serve as any given team’s placekicker … During Kenny Washington’s three varsity seasons for UCLA (1937-1939), the Bruins were the beneficiaries of successful extra point / field goal attempts from three fullbacks (Billy Bob Williams, Walt Schell, Bill Overlin), three guards (John Frawley, Jack Sommers, Dick Kyzivat) in addition to one right halfback (Jackie Robinson).

Nowadays, ‘conventional’ (one-point) extra point attempts are considered to be about as predictable as it gets in either collegiate or professional football. During the 2010 NCAA campaign, all Division I-A teams booted a combined 4,975 of 5,163 pigskins between the uprights for a nationwide extra point percentage (96.36%) that would have absolutely astonished the various newspaper reporters who seriously followed the collegiate game seven or eight decades earlier. While it is true that some individual players, like 1938 Heisman Trophy winner Davey O’Brien of Texas Christian University, to cite just one example, were highly reliable placekickers, the simple fact is that, by and large, most “big time” schools (in particular, those located closest to the Pacific Ocean) would have been happy to regularly convert at least seventy percent of its extra point attempts back in Kenny Washington’s day :

1938 West Coast Placekicking
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Santa Clara Broncos ……………. 11/14 XPS ……. 78.57% …….. 0 FG
Stanford Indians ………………….. 7/9 XPS ……… 77.78% …….. 0 FG
Oregon Ducks ………………………. 6/9 XPs ………. 66.67% …….. 1 FG
California Golden Bears ………. 21/33 XPs …….. 63.64% ……. 0 FG
USC Trojans ……………………….. 16/26 XPS ……. 61.54% …….. 0 FG
UCLA BRUINS ……………………. 14/26 XPs ……. 53.85% …….. 0 FG
Oregon State Beavers ……………. 6/11 XPs …….. 53.55% …….. 0 FG
Washington Huskies ……………… 5/10 XPs …….. 50.00% ……. 1 FG
Washington State Cougars ……… 1/6 XPs ………. 16.67% …….. 1 FG
——————————————————————————————————
Totals ………………………………….. 87/144 XPs ….. 60.42% …… 3 FG

(Note — the UCLA Bruins actually registered 15 extra points during the 1938 NCAA season but only fourteen were achieved by actually kicking the football, itself, through the uprights. UCLA’s final point scored against the University of Iowa was only recorded after Bruins left halfback Izzy Cantor, the senior who was serving as the holder on the play, scooped up the pigskin and ran over the goal line immediately after junior right halfback Dale Gilmore’s extra point kick had been blocked by the visiting Hawkeyes. The two-point conversion rule was not adopted by NCAA college football authorities until 1958 and, thus, Cantor was only credited with one point for his remarkable effort at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum two decades prior.)

1939 West Coast Placekicking
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Stanford Indians …………………….. 7/7 XPS ……. 100.00% …….. 1 FG
Santa Clara Broncos ………………. 12/17 XPs ……. 70.59% …….. 1 FG
Washington State Cougars ………. 7/10 XPs ……. 70.00% ……. 0 FG
USC Trojans …………………………. 17/27 XPs ……. 62.96% …….. 0 FG
Oregon State Beavers …………….. 14/24 XPs …… 58.33% …….. 0 FG
Washington Huskies ………………… 6/11 XPs ……. 54.55% …….. 1 FG
Oregon Ducks ………………………….. 8/15 XPs ……. 53.33% …….. 3 FG
UCLA BRUINS ………………………. 10/19 XPs ……. 52.63% …….. 1 FG
California Golden Bears ……………. 4/14 XPs ……. 28.57% …….. 1 FG
———————————————————————————————————
Totals ……………………………………. 85/144 XPs ….. 59.03% …….. 8 FG

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ucla-39-oregon-programFrom the moment that “gridiron football” was first played in the United States of America, all placekickers used what is still commonly known as the “straight-on” style (as depicted on the front cover of the Oregon vs UCLA game program from 1939) for years and years. The first wave of players using the so-called “soccer-style” method (which is characterized by a diagonal approach and “side-winder” swinging motion that controls the direction the football will fly much, much better) did not arrive on the collegiate scene until the early 1960s. During the time period that Kenny Washington was starring for the UCLA Bruins, one should bear in mind that there were no such things as the square-shaped “kicking shoe” or even the flat “kicking tee” for field goals (which was outlawed at the start of the 1989 NCAA season), either, and these two factors certainly also affected the accuracy & range of pre-World War II placekickers as a whole, as well.

There is no doubt that a general lack of accuracy & range were two influential reasons why the overwhelming majority of Single Wing era football teams were very, very reluctant to try a field goal even from the shortest of distances. It must also be remembered that the left and right hashmarks on the collegiate football field were actually much farther apart from one another back when Kenny Washington played for UCLA as directly compared to where the two hashmarks are located currently. So, in other words, the closer any given team got to the opponents’ end zone, the more narrow of a target for the placekicker to hit would automatically be created should that team find itself in a situation where it wants to attempt a field goal right after the football has been spotted on either of one of the two hashmarks.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “On Placekicking During Kenny Washington’s Era Of Single Wing Football

  1. Maybe you have already addressed this famous play, however . . .

    This post seems to place into perspective UCLA’s decision to go for it on fourth down late in the 1939 game against USC. It’s pretty famous that the players voted 6 to 5 to go for it instead of attempting a field goal. I’m almost surprised it wasn’t 11 to 0.

    This is especially so since I tend to assume that the first three plays probably served to set up the fourth-down pass.

    I think I have read a couple of different comments by Babe Horrell regarding not going for the field goal. But I have never heard of him saying anything like, “Hey, it’s hard to make a field goal!” Perhaps he figured everybody should know that!

    –Tom Sawyer

    • Classic UCLA Bruins, Rediscovered

      Say, Tom, how is it going?

      Yeah, man, you know in which direction this blog is headed. Next up is the UCLA vs Washington State contest and then it will be time for that memorable UCLA vs USC clash. This post and the previous one are deliberate attempts to lay groundwork for the Bruins vs Trojans game in 1939, no doubt. And the next post to come will be reviewing UCLA field goal kicking from 1928 thru 1964.

      The ultimate objective of these particular posts, of course, are (will be) to give blog readers a sense of just exactly how different extra point / field goal kicking was back during the time that Kenny Washington played for UCLA. That, as well as to give blog readers a chance to try and get inside the collective minds of Bruins head coach Babe Horrell & the 11 UCLA players who held that very famous vote in the huddle late in the fourth quarter against intra-city arch-rival USC.

      I tend to agree with you in that I don’t think the Bruins, as a whole, had any serious intention of settling for a field goal attempt when they were driving late in that dramatic 1939 affair with USC. After all, confidence in the kicking game could not have been very high amongst the UCLA players, themselves. It should always be remembered that, in the Bruins’ two games leading up to the USC game, UCLA missed the extra point that would have defeated Oregon State late in the fourth quarter and then failed on all four extra point attempts against Washington State the very next week — by modern standards, I find it impossible to imagine any Division I-A school missing FIVE consecutive extra point attempts!
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