Bednarski Breaks With Football Tradition

texas-bednarskiOctober 19, 1957 —— After losing by fourteen points to the # 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the annual Red River War only seven days earlier, the underdog TEXAS LONGHORNS were ready to unveil a major surprise of history-making proportions against the # 10 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks on the road in Fayetteville the next week.

Texas had caught an early break in the first quarter when one of their punts inadvertently touched an Arkansas player but the Longhorns could not advance further than the Razorbacks 23-yard line. On fourth down, Texas lined up in an apparent field goal formation with the notable exception that the Longhorns placekicker was not in a direct line with both the holder and center, as normally would be the case. “Fake! Fake! Fake!” yelled out the Arkansas defensive players suspiciously.

However, there was absolutely nothing phony about the Texas placekicker, FRED BEDNARSKI, a junior reserve fullback who typically made his limited appearances as the Longhorns kickoff specialist but had never actually attempted a field goal at the collegiate level before. Within short order, the ball was snapped and the native of Poland proved Akers to be wrong with what went into the books as a 40-yard field goal. And, by providing Texas with its first points of the 1957 Southwest Conference game against Arkansas, the unheralded Bednarski becomes the very first player in the history of either collegiate or professional football to successfully kick a field goal by employing the so-called “soccer-style” motion.

Bednarski was a very small child when his part of Poland was initially invaded by Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union and then overrun by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Despite growing up in, first, an internment facility for families of slave laborers and, then, a postwar camp for “Displaced Persons”, Bednarski still had had the opportunity to play a lot of soccer as a youth. After coming to the United States, Bednarski took up the sport of American gridiron football and quickly became a rather competent fullback for Travis High School in Austin, Texas.

Bednarski “walked on” at the University of Texas and immediately impressed the Longhorns coaching staff with his ability to consistently send his kickoffs deep and often beyond the end zone, as well. Because of college football’s very strict substitution rules then in effect during the 1950s and the fact that Texas had a few other fullbacks who legitimately deserved to be rated higher on the depth chart than the Polish immigrant, Bednarski’s chances to show off his field goal kicking skills anywhere other than on the practice pitch were extremely limited. However, when the legendary Darrell Royal became the Longhorns head coach in 1957, the sly tactician immediately started using Bednarksi regularly as a kickoff specialist.

Bednarski only ever had three chances to kick a field goal for Texas, all of which came during the 1957 NCAA campaign (incidentally, two years before the collegiate goalposts were widened), and the 40-yarder in the 17-0 win over Arkansas turned out to be the only successful attempt of his three-year varsity career. The substitution rules simply made it too impractical for the Longhorns to have to remove another player from the duration of any given quarter in order for Texas to be able to position their long-range Polish cannon. In Rick Gonsalves’ book, “Placekicking In The NFL : A History And Analysis”, the highly acclaimed bench boss Royal later conceded, “I was foolish, too, not to use (Bednarski) on more field goals.”

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