Hungarian Revolutionary Changes American Football Forever

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Cornell University head coach TOM HARP scratches his head as sophomore phenom PETE GOGOLAK (# 86) demonstrates his revoluationary “soccer-style” placekicking motion for the benefit of the cameraman.
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November 13th, 1956 — Nine days after the Soviet Union sent a large military force into Hungary in order to suppress a major national uprising that had spawned from a student demonstration, a medical doctor living in the capital city of Budapest makes a fateful decision that will forever change the way the game of gridiron football is played in the United States of America. As night time approaches the picturesque city split in two by the Danube River, 14-year-old PETE GOGOLAK, his younger brother Charlie and his two parents all depart on a 20-mile journey to the Austrian border by foot. After successfully avoiding both Soviet troops and Hungarian border guards as well as negotiating all other obstacles such as barbed wired fences, the Gogolak family made it into Austria and ultimately settled in upstate New York after the father, John, landed a position at St. Lawrence State Hospital.

The Ogdenburg Free Academy has no soccer team to play on so the eldest of the two Gogolak brothers decides to try his luck at American football (in part, because he has noticed that American girls seem to fancy football players) and the athletic lad, who had been a rather promising soccer playing back in Hungary, gets the hang of the new game quickly and makes the local high school varsity as a two-way end.

gogolak-cornell-gameSeptember 30th, 1961 — Appearing in his very first varsity game at the collegiate level, Cornell University’s “soccer-style” kicker PETE GOGOLAK gives an immediate demonstration of his power by slamming the opening kickoff against the crossbar at the back of the Colgate University end zone.

To clearly show that had not simply been beginner’s luck, Gogolak proceeded to launch his next two kickoffs between the goalpost’s two uprights while the sophomore is perfect on all four of his extra point attempts, as well. A few weeks later, the Hungarian immigrant hammered a 41-yard field goal against Princeton University to register the first three-pointer of his highly notable collegiate career. Indeed, the young Gogolak (16/17 XP, 3 FG) was one of few bright spots for a 1961 Cornell University football team that finished with the record of three wins against six losses.

It should be remembered that, even well into the early 1960s, any field goal successfully kicked from an official distance of forty yards or longer was rightfully considered to be a commendable achievement. Of course, as this blog has been reviewing, college football teams, as a whole, just did not kick a great many field goals to begin with during the time period that Gogolak was appearing for Cornell University. The novel soccer-style kicking specialist, in fact, did not kick any field goals at all for the Big Red as a junior in 1962 but was perfect on all twenty extra point attempts and, significantly, it was the reliable Gogolak’s points after touchdowns which provided the critical margin of victory for head coach Tom Harp’s troops in no fewer than three of Cornell’s games —it should certainly be noted here that the Big Red won just four contests that term.

(Gogolak was 0/5 on field goal attempts as a junior for Cornell in 1962 but all five efforts were at an an official distance of 46 yards or longer)

cornell-gogolak-44November 9th, 1963 — Cornell University senior placekicker Pete Gogolak successfully converts all four of his extra point attempts in the Big Red’s 28-25 triumph over Ivy League rival Brown University and, in doing so, not only provides the margin of victory in the game against the Bears but also breaks the existing NCAA collegiate record for most consecutive extra point attempts without a miss. Gogolak, whose only missed extra point throughout his entire career at Cornell had, ironically enough, occurred against Brown during his sophomore season, surges past the previous standard of 38 consecutive extra points set by Pete Smolaovich of New Mexico State two years earlier. Three more extra points in Cornell’s final two games of the 1963 campaign means that Gogolak will conclude his collegiate career with his own NCAA record for consecutive extra points made standing at forty-four.

(This particular record will not remain in the books for long as Pete’s younger brother, Charlie Gogolak, is by 1963 the sophomore placekicker for Princeton University who will, ultimately, reset the NCAA mark at 50 consecutive extra points made only short two years later.)

Gogolak enjoyed a banner senior campaign for the Big Red in 1963 while, among other things, setting the Cornell school record with a 50-yard field goal against Lehigh University as well as the Ivy League record with a 45-yard three-pointer in the contest with Columbia University that year. The high profile Hungarian, who had, along with his younger brother, by this time already caught the attention of sportswriters all across the country, also broke the hearts of Yale University supporters by kicking his second field goal of that Ivy League clash with only 45 seconds left on the game clock. During that 1963 season that saw Cornell count five wins in nine games, Gogolak was a flawless 18/18 on extra point attempts and counted a total of six field goals made — no less than four of which had come from what were at the time acknowledged to be rather respectable lengths (45, 50, 41 & 45 yards), too.

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None of the fourteen teams in the far more established National Football League were willing to risk even a late round pick on the Ivy Leaguer from upstate New York with the most unusual kicking style. On the other hand, the Buffalo Bills of the upstart American Football League were more than happy to take a 12th round flier on Gogolak, who was the 92nd overall player selected in the 1964 AFL Draft. And so, in his very first professional game, a pre-season tilt against the New York Jets in Tampa, Florida, the Hungarian Revolutionary rewarded Buffalo’s faith and strutted his stuff by promptly kicking a 57-yard field goal — this was actually longer than either the existing NFL or AFL records at that time although, technically, it did not ‘count’ officially because of the contest’s ‘exhibition’ status.

(Bear in mind that, at this point in time, the goalposts in both the NFL as well as the AFL were stationed on the actual goal line, itself)

What made Pete Gogolak such a legitimate weapon like no other placekicker who had ever come before him was not so much his accuracy on extra points but rather his ability to put points on the scoreboard via long-range field goals.

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