Outdoors & Sports
A Kicker Called OveJune 8, 2018
Oldest player to be taken in NFL Draft, Ove Johansson kicked the longest field goal in football history
The wind was at his back. And in the seconds before the ball was snapped, the stadium fell silent. All eyes were on Ove Johansson.
Twenty minutes earlier on that Oct. 16, 1976 day, Tony Franklin, a barefooted kicker at Texas A&M who would go on to have a nice career in the NFL, booted an NCAA-record 64-yard field goal against Baylor in College Station, Texas.
Two-hundred and 75 miles away in Abilene, Johansson, a 28-year-old senior kicker for Abilene Christian University was about to try a 69-yard attempt.
“This is a long one,” Johansson, now 70, recalled thinking before the kick. “One of the refs was kind of upset because he had to walk all the way down there.”
That Johansson was even on the field that homecoming game at Abilene Christian is a miracle in itself.
Growing up in Gothenburg, Sweden, Johansson excelled in several sports. From ping pong and badminton to tennis and hockey, Johansson did a little of everything. He also was quite the soccer player. When he was 15, his father started planting a seed: You’ve got to find a way to go to the United States.
“All I wanted to be was a P.E. teacher,” Johansson said.
Unable to find the opportunity to go to college to study to become a P.E. teacher, Johansson joined the Swedish Navy. He befriended a soccer player named Jan Book, who had played with the fledgling Dallas Tornado before returning to Sweden to fulfill his military requirement. Book enlisted Johansson to join him in the Dallas area for three weeks to help him start youth soccer programs.
A year later, in 1972, Johansson was playing soccer with other amateur soccer players when he returned to the area. At one of his games, he spotted a girl in the stands.
“At halftime, instead of going in, I went up and asked her for her phone number,” Johansson said.
Johansson called her a couple months later, asking if she remembered “that Swedish soccer stud.” He asked her to go to a movie; she accepted and a romance was born.
The soccer player returned to Sweden when his visa was up, and April, his girlfriend, visited during the summer of 1974 and shared that her family was moving to West Virginia. Literally a couple of hours later, Johansson got a letter from a soccer coach at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia.
The coach saw Johansson play an exhibition match in Colorado and told him he’d be interested in playing soccer at the school for a small stipend. Johansson had told the coach that if he didn’t get a full scholarship, he couldn’t afford it, so he didn’t think anymore of it and didn’t bother telling April about it. He opened the letter to find a full scholarship offer.
After a year studying and playing soccer at Davis & Elkins, which lost to Quincy College in the 1974 NAIA national championship, Johansson decided to follow his heart to Abilene, where April had enrolled at Abilene Christian. Money was tight for Johansson, and in January of 1976, he told April he’d probably need to go home to Sweden.
Abilene Christian didn’t offer soccer, but it did offer football. Even though he’d been to football games to watch April play in the band, he’d never really paid attention to the games. But he got an idea after watching a guy practice kicking the football. Maybe he could do that.
“I worked out from January to early summer,” Johansson said. “I kicked wet footballs to get my leg stronger.”
A tight end on the football team had seen Johansson kicking and told his coach, Wally Bullington. After months of practicing on his own, Johansson got up the nerve to ask Bullington for a tryout. As Johansson remembers it, he was told he could come back next year because the team already had a kicker. Johansson begged: He knew there wouldn’t be a next year.
Bullington relented and let Johansson kick. One kickoff, which Johansson said sailed through the uprights and over a chain-link fence, was enough.
“He had about the fastest leg I’ve ever seen,” said Bullington, a former ACU football player who went 62-32-2 as its coach from 1968-76.
Fast forward a couple months to that homecoming game, and Johansson noticed the wind was a bit of a crosswind going from north to east. “Just my luck,” thought Johansson, whose confidence was growing.
Before the game, he warmed up from 30 yards out before moving back to 40, 50 and 60. He and his holder, Dean Low, moved back to 70 yards at Low’s request. Johansson kicked two through the uprights – from the middle of the opponent’s calisthenics.
Earlier in the game, running back Wilbert Montgomery broke Walter Payton’s national record for touchdowns in a career. The day before the game, Montgomery told Johansson, “I’m going to set that record.” Johansson responded with, “We’re going to set two. I’m going to kick the longest field goal.”
Bullington remembered Johansson approaching him about Montgomery’s impending record and saying, “If you give me chance, I will set a record.”
About 20 minutes after Franklin set a college record with a 64-yarder – he later kicked a 65-yarder in the same game – Johansson sized up his shot at history.
“I remember very distinctly that I put pressure to the right,” he said. “I was aiming for the right post, even outside the right post.”
The kick was pure.
“I think it would have made it from 75 yards,” said Bullington, who later answered reporters who questioned why he sent his kicker out to try such a long kick, “Well, he made two 70-yard field goals in pre-game warmups.”
Johansson was mobbed by his teammates.
“I’m amazed it’s still standing,” he said of the record kick.
Johansson injured his knee in the Shrine Bowl in Pasadena, Texas near Houston at the end of the season. Told he would never kick again, Johansson was selected by the Houston Oilers in the 12th round of the 1977 NFL Draft. At 28 years, 281 days old, he is the oldest player to ever be selected in the NFL Draft.
His injured knee wasn’t fully healed when he told Oilers coach Bum Phillips he just couldn’t do it. A few months later, the Philadelphia Eagles offered him a tryout at Veterans Stadium. Still not 100 percent, he signed with the Eagles for 1977 and made one of four field-goal attempts and one of three extra points. His NFL career lasted about as long as his college football career.
“I think he could have been an outstanding kicker in the NFL,” Bullington said had Johansson not injured his knee.
In 1980, Johansson got his security license and began what’s been a long and successful career in financial planning, and April, whom he married right before that memorable football season in 1976, started her advertising agency in Amarillo that still is flourishing today.
It’s been quite the journey for the pair, one who took a gamble on asking a pretty girl for a phone number, the other who took a gamble on a Swedish soccer player.
“I am the poster child for the American dream, there’s no doubt,” Johansson said. “I scream about it all the time. I am so fortunate, it’s ridiculous.”