Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How Many Could Name Him?

We came across the photo above which is from the Packers’ 1961 NFL Championship game, Lombardi’s first title and a 37-0 victory over the New York Giants. The player at far right — K Ben Agajanian — has no face mask. Who was the last NFL player to go without facial protection, you may ask? A quick Google search revealed the following:

“Veteran kicker Garo Yepremian was the last player to go without a facemask in 1967 (although another source lists Tommy McDonald as the last). Some players continued to hold true to the old single-bar facemasks, preferring the better sightlines into the 1980s and beyond. Former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was the last non-kicker to wear the single bar up until his retirement in 1985. The single-bar facemask was officially ruled illegal in 2004, though players who wore it previously were grandfathered in. On Oct. 7, 2007, the single bar made its final appearance on an NFL field when Scott Player of the Browns punted five times in a 34-17 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. That was the last game for Player, who was the last to wear the single bar. He was released the following training camp by the Patriots and their football history-loving coach, Bill Belichick.” 
—Sports Illustrated

“Beginning in 1955, all NFL players were required to wear a facemask, though individuals could ask for special permission from the commissioner to play without one. The last pros to regularly play with an open-face helmet were Tommy McDonald, a feisty little end who concluded his 12-year Hall-of-Fame career with Cleveland in 1969, and defensive tackle Jess Richardson, who quit playing for the Boston Patriots in 1964. Remarkably, Richardson never lost a single tooth in a dozen pro seasons (though he did have his nose broken at least 10 times).
       Bobby Layne, McDonald, and Richardson were every-down kind of players. Some starters who doubled as punters, kickers, and holders had a second helmet they used strictly for special teams. There are game-action photographs of Yale Lary and Pat Studstill wearing an open-face helmet while punting, and the Lions’ 1969 highlight film shows Wayne Rasmussen holding for placekicks without a facemask or even a chinstrap. The reason, of course, was increased visibility: even a single bar across the face might obscure a player’s vision at a critical moment.
       Even then, the rewards didn’t always warrant the risk. Take the case of Lions rookie kicker Garo Yepremian in 1966. The little immigrant from Cyprus knew nothing about the game and had little appreciation for just how violent it could be. (Alex Karras famously quoted him as shrieking “I keek a touchdown!”) A vicious hit by Green Bay’s Ray Nitschke was enough to convince the clueless kicker to switch over to a single bar. “I would wake up every morning with blood in my mouth,” Yepremian explained. “I learned my lesson.”
— Detroit Athletic Company

Of course, there were many kickers and punters over the last 50+ years who had a single bar lowered at such an angle as to be basically facemark-less.

We’re sure there are others that may be the last. If you have more information, please let us know.

“Ben Agajanian played for the Packers that one year (1961), and is considered the first “kicking specialist” in pro football. Known as “The Toeless Wonder”, he had four toes on his kicking foot crushed off in a work accident. The Armenian-American kicked field goals for 14 different teams during his professional career that spanned from the 1940s to the 1960s. He was one of only two players to play in the All-America Football Conference, the American Football League and the National Football League. After his playing career he became pro football’s first ever kicking coach. His creative teaching ideas enabled him to devise the method of which soccer-style kickers align and approach the ball when kicking field goals. This method was so innovative that it is still the primary way used by soccer-style kickers today. When he retired as a player, Agajanian served as the Dallas Cowboys’ kicking coach for 20 years.”
— American Football Kicking Hall of Fame

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