TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 1988, SPORTS
Copyright 1988/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
He Forgets His Sock but Still Gives a Boot
He’s the most devastating offensive force in the history of the Rams. A regular juggernaut. Care to identify him?
Eric Dickerson? Naw. Eric would have needed 37 more touchdowns to catch this guy. Crazy Legs Hirsch? No contest.
Bob Waterfield? Well, you’re warm. In fact, this guy just passed old Buckets on Sunday, becoming the most prolific scorer in Rams history.
They didn’t stop the game, bronze the ball. Nobody made any speeches. No standing ovations. Not even much of a sitting one. The ref just threw his hands up in the air, as usual, to signify that mighty Mike Lansford had scored again. Just tee it up and let’s get on with the game.
You look at his statistics and you figure Mike Lansford is somewhere between 6-6 and 9-feet tall, that he weighs in the neighborhood of 255, with sprinter’s speed and answers to the nickname of Iron Neck, or Magic or maybe even Bronco.
Well, Mike Lansford might just be 6 feet or a little over, he weighs just about 180 and he has never carried, caught or even fallen on a football in a league game in his career. He has never touched a football with anything but his bare foot in years. He can run just faster than junk mail and has all the moves of a cable car.
He has the perfect set of muscles for his job — none. He buys his shoes one at a time. He doesn’t have to wear pads. He not only doesn’t need cleats, he doesn’t even need shoes. He’s the only guy on the team who hopes somebody runs into him as he is scoring. It means he gets another chance in case he misses.
You know how some guys spend their lives working out with weights, on exercise cycles? They have to watch their diets, too. But Mike could be eating a hot fudge sundae or a chili dog on the sidelines and it wouldn’t make any difference. No one cares what he runs the 40 in. His longest run of the day is to the sidelines.
The Rams couldn’t win without him. They have scored 369 points this season and Lansford has scored 109 of them. Often they were the most important 109. With an offense that seems to get vapor lock in the heat of the opposition goal line, the Rams need their regular scoring machine.
The Rams have scored 27 touchdowns passing, 15 running and one on an interception, but the season would be over if it weren’t for the four field goals Lansford kicked in the Super Dome to beat New Orleans, 12-10, on Oct. 30. Last season, his 3-pointer beat the St. Louis Cardinals on the last play of the game. Five of his field goals this year and 27 in his career have been longer than 40 yards and four have been more than 50.
Yet, he’s the only guy on the team who makes the fan wince when he goes in the game. This is because Lansford belongs to that hardy breed who go in the game shoeless and sockless.
“It looks as if it had to hurt like hell,” admits Lansford.
It looks as if it would demolish toenails, followed by toes and the arches and the rest of the bottom of the leg.
Actually, kicking barefoot is good for the sole, Lansford explains. First of all, you kick the ball with your instep, not your toe. A bare foot has less chance of introducing a variable into the impact, a lace, a sock, a scuff.
You have to keep your foot dry. You also have to keep it warm. You can wear leg-warmers, like a ballet dancer, in sub-zero sidelines, but you have to hope the snap is quick when you’re standing on a pile of tundra in Green Bay or Cleveland in December or January.
This modern-day Shoeless Joe went to this impractical tactic for the most practical of reasons: accuracy.
“In college (where he once made 73 consecutive extra points for Washington), I was kicking off a 3-inch tee. When I got to the pros (where the tee is not allowed), I was kicking the ball right into the backside of my center. I knew I had to get some trajectory. Or get a truck.”
Taking off a shoe was a small price to pay. Mike Lansford would have taken off the rest of his uniform for an NFL contract.
“I kick for the mortgage,” he explains succinctly.
He was also, as it turns out, kicking for the Rams record book.
You would think, given its importance, that teams would pick kickers as carefully as they do quarterbacks and linebackers. The rest of the Rams specialists cost the front office a bundle in cash, trades, draft choices. Mike Lansford cost them bus fare.
Cut after tryouts with the New York Giants, Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, this barefoot boy came walking onto the Rams practice field with his shoe in his hand and has delivered 574 points to the team to date, one more than the heretofore all-time leader, Bob Waterfield.
Waterfield did it the hard way —13 touchdowns rushing besides the 315 points after touchdown and 60 field goals. Waterfield also threw 99 touchdown passes, whose points were ascribed to receivers. Lansford has 217 extra points and 119 field goals for 574 points, one more than Waterfield.
At 30, though, the Rams’ barefoot boy is at the bare beginnings, so to speak, of his career. Running backs, even quarterbacks, are on the back nine at that point in their careers. Kickers are only at the third or fourth tee. They don’t have to worry about knee or neck or shoulder injuries. Their worst occupational hazard is an occasional blood blister on the instep or the danger from infection.
“Sometimes, sand on the field can get between the ball and your foot and can scrape the skin,” Lansford says.
Lansford’s ambition would be to kick in a domed arena, as does New Orleans’ Morten Andersen.
“There’s no wind and no grass to interfere with the (holder’s) ball plant,” he says.
Also, your foot doesn’t turn blue.
Youngsters growing up in football usually have idols such as running backs, wide receivers, passers, even linebackers, guys nicknamed Slingin’ Sammy, or the Jet, or Mean Joe. Lansford’s idol was a guy named Bruce, kicker Bruce Gossett, whose record strictly for kicking — 571 points — Lansford also broke Sunday.
Mike knew who Waterfield was, all right. But Bob’s trouble probably was, he broke the kickers’ code. He got his uniform dirty.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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