History, as we all know, is a living thing. More information — better information — comes along, and the record gets revised. Earlier this week I published a post (and photo) about the Colts’ R. C. Owens blocking a field goal try in 1962 in a unique way: He stood back by the goal posts, jumped as high as he could and re-jected a kick attempted by the Redskins.
The newspaper accounts said it was an NFL first, and in all my research I’ve never come across another play like it. (I do remember seeing — on TV — a 1970 game between the Chiefs and Raiders in which Morris Stroud, the Chiefs’ 6-10 tight end, played “goalie” in the closing seconds and nearly blocked a 48-yarder by George Blanda (a boot that left the bitter rivals in a 17-17 deadlock). The Associated Press reported: “The ball barely made it over the crossbar and above the hands of . . . Stroud, who was stationed at the goal line.”
Reader/Facebook buddy/fellow blogger Jack Finarelli brought up another candidate in a comment: Erich Barnes, a six-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the Bears, Giants and Browns from 1958 to ’71. Wrote Jack: “I think I remember [him] doing this also in a game about 1961 or 1962. As I recall, it was considered a ‘blocked field goal’ and was open for recovery.”
So I did a little investigating. Turns out Barnes did do something like that — in 1969, when he was playing for Cleveland. (He may have done it as a Giant, too, but my search of The New York Times archive turned up nothing. It did, though, produce a photo of him blocking a field goal in the conventional fashion against the Rams in ’61.)
Here’s the link to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s story on The Game in Question. The relevant passage is as follows:
The Eagles got on the board in the second quarter after a freak play. Erich Barnes, who also was injured late in the game and may have a cracked rib, leaped high to deflect Sam Baker’s field goal bid.
Erich was playing right in front of the goal posts. He touched the ball and it bounced back in the playing field, where it was recovered by [Philadelphia’s] Tim Rossovich.
So the Eagles had a first down on the Cleveland 2-yard line. They took it into the end zone on two smashes by Tom Woodeshick.
Maybe that’s why Barnes’ play has been forgotten: because, unlike Owens’, it didn’t prevent the opponent from scoring. In fact, it cost the Browns four points — the difference between a field goal and a touchdown.
There’s also uncertainty about whether Baker’s boot would have gone through the uprights. According to United Press International, he “was short on a 44-yard field goal attempt, and Barnes, leaping high at the goal post in a bid to deflect the ball, batted it back on the playing field.”
Which is why it was a live ball — and why the Eagles were able retain possession. Had the kick gone into the end zone, as it (presumably) did in Owens’ case, it would have been ruled a touchback.
What we don’t know — because we don’t have the game film handy — is what UPI meant by “short.” It could have just meant the ball would have barely made it over to the crossbar. Or . . . it could have meant Barnes’ block was superfluous.
I’d like to think this blog can do this kind of stuff often — that is, try to get the facts as straight as we can. The truth, after all, is in the details.
Sources: newspaperarchive.com, The New York Times archive, Cleveland Plain Dealer archive, pro-football-reference.com.