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Steelers Steelers uncover old-style kicker

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

They're as rare as the drop kick, leather helmets and high-topped shoes. Place-kickers don't kick footballs with their toes anymore and haven't since Steve Cox did so with the Washington Redskins in 1987. Straight-on kickers are the dodo birds of football.

Canadian Burke Dales guesses his "ratty-tatty" kicking shoe is going on 30 years old. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette photos)

But that won't stop Canadian Burke Dales from trying to become the first to do it in the NFL in 15 years.

Dales, 25, is an undrafted rookie on the Steelers' roster. They list him as a punter, but they're also trying him on kickoffs. He did both at Concordia University in Montreal as well as kicking long field goals, and he did so using a square-toed right shoe that's older than he is.

"I think it's about a 1970s model," said Dales, holding the Nike low-cut that is held together in places with tape. "My head coach at Concordia [Gerry McGrath] used to kick straight-on style in the CFL. He passed it down to me. It's kind of ratty-tatty right now."

Burke has attracted attention from his new teammates with tales of his antiquated kicking style.

"It's unbelievable," punter Josh Miller said. "I can't wait to see it."

Said tight end Mark Bruener: "Wow. I've never seen one. I've seen some guys on NFL films. That's a definite version of old school right there."

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Mark Moseley was really the last of the NFL's straight-on kickers because Cox was a punter who kicked off and tried the occasional long field goal. The old breed headed toward extinction when the immigrant Gogolak brothers showed the pros a new and more efficient way to kick in the 1960s -- soccer style. Pete Gogolak made his debut in 1964, Charlie Gogolak followed in '66, and soon the pros were flooded with foreign kickers who knew nothing about the sport but had a better way to kick.

As soccer-style kickers flourished, so did field-goal accuracy in the NFL.

So, Burke is bucking success and history. Jim Czesnakowski Jr., 41, is reportedly the last straight-on kicker in a professional football league. Czesnakowski, a Greater Latrobe High School graduate who lives in Penn Hills, kicked last season for the Johnstown J-Dogs of the National Indoor Football League. He also kicked for the minor-league Pittsburgh Colts and will do so for the Pittsburgh Power of the Ohio Valley Football League this year.

Czesnakowski began kicking 30 years ago when fellow Westmoreland County native George Blanda was his idol and almost all kickers kicked straight on. He's maintained that link with what otherwise would be a lost art.

"Why are they extinct?" Czesnakowski said. "No. 1, accuracy. People believe that when the ball is placed on the spot, if it's off a little to the left or right, a straight-on kicker will more than likely miss the kick, whereas a soccer-style kicker has a better chance to adapt to a bad mark of the ball. No. 2, with the popularity of soccer, coaches are running down and grabbing them from soccer teams."

Todd Peterson, who signed as a free agent to kick for the Steelers this year, believes soccer-style kickers have more accuracy and power.

"A straight-on kicker has a smaller surface area," Peterson said. "As much as hitting the ball hard, you have to hit it right. You can hit the ball with tons of leg speed, but hit the wrong part of the ball and the ball doesn't go anywhere."

But Czesnakowski believes a square-toed kicker has an advantage as long as his first step is an accurate one.

Blast from the past or harbinger of the future? Steelers free agent Burke Dales employs a straight-on kicking style and a shoe to match.

"He should never miss because a straight-on kick has no hook or draw; it goes straight."

Dales has shown a powerful leg but is a long shot to make the Steelers. Peterson will handle the place-kicking chores. Dales would have to knock Coach Bill Cowher's socks off with his kickoffs for him to carry two kickers.

"He's very strong, very athletic," said Kevin Spencer, the Steelers' new special teams coach. "He did it the other day, and I said, 'Wow!' It's kind of unique."

So is the shoe. Dales borrowed his coach's old model because with the near extinction of straight-on kickers, the square-toed shoes followed. Dales did not kick off in rookie orientation camp in April because his only kicking shoe was mailed from Montreal and did not find its way here in time.

He's looking for another, more modern version. He doesn't have to go far to get one. Czesnakowski has several, made by legendary Lawrenceville cobbler Bucky Palermo. They cost about $80.

"I talked to Bucky," Czesnakowski said. "He said to have the kid call him."

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