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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,266

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This is the grave of Garo Yepremian.

Born in Larnaca, Cyprus in 1944, Garabed Yepremian grew up in the Armenian expat community there. His family had fled the genocide in Armenia in 1915. The family then fled Cyprus for England when Turkey threatened to invade Cyprus, which finally happened in 1974. They weren’t going to wait around for another round of the Turks. He came to the United States to play soccer at Butler University in Indianapolis. His brother had preceded him for the Bulldogs. Yepremian could not play at Butler though in the end. Turned out he had played a bit of semipro soccer in London and that was it for his NCAA eligibility. Can’t have players making money after all.

So Yepremian was in Indy and he watched an NFL game. He was like, hey I could kick a ball better than these guys. And in this era of the 1960s, kicking was really very bad. So his brother agreed to try and get him a job and in 1966, he had a tryout with the Detroit Lions. He made the team and was really good. He set the NFL rookie as a record with 6 field goals in a single game.

But Yepremian faced a tremendous amount of xenophobia. Even though for those of us who grew up in the 1980s, it seemed like every kicker was either Mexican or European, at the time, Yepremian was one of the first foreigners to ever play in the NFL. And other players hated him. In fact, they wanted to drive him out of the game. They tried to hurt him. It got so bad that the Lions coach told him to just run to the sidelines after he kicked off. The first time he tried this, he ran to the other team’s sideline. The Packers’ Ray Nitschke actually did get to him and hurt him by driving him into the ground. He had refused to wear any kind of protection other than the basic helmet that was required because he found it uncomfortable, but after Nitschke nearly killed him (literally), he became the last player in NFL history to wear agree to wear a facemask on his helmet.

Yepremian volunteered for the U.S. military in 1967 and worked as a cook at Fort Carson in Colorado. He was only in there a year, but the Lions chose not to resign him. He had to get an assembly line job at the local Ford plant. But he still wanted to play. So he kicked for the Michigan Arrows of something called the Continental Football League in 1969 and then the Miami Dolphins signed him in 1970. His great years on those outstanding Dolphins teams of the 70s is what we remember him for today. He was the team’s leading scorer and was generally an excellent kicker. He was a first team NFL All Pro in 1971 and 1973 and made the Pro Bowl in 1973 and 1978. Yepremian was the kicker on the 1970s All Decade Team. Now, compared to the present, his kicking still wasn’t very good–he was a 67 percent field goal kicker for his career. But it’s still all about context for the time. That said, since kickers are unfairly discriminated against by the Hall of Fame, as they are in everything related to the game, he is one of only two first-team All Decade Players from the 70s to not be elected to the Hall of Fame. Now that Ray Guy has gotten in, it’s even more egregious that Yepremian isn’t in there. Rick Upchurch, the kick returner, is the only other one. Heck, almost all of the second team is in, which is a reminder that it’s weird that L.C. Greenwood is one of those who have never made it.

Yepremian became someone infamous for one of the worst plays in NFL history, when in Super Bowl VII, the Dolphins were leading the Redskins 14-0. Yepremian attempted a field goal and it was blocked. He got to the block and for some reason picked it up and tried to throw it. That was easily picked off and returned for a touchdown. It was idiotic, but then Yepremian was well-known for not really understanding the rules of the game. In any case, the Dolphins ended up winning 14-7, so it was a joke rather than true infamy. But it could have been different. The team just started screaming at him. Nick Buoniconti yelled “We lose this game, I’ll kill you.” He was genuinely scared. And quite frankly, his more awful teammates–Bob Kuechenberg most notably–held it against him for the rest of his life and was bitter than he would make money by talking about screwing up that play. Of course Kuechenberg also led the annual ridiculous celebrations when the last undefeated team lost every year, something Yepremian notably did not care about as he just wanted other players to win and be happy. He left the Dolphins after the 1978 season, kicked for the Saints in 1979, and then kicked for the Buccaneers in 1980 and 1981 before retiring. He also appeared in an episode of The Odd Couple.

In retirement, Yepremian worked as a motivational speaker and started a business making outlandish and garish neckties. His motivational speaking was very much of the type where “IBM will pay you a bunch of money to talk about how great America is as an immigrant who sees the nation as a land of opportunity.” As if being a kicker was something anyone can do. But he made money and I can’t blame him for that. Later, he started a foundation against brain cancer after his young daughter-in-law contracted brain cancer and died at only 28 years old. But then he himself also contracted brain cancer. That killed him in 2015. He was 70 years old.

Garo Yepremian is buried in Oaklands Cemetery, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

If you would like this series to visit other kickers–and I know this is every LGM reader’s dream–you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Lou Groza is in North Olmsted, Ohio and Lou Michaels is in Swoyersville, Pennsylvania. The vast majority of kickers on the career leader boards are alive and well because of the development of kicking games in the last few decades, so I have to work to fulfill the kicker grave demands around here. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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