Hungarian Conservative

Happy Birthday to Pete Gogolak, the Hungarian Who Changed the NFL Forever

Legendary Hungarian American football player Pete Gogolak practises his famous kick.
Pete Gogolak practising his famous kick
Pete Gogolak, a Hungarian immigrant, changed the way placekickers take field goal attempts in the NFL—his ‘soccer-style’ method is still used in the league today. He is celebrating his 82nd birthday today.

When we mention Hungarian football players making a lasting impact on the game, one would surely think of European football, or soccer, as they call it in the United States. We have the likes of Gyula Zsengellér, Ferenc Puskás, Nándor Hidegkuti, Gyula Grosics, or Flórián Albert—and Péter Gogolák, who left his mark on a different kind of football across the ocean.

Pete Gogolak, as he is known in the United States, played two seasons for the American football team Buffalo Bills in the AFL in 1964–1965, then eight seasons for the New York Giants in the NFL in 1966–1974.

He played as a placekicker, but as no ordinary one:

he revolutionized the way field goal and extra point attempts are taken in American football.

Gogolak is celebrating his 82nd birthday today. He was born on 18 April 1942 in Budapest, Hungary; and emigrated to the United States at age 14 with his family, following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Given the fact that as a boy growing up in Hungary he only got acquainted with European football, he carried his kicking style into his new game as well when he started playing football for the Cornell University team.

Instead of approaching the ball with a straight run-up and kicking the ball with his toes, known as ‘the conventional method,’ he kicked the ball the way a soccer player would: running up at an angle, then connecting with his instep.

He got drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the twelfth round in 1964. In his first season, Gogolak’s new method proved to be a game-changer: he became the AFL’s most effective placekicker, converting 60.9 per cent of his field goal attempts.

Pete Gogolak in action PHOTO: Reddit

His outstanding performance as a kicker made New York Giants owner Wellington Mara want to sign him so badly (no wonder, his kicker at the time ended a season with a 0.067 conversion rate…) that he went against the tradition of not signing players from the other league—the Giants were playing in the NFL, while the Bills were playing in the AFL. The subsequent discussion between the team owners led to the AFL–NFL merger of 1966, which, in turn, gave us the Super Bowl, one of the great sporting spectacles of our time.

Pete Gogolak’s invention slowly took over American football, with classic straight-toe kickers being completely eliminated from the game. With that, the average field goal attempt conversion rate in the league increased significantly, with it being below 50 per cent (49.6 per cent) in 1963 before Gogolak came onto the scene, to it being 60.6 per cent in his last season, in 1974. In the last NFL season in 2023, 85.9 per cent of field goal attempts were successful—with Gogolak’s ‘soccer-style’ kick still being the prominent method used by kickers.

The Evolution of NFL Kickers

Thank you to SeatGeek for sponsoring this video! Use code KTO for $20 off your first order. Kickers have come a long way in the last 100 years. From the toe punchers, to the barefoot kickers, and everything in between, this video shows the evolution of what made kickers who they are today.

Gogolak went on to become the New York Giants’ top scorer with 646 points scored, a record he still holds to this day. He won the AFL twice with the Buffalo Bills, but, alas, never got to win the Super Bowl with the Giants—in fact, they never even made it to the big game. Gogolak broke the record for the longest field goal ever scored, from 57 yards, in 1964 while playing for the Bills. That record has since been broken multiple times, however, and is currently held by Justin Tucker from the Baltimore Ravens, who scored a 66-yard field goal in 2021.

Unfortunately, Gogolak’s career ended abruptly in November 1974, after he missed two key field goal attempts, costing his team two games. He retired after that season at just age 32.

Given that salaries in the NFL were not what they are today, Gogolak spent the next decades working as a sales executive with the printing firm RR Donnelley. He is still alive and well today, residing in Darien, Connecticut.

Happy birthday, Mr Gogolak!

And congratulations on your illustrious career that revolutionized American football.

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Pete Gogolak, a Hungarian immigrant, changed the way placekickers take field goal attempts in the NFL—his ‘soccer-style’ method is still used in the league today. He is celebrating his 82nd birthday today.