1967-1970
FRED RAPOPORT

Like most kids who went to their first Red Sox game and walked up the tunnel to see the emerald green grass and the players warming up at Fenway Park, I was in awe. My first Red Sox game was in 1957 when I was seven years old and I was hooked on baseball and the Sox from that day on.

Of course I started collecting baseball cards and in later I bought those "Wilson" baseball scorebooks and started scoring the Sox games that were on TV, listening to  Curt Gowdy and Ned Martin, or hearing them on my transistor radio, under the covers in my bedroom late at night.

In the fall the Boston Patriots took over Fenway Park when I was in high school. Now I was able to walk behind the stands constructed in left field and gaze into the scoreboard. How small the rows of numbers looked inside, and there must have been a million dents on that wall from the batted balls of Yaz and Tony C.

And then, in 1967, I was a freshman at Boston University. It was easy to experience many games of the "Impossible Dream" season in the bleachers with my friends. After all, we lived just down the street in the West Campus dorms overlooking Nickerson Field and it was an easy walk down to Kenmore Square.

And Nickerson Field? Was that really the home of the Boston Braves? Were the stands that were there really a part of the old ballpark? I wondered where home plate was located and where was the mound that Warren Spahn pitched from?

My first memory of Nickerson Field came in 1960.  I was ten years old and my summer camp counselor took me and a bunch of kids to the very first Boston Patriots game ever played there. I'm pretty sure it was just a pre-season exhibition game. I remember that the area where the West Campus dorms would be later located, was just a paved over mound.

When I applied to colleges, my two choices were B.U. and Syracuse.  I chose B.U. because of the engineering program plus the financial aid I was able to get.  So off to college I went.  I kicked extra points in high school and had every intention of going out for the football team and trying out to be the kicker for Boston University.

The football field was regular turf back then and our practice field was behind the visitor’s stands and ran perpendicular to Babcock Street, where the Case Center now sits.  It was just dirt and no grass.  The head coach was Warren Schmakel and his offensive coach was Larry Naviaux.  Back then the freshmen had their own team and our coach was Foge Fazio.  So on the day I had my tryout, the three of them stood at the base of the goal post on the far end of the practice field and told me just to kick field goals off a kicking tee.  All I remember is the three of them turning, watching the ball zoom over their heads, and telling me to move further back.  After a while, Coach Fazio walked out to me and told me to come and play for the freshman team.  B.U. had many players in the past, who also kicked extra points and an occasional field goal in, but on that night I became B.U.’s first kicking specialist. 

As I said, we had a freshman team, because freshman could not play on the varsity in the late 1960s.  We lost only one game and I even kicked an extra point to win a game against Maine.  But the funniest moment came against Northeastern in our final game of the season (I think we only played five games).  We were at Nickerson Field, ahead something like 25-0 late in the fourth quarter and it was snowing.  It was the kind of snow that only sticks to the grass and makes everything else muddy.  We scored another touchdown and I went in for the extra point.  Pete Yetten, our quarterback, was also my holder.  Unknown to me, he told our center to snap the ball directly to me and told the lineman not to block.  So I lined up the kick (I was a straight-on kicker, not soccer style) and the ball was snapped.  Pete never made an attempt to catch the ball and I saw it in my peripheral vision and caught it.  A second later I had the whole Northeastern defensive line, who were pissed off anyway, jumping on me and slamming me into the mud.  All I remember is getting up and seeing all my teammates jogging off the field and laughing.  Then I get to the sideline and got hollered at by Al Sikoian (our crusty old equipment manager) for getting my uniform dirty for the first time that year.

Sophomore year (1968) I had another memorable event that made the newspapers.  I was the field goal kicker only.  Fred McNeilly, who was a year ahead of me, had been the PAT kicker and Dick Devore was our defensive end and could boom kickoffs into the end zone.  Obviously Coach Schmakel would rather have a big defensive end, running downfield on a kick-off to make a tackle, rather than me (I was 5’10” and 165 lbs … wish I weighed that now … LOL).  So I was delegated to just kicking field goals that year.  Being B.U.’s first kicker, almost every kicking record was mine by the time I graduated, simply because many had not existed before.  One record I broke that year was for the longest field goal ever kicked.  The record was (now wait!!!) 36 yards and it was set by Fred McNeilly in 1966.  Well in a game against U.Conn, I kicked one 39 yards to break the record (impressive, huh???).  Unfortunately for me and my newly established record, U.Conn was offside, and taking the penalty would give us a first down.  Yup, Coach Schmakel took the penalty and wiped out my record.

My junior year (1969) was a bowl year.  We lost only one game and played in the Pasadena Bowl against San Diego State at the Rose Bowl.  The only game we lost was to U.Mass in the final minute of the game, when we fumbled on our own 20 or 30 yard line and they they ended up scoring the winning TD, a play or two after.  We had Bruce Taylor (who would become the 1970 NFL rookie of the year) and Pat Hughes (our captain, who would go on to a long NFL career).  We were just good … very good.  I got very few chances to kick field goals that year because we seemed to always score

During practices, all I did was practice kicking footballs, day after day, week after week, on my own.  They didn’t know what else to do with me, and after a while it got so boring, that I asked Coach Naviaux if I could get more involved and actually play.  After all, I did play center in high school (sorta).  And so, he made me the center for the “Fuck-awee” Squad (that was a play on the name of the lost Indian tribe … the Heck-awees on the popular TV comedy of the time, “F-Troop”).  The Fuck-awees were the offensive team second and third stringers who would run the upcoming opposing team’s offensive plays against our first string defense.  Being the center, I therefore got pounded by our captain and middle linebacker, Pat Hughes, over and over again.  The lesson is … watch out what you wish for !!!!

During my senior year (1970), the kicking job was all mine and I think I led the team in scoring and got recognized as second best kicker in New England behind Richie Szaro from Harvard.  My highlight happened against U.Mass in Amherst.  We wanted that game badly because of what happened the year before.  I kicked a last minute field goal (36 yards) to tie the game and after a fumble or an interception or something, kicked a last second field goal (29 yards) to win it, 13-10.  Many of my high school buddies, who were students at U.Mass were at the game and after, were at the bus, as we were getting on board, to slap me on the back.  I remember two of those knuckleheads, who obviously had had a few beers, fighting over my chin strap (LOL).  And yes, the drinks at the Dugout tasted sweet that night, when we got home. 

I did establish a painful record for extra points in a game (6) against Vermont. It remained a school record until 1993. It was a game in which I played with a groin pull in my kicking leg.  Don’t ask me how I did it, but of all the days to rack up all those points, and of course I kicked (or maybe chipped the ball would be more accurate) all seven of the PATs.  I could barely get the ball over the cross bar, but I gutted it out like the rough tough kicker that I was (LOL).

Against Rutgers on November 7, 1970, I scored the only points in a 6-3 loss. The three points came via a 39 yard field goal (I finally had that school record for the longest field goal).

I did have a shot at playing on the Patriots after I graduated and I remember the day I was scouted.  We were playing against Temple and there was a scout for the Atlanta Falcons and one for the Patriots, standing on the side line, watching Temple’s kicker and me warm up before the game.  (I’m sure they were watching him and I just happened to be there also !!!) I was kicking field goals going toward the dorms and he was obviously kicking down the other end.  We both were moving back towards the center of the field as we practiced and we both were looking over our shoulders watching each other.  Anyway, his name was Nick Mike-Mayer and he ended up playing for the Falcons for ten years.  I got an invite to try out for the Patriots.  My tryout didn’t happen for nine more years.  I got an invite to camp and tryout the next summer. Then the next summer comes along, and I badly sprained my ankle after graduation, probably doing something stupid.  So I was still on crutches and had to miss my big Patriots’ tryout. 

I went to play with the New England Colonials the next fall, who I guess were kind of a Patriots farm team or something.  On the team was the same Richie Szaro, the kicker from Harvard.  It was fun to meet him and kick against him.  He was a good guy who left camp to play in the World Football League with the Atlanta Generals.  I soon left also, because traveling to Foxboro was a pain in the butt and I had a good engineering job that was more important to me than minor league football.  The kicker for the Colonials that year ended up being John Smith, who went on to be the legendary Patriots kicker, the one who the snowplow cleared a spot for in the snow game against the Dolphins at Schaffer Stadium. 

My story ends in the summer of 1979.  I was 29 years old and got a letter from the Patriots asking me to tryout.  John Smith was injured at the end of the previous season and they needed a replacement for insurance.  Why me after almost 10 years???  I guess I was still in their data base and they were calling everyone.  I was still in great shape and was at the gym every day, so to pick up a ball and start kicking again, was no big deal.  Well, of the 63 kickers they tried out in the morning that day (most of who had just graduated college), I made it to the last five that were invited back for the afternoon.  I was 3 for 3 from 35yds, 3 for 3 from 40yds and 2 of 3 from 45yds.  Not real long by today’s standards, but pretty good for back then.  So, I finally got my shot and didn’t make it.  No regrets. That was the end of my football career.

Any of the kicking records I established or broke at B.U. were broken by my successors very quickly … guys like like Mike Morello, Steve Shapiro and Jeff Pelin were much better than I, and they deserve the praise.  The B.U. kickers are now a select fraternity.  There were not many of us who were just kickers.  We were only in the spotlight for less than twenty years, before John Silber brought an end to it all.  I know I wasn’t the best one, but I’m proud to have been the first.

While playing at B.U. I became interested in Braves Field. I collected old photographs of the Boston Braves and located where home plate was many times. It was so weird to have called the home of Warren Spahn, Tommy Holmes and Sibbi Sisti, my home field also. Their ghosts have always haunted me.

In 2015, I took part in the 100th anniversary celebration of Braves / Nickerson Field. Our 1969 Pasadena Bowl team was awarded the best Boston University team ever to play there in any sport, by the Athletic Department. Obviously we weren't at the same level as the 1948 Boston Braves, who played a World Series on the field, but we were the only B.U. football team ever to play in a bowl game.

 

BOSTON UNIVERSITY KICKER STATS