Renowned Placekicker Nick Lowery ’74 Shares Life Lessons Learned on the Athletic Fields

Renowned Placekicker Nick Lowery ’74 Shares
Life Lessons Learned on the Athletic Fields

“It’s not how many times you fall down—it’s how many times you get up. … The great things in life take a tremendous amount of persistence, vision, and purpose.”

—Nick Lowery ’74, Former Placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs

 

Many thanks to Danny Rouhier ’97, Joan Roskosh, and Mark Wilkerson for contributing to the creation of this video.


The Kick

BY N. BROOKS CLARK ’74

Thirty years ago this November, Lowery became a St. Albans legend by making a 40-plus-yard, game-winning field goal to defeat Landon in the final game of the season. Teammate Brooks Clarke ’74 recalls “The Kick” in detail.

Looking out the Cafritz Refectory windows, you could see waves of heat shimmering over Massachusetts Avenue. It was 1973, the week before school started, and we were practicing football three times a day. “Mr. Johnson would like to say a few words,” said Head Coach Gary Gardiner.

“Close your eyes, boys,” said Dick Johnson, a master at the old-style edifying pep talk. “That’s the way a blind man sees.”

A retired stockbroker, Mr. Johnson had offered enough helpful tips through the chain-link fence to St. Albans kickers and punters that he had become special teams coach, charged with honing the talents of placekicker Nick Lowery ’74.

Mr. Johnson believed there was a payoff for doing the right things in life. He and Coach Gardiner both believed in mental preparation.

At every practice, the offense practiced the two-minute drill and field goals as an entire kicking team, with center Riyad Said ’74 snapping, co-captain Jim Farrell ’74 holding, Lowery kicking, and everyone else blocking their defenders. “Mr. Johnson stressed that it is critical to maintain the routine,” said Farrell, “so we did it the same every time, without any variation.”

On a rainy November 9, 1973, with a cross-wind whipping over our home field, St. Albans trailed Landon 7-6 with four and a half minutes to play. Earlier, we had missed an extra point because of a slippery ball and an errant snap.

The last drive started on the St. Albans twenty-yard line. “I looked over at David Powers [’74] in the huddle,” Farrell, a tight end/defensive end, recalled. “I could see in his eyes that he didn’t want to lose this game.”

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Nick Lowery ’74 with cake on his face

The Bulldog offense willed its way down the field, combining diving catches by Farrell and gritty runs by Powers, Jerry Howe ’74, and fullback Chris Howe ’75. On fourth and one with fifty-two seconds to play, halfback Michael Gross ’75 ran for the first down inside the thirty-five.

On the sideline, Lowery paced back and forth, repeating, “I know I can do it. I know I can do it,” and taking practice kicks into a lacrosse net.

On a third and six from the twenty-six, halfback Jerry Howe churned off-tackle for eight yards before being tackled by Landon safety Mike Cosimano, who was knocked unconscious.

During the delay as Cosimano was being helped off the field, Said went to the bench and sprayed his hands with Stick ’Em. On third down, with twenty-six seconds remaining, Gross tried a sweep to the right but was tackled inbounds for a five-yard loss. “We were on the right hash mark of the twenty-four-yard line,” said Jerry Howe. “I remember looking up and seeing that there were eighteen seconds left with no way to stop the clock.”

The kicking unit scrambled to set up. The last play of the game—and our season—would be attempting a forty-three-yard field goal. Farrell set up on his left knee eight yards behind the center, one yard more than the usual, to allow an extra moment for a slippery placement and an extra-long kick. Calculating the left-to-right wind, Lowery lined up to aim for the left upright.

“I remember watching the Landon spectators as they did a joyous countdown,” said guard Paul Shorb ’74. “‘Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! …’”

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The 1973 football squad

Farrell turned to Lowery—as part of the routine—and said, “Keep your head down, and follow through.” Lowery’s eyes were fixed on the spot where the ball would be placed. Farrell placed his hands in the air to give Said a target, and gave the flick of his hands to start the play. Said made the snap, low and a little to Farrell’s right. Farrell grabbed it and brought it across his body to make the placement.

Lowery kicked it. As the ball arched upward, the Landon fans fell silent.

After making his block, linebacker Tom Conant ’74 stood up beside his opponent. “We stood there, side by side, the two of us tracking that pigskin through the rain as it sailed on, on, on through the uprights on toward 34th Street. ‘Oh no,’ he moaned. Then all hell broke loose.”

“I ended up in a pile and was unable to see the kick clear the crossbar,” Evan Bayh ’74 recalled. “Only the roar of the crowd informed me that we had won the game. The next thing I knew, what seemed like a thousand fans were piling on top of us from all directions.”

Back in our locker room, a cake, intended to celebrate the last game, presented an irresistible temptation. Safety Shippen Howe ’74 held it up, expressed the team’s appreciation, then shoved the cake into Lowery’s face. Lowery used the snapshot of his beaming, frosting-covered face for his yearbook photo.

“We willed it to happen,” said Farrell. “It was an example of people putting their heads together and refusing to fail. Of course, in the end, you have to hand it to Nick.”

After Dartmouth, Lowery was cut eleven times by eight teams over two years before he made it on the Kansas City Chiefs, where he unseated his idol Jan Stenerud and became one of the most prolific field-goal kickers in history.

But Nick Lowery still treasures the memory of the Kick. “Some of the most talented players in the pros never get the chance to do something like that. It’s one of the greatest highs in sports to have that excitement of winning a game.”