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SUPER BOWL XXI : THE LOSERS : Karlis Kicks Himself for Missing, but the Broncos Don't Fault Him

January 26, 1987|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

Rich Karlis' bad day, which already included two missed field goal attempts from relatively close range that the Denver Broncos' barefoot kicker could have kicked himself over, was about to get worse.

Pen- and microphone-wielding reporters were hovering near his locker at the Rose Bowl early Sunday night after the New York Giants' 39-20 Super Bowl win, all wanting to know exactly how it felt to shank two relatively easy attempts in such an important game.

"Oh no," Karlis moaned as he walked over.

At first, Karlis didn't say a word. He simply sat down, covered his face with a towel and cried.

Regaining composure, he tried to explain missing a 23-yard attempt midway through the second quarter and a 34-yard attempt on the final play of the half. Had Karlis made both, the Broncos would have had a 16-9, as opposed to a 10-9, lead at halftime.

"I just missed them," Karlis said almost in a whisper. "I wasn't aggressive. I tried to steer them. I don't know what to say."

Karlis covered his face again. This time, he managed a few muffled apologies.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I apologize to you guys for being emotional, but I'm hurting right now. I really don't know what went wrong, but I'm hurting."

The day that ended in agony began so well for Karlis and the Broncos.

Less than five minutes into the game, Karlis kicked a 48-yard field goal to give Denver a 3-0 lead. The kick was more than long enough and dead center, and it tied a Super Bowl record for the longest field goal. Kansas City's Jan Stenerud made a 48-yard field goal in the 1970 Super Bowl.

That was the highlight for Karlis. After that, it probably would have been wise for him to slip on that moon boot he wears on his exposed right foot when not kicking and leave the field.

When called upon midway through the second quarter to salvage a Bronco drive that stalled a yard short of a touchdown, Karlis sliced the ball to the right of the goalposts. Karlis, knowing it was a shank as soon as he struck the ball, turned around and ripped off his chin strap.

Redemption was on Karlis' mind right after that miss, and it came on the Broncos' last drive of the first half. The drive broke down at the Giants' 16, and Karlis' second breakdown soon followed. This time, he attempted a 34-yard field goal, but it again sailed right.

When the Broncos met in the locker room at halftime, Karlis wasn't sure what, if anything, his teammates would say to him. Two weeks ago, in the AFC Championship game, he made a pressure field goal in overtime that carried the Broncos to a 23-20 win over the Cleveland Browns. But now . . .

Turns out, they were incredibly supportive. But that seemed to make Karlis hurt all the more.

"The guys were very encouraging," Karlis said. "They said, 'You got us here. We'll give you a chance to win it (in the second half).' The game's not over."

Karlis got another chance, but not when it mattered. He kicked a 27-yard field goal with 6:01 left to play, which made it 33-13, Giants. Redemption, it wasn't. But Karlis might have looked upon New York's second-half assault on the Broncos' defense as something that might fade the memory of his first-half failures.

No way. Karlis said he didn't want to forget.

"I just feel like I was a big reason we lost," he said. "At the time, those were two big kicks. I pride myself on making big kicks, but I couldn't come through. I've also prided myself on giving the team momentum. But I took away the momentum today.

"I was hoping to get a shot at redeeming myself, because I let the team down. It hurt my dreams as well as the dreams of everyone in Denver."

The reaction in Denver is not something Karlis is looking forward to hearing upon his return. Throughout Karlis' five-year career with the Broncos, the fanatics in that city always seem to be more vocal when he misses field goals than when he makes them.

Karlis said recently that during the 1985 season, when he made just 23 of 38 attempts, even his wife was verbally berated at the bank where she works. Will the Karlis family go in hiding during the off-season?

"No, I hope this doesn't make it too difficult in the next few months," Karlis said. "I thought I answered all my critics with a good year (in 1986), but this leaves it on a sour note.

"My personal makeup is that I put the pressure on myself. I give myself all the blame when I miss and we lose. I feel bad because some guys might retire or might not be back to have another chance to win."

Other Broncos did not blame Karlis. Perhaps if they would not have collapsed in the second half, they would have looked upon the missed field goals as having more importance.

"Certainly, that hurt us," Denver Coach Dan Reeves said, referring to the Broncos' inability to score from a yard out in the first half. "How much, I don't know. We should have had seven points down there (midway through the second quarter), first and goal on the one. On the second (miss), it looked like (Karlis) lined up outside the uprights."

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