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Footnote in History

December 25, 2002|Vince Agul | Special to The Times

It was New Year's Day 1956, and at the Rose Bowl, 30 or so rows up on about the 35-yard line, Alvin Kajzerkowski, his parents, two sisters, a brother-in-law and a nephew got to their feet, as did more than 100,000 other fans, to get a better view of the final play of the game, a field-goal attempt.

The score was 14-14, seven seconds remained, ball on the UCLA 31, Michigan State in possession.

The long trip west from their home in Alpena, Mich., had been a dream come true for Adam and Gertrude Kajzerkowski. Their youngest child, Dave, was a sophomore and the starting right end for Michigan State, and they had seen all of his games, home and away, since he'd started at the Pee Wee level.

The official program, however, listed no "Kajzerkowski" on the Spartans' roster, and that was just one of the confusing little things about this particular Rose Bowl game.

Dave's three brothers had all been outstanding athletes. The two oldest, Stan and Gerald, had been baseball players, and Al, like Dave, had been a four-year football letterman at Alpena High. The sportswriters in Dave's hometown had tired of spelling out "Kajzerkowski" in their stories and had shortened the name to "Kaiser." So that was the name he played under.

With the game down to its final seconds and the fans going crazy, as Michigan State went back into its huddle, Spartan quarterback Earl Morrall said to Kaiser, "We need a field goal, Dave. You kick it."

In today's football, quarterbacks don't call plays and specialists, not position players, do the kicking. But in '56, when the Michigan State offense took the field, Morrall was pretty much in charge. And Kaiser was one of two placekickers.

"The coaches gave us the opening sequence of plays in our games, but after that, Earl called them all," recalled Kaiser.

That's also how the late Duffy Daugherty, the coach, remembered it in "The Spartans, A History of Michigan State Football," written by the late Fred Stabley, Michigan State's longtime sports information director.

"Earl called practically every play in every game," Daugherty told Stabley, adding that he sent in maybe three or four every game. "The rest of the time he was on his own."

At the Rose Bowl, Daugherty made a minor exception to his play-calling rule but, as it turned out, both quarterback and coach were of the same mind.

"Rudy Gaddini came in holding a kicking tee," remembered Kaiser.

" 'Duffy wants Dave to kick a field goal," Kaiser recalled the substitute halfback shouting to make himself heard over the crowd's roar.

Earlier, another kicker, fullback Jerry Planutis, had kicked two extra points and had tried -- and missed -- two field-goal attempts. Planutis was on the field too, so there was confusion in the stands and even in the press box about who would be making the deciding field-goal attempt for the Spartans. Most assumed it would be Planutis.

The late Stabley, in his book, wrote, "Even the official play-by-play report distributed in the press box named Planutis as the kicker."

Kaiser said the probable cause for the confusion was Michigan State's offense hurrying to get a play going.

State had been penalized the previous play for delay of game and did not want another penalty.

Even Kaiser's own father didn't realize his son was the kicker.

To this day, both Dave and his brother Al insist that NBC sportscaster Mel Allen, who was doing the telecast, "was the only guy who got it right."

*

The road to Michigan State had not been a direct one for Kaiser. The school had actually been his second choice. He'd gone to Notre Dame as a freshman.

At 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, Kaiser had been an outstanding high school running back at Alpena High, all-state his junior and senior seasons, prep All-America as a senior.

Alpena, a town of about 10,000 on Lake Huron's Thunder Bay, was best known in the early '50s for its chinook fishing -- it still is -- and its outstanding high school football teams.

The prime reasons for the latter were Kaiser and the school's highly successful coach, Bob Devaney.

Kaiser finally chose Notre Dame, rather than joining his brother Al at Michigan State.

"I wanted to play for Frank Leahy and my parents were Catholic," he said.

When Leahy resigned for health reasons after the 1953 season, and Terry Brennan was named his successor, Kaiser began thinking of transferring to Michigan State, where Devaney, his old high school coach, was now an assistant.

He made the switch in the fall of 1954, then asked to move from running back to end. The coaching staff readily agreed.

Out of uniform, Kaiser, who wore heavy, plastic-rim glasses, looked more like a graduate assistant than a football player. He sometimes wore contact lenses but they were the old-style cup type that irritated his eyes and Kaiser said he never wore them in games.

"I never had any trouble following the ball," he said. "I held the school record for yards per completion for years until Kirk Gibson broke it."

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