In 1964, Jan Stenerud was running the stadium steps at Montana State University (MSU) when he heard the booming voice of the school’s football coach call him down to the field. The coach had heard that Stenerud—a soccer player from Norway on a skiing scholarship—had a right foot on him.
Did he ever. The following season at MSU, Stenerud booted what was then the longest field goal ever made—a 59-yarder. The Kansas City Chiefs eventually drafted him into the old American Football League. At the time, professional football was far less refined, particularly for a kicker. “There was no one to teach me the steps, so the steps you see kickers do now is pretty much what I came up with,” he says. “In those days they brought six or seven kickers to camp, so you competed every day to see if you could survive, and finally I was the last one standing.”
Stenerud played for two decades (primarily in Kansas City) and in 1991 became the only placekicker enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, the 67-year-old Colorado Springs resident works as a development executive for HNTB, an infrastructure firm that helped design Invesco Field at Mile High and other stadiums. He still follows the game, although he notices a distinct difference between the media scrutiny today and during his time. “Very seldom did you read, for example, about someone getting picked up for DUI. Those things happened, but we weren’t under the microscope as much,” he says. “Now when you read the sports page, you get the impression that they’re mostly rough characters. Most of the young men are really fine people, but the couple who get in trouble dominate the headlines, so you get a skewed picture of what’s going on.”