Kicking down the door

The Butler did it again—and this time it's an even bigger achievement than his 60-yard field goal to beat Clemson

B Y - A L E X - C R E V A R - ( A B - '9 3 )

The Chicago Bears of the 1980s were so rough-and-tumble that they got rid of their cheerleaders because they didn't fit the team's image. The Monsters of the Midway had a defense that will forever rank as one of the NFL's most menacing, plus a 300-pound nose guard-turned-fullback known as "The Fridge" and a macho, player-turned-coach named Ditka, whom his players affectionately called "Sybil."

The Bears also had a kicker from Stone Mountain, Ga., who wore a helmet with one bar and rolled-up sleeves, exposing unkicker-like biceps even in the harshest Chicago winters. The tough-guy kicker was Kevin Butler (M '84), who made history at Georgia with a 60-yard field goal to beat Clemson. In December, the Butler did it again when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame—the only kicker ever to be honored.

Top of page: Butler, the school record-holder in career scoring with 353 points, made 77 of 98 field goal attempts—27 of them from 40 yards and beyond.

Above: With his family in attendance, Butler accepts his College Football Hall of Fame plaque from fellow hall of famer Vince Dooley at a ceremony prior to last year's Auburn game.

"Even the kicker had to be tough with the Bears," says the now-retired Butler, who was christened as a professional with a Super Bowl Championship ring in his rookie season in 1985. "I made 11 kickoff tackles that first year, I worked out with the guys—and everyone loved it."

An all-state selection in soccer and as a defensive back and kicker on Redan High School's football team, Butler would likely have been a position player in college had he not suffered a knee injury in the first game of his senior year at Redan.

"I was upset that I couldn't be a position player," he recalls, "but it became a blessing, allowing me to concentrate on just being a kicker for the first time."

Following the injury, interest among recruiters waned. But Georgia head coach and athletic director Vince Dooley told Butler the Dogs still had a scholarship for him. It was the first of many times the future hall of fame coach would display confidence in the future hall of fame kicker.

Billy Bennett (above) of Athens reawakened the long-standing kicking tradition at Georgia, making 13 of 14 field goals in 2001 and earning Freshman All-America honors.

Kickers make the difference

In 1974, Vince Dooley made a personnel decision that energized Georgia's offensive game plan. In the process, he began a tradition that is . . . well, still alive and kicking nearly 30 years later.

Allan Leavitt (1973-76)

Rex Robinson (1977-80)

Kevin Butler (1981-84)

Steve Crumley (1985-88)

John Kasay (1987-90)
The personnel decision involved hiring former Georgia All-American Bill Hartman Jr. (BSC '37) to be the first kicking coach in UGA history—and one of the few specialty coaches in the entire country at that time. Dooley and Hartman agreed that if they could develop a placekicker who was a consistent scoring threat, the Dogs would attempt more field goals than they had in the past.

They didn't have long to wait.

Allan Leavitt, a soccer-style kicker from Brooksville, Fla., had originally committed to Florida State. But Dooley and his recruiting staff convinced him to sign with Georgia. Leavitt was the first of what is now a long line of exemplary Bulldog placekickers. He still holds the school record for most extra points in a career (125 of 129), and he set a then-SEC career record for most field goals over 50 yards in a season (6). Leavitt is perhaps best remembered for his role in the 1976 win over Georgia Tech, where his last-second, 33-yard field goal gave Georgia a 13-10 victory and sent them off to the Sugar Bowl on a winning note. Leavitt remembers being carried around the field by fans for half an hour after the game.

"Georgia used their kicking game as a weapon back then," says Leavitt, who later went on to spend three years in the NFL with Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and the New York Giants. "This was such a new concept back then. You see everybody doing it now."

Leavitt, now a marketing representative for IBM in Jacksonville, Fla., jokingly credits himself with "setting the bar so high" that every Georgia kicker who followed him had to be even better than he was.

Rex Robinson of Marietta was one of the mainstays of Georgia's National Championship quest in 1980, and he still holds the record for most consecutive extra points (101 from 1977-80). Robinson made one big kick after another, but his biggest may have come in 1978 against Kentucky. As Robinson's last-second, 29-yard field goal went through the uprights that night in Lexington—rallying the Dogs to a 17-16 victory—Larry Munson's "yeah, yeah, yeah!" pressbox call punctuated the airwaves. Robinson went on to have a short-lived NFL career with Baltimore, Miami, and Cincinnati.

The progression continued with Kevin Butler (see main story at left) and Steve Crumley. Butler is one of the best kickers who ever played the game—college or pro—and Crumley, a local kid from Athens, had his share of heroics, including a game-winning 50-yard field goal against South Carolina in 1986. Unlike other great Georgia placekickers, Crumley used the old straight-on style—which required him to use a special shoelace tied to his calf. When he ran onto the field to attempt a kick, Crumley used the shoelace to pull back the toe of his kicking shoe, thus creating a better surface for striking the football.

John Kasay, whose father was Georgia's strength and conditioning coach, took over the kicking responsibilities in 1987. Kasay's father was also in charge of the athletic dorm, which became a second home to John Jr. "The reason Georgia has such a history with kickers is partly due to the way football is played in the South," says Kasay, who, when unable to sleep, would sneak outside in the middle of the night and practice kicking in McWhorter's front yard. "Coaches, especially Bill Hartman, realize the importance of gaining points on each drive, which is why they focus a lot of their energies on preparing a kicker. The competition is so tight in the SEC and every advantage pays off." Kasay went on to play for Seattle for four years, before becoming a free agent and signing with the Carolina Panthers.

Kasay's 1990 departure and Hartman's retirement put Georgia's kicking legacy in limbo. But the arrival of another local product, Billy Bennett, in 2000 reawakened the long-standing tradition. In his first season, Bennett made 13 of 14 field goals, and earned Freshman All-American and All-SEC honors.

"I feel privileged to join such a long legacy of remarkable kickers," says Bennett, who kicked a school record six field goals in the Dogs' 31-17 victory over Georgia Tech in November. "Maybe one day I'll also have the chance to play in the NFL. It is definitely a goal of mine."

Heather Summerville

It was one of those steamy September game days in Athens, when number-two ranked Clemson came to Sanford Stadium in 1984. The Tigers dominated the Bulldogs in the first half and Dooley's Dogs went to the locker room trailing 20-3. The Dogs battled back in the second half and with eleven seconds left and the game tied at 23, Georgia had the ball at the Clemson 43. Most teams would have opted for a desperation, hail-Mary fling into the end zone. But Dooley sent Butler out to try a 60-yard field goal—and never even bothered to ask if he had it in him.

"My longest practice kick was 78 yards," Butler recalls. "It wasn't so much a matter of distance as . . . just putting it through. Coach Dooley gave me the confidence I needed as a kicker."

"Heck, any time we got past the 50, Kevin would stand right in front of me on the sidelines," Dooley recalls. "He always wanted to kick the game-winner. What I remember most about that Clemson kick is that he could have made it from 70."

"What I remember most about that kick was that he could have made it from 70."—Vince Dooley

After setting a career scoring record at Georgia, new College Football Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Butler became an NFL star with the Chicago Bears.

As soon as the ball left his foot, Butler knew he'd gotten enough of it. But he watched a second longer to make sure it held its line. It did, and all hell broke loose in Sanford Stadium.

"I ran to the student section," says Butler, "and then to the cheerleaders!"

"Yeah, and then you remembered I was no longer a cheerleader and you came running to me on the sidelines!" says Butler's wife, the former Cathy Clement (BBA '84).

Butler's 60-yarder still ranks as the longest in Bulldog history. He holds school records for most career field goals (77) and most points (353). He made 11 field goals beyond 50 yards, and posted an NCAA record of 27 multiple field-goal games.

Although Butler's kick to beat Clemson actually spurred some sports writers to wonder if a kicker could compete for the Heisman Trophy, it wasn't his only highlight of that game. He kicked four field goals that day, including a 51-yarder. In his sophomore year in 1982, he kicked a game-winner against a Steve Young-led BYU team, a 59-yarder versus Ole Miss, and two field goals against Auburn to help Georgia clinch a third straight SEC title. Butler's last kick as a Bulldog was a 72-yard attempt that came up a foot short of beating Florida State in the 1984 Citrus Bowl.

Butler logged 11 seasons with the Chicago Bears. He retired in 1997 with 1,208 points—sixth most among NFL placekickers.

Butler helped Georgia compile a 38-8-2 record from 1981-84, including two SEC titles, two Sugar Bowls, a Cotton Bowl, and the Citrus. He is a member of all-century teams selected by the Walter Camp Foundation, Sports Illustrated, and ABC Sports. He is the 13th Georgia player or coach inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the sixth in the last eight years, including Terry Hoage and Herschel Walker (see the March '00 issue of GM).

"The difference between Kevin and any kicker I've coached was his competitive instinct," says Bill Hartman Jr. (BSC '37), a hall of famer himself who coached UGA kickers from 1972-95. "He was always a big part of any team—not just 'the kicker.'"

Asked whether he expects to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Butler shrugs.

"I don't get wrapped up in that stuff," he says. You do it because you love the sport. I would have traded all my NFL years for four more years of college. In college, it's for fun."

Selected as the Bears' fourth-round pick in the 1985 draft, Butler set 19 club records in 11 seasons; in 1989, he set a then-NFL record of 24 consecutive field goals without a miss.

Of his remarkable success in cold, blustery conditions, Butler says Soldier Field actually made him a better kicker.

"It's hard to kick in bad weather," he says. "To get better, I had to practice at Soldier Field as much as possible—no fun."

Butler finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals in 1997, retiring with 1,208 points, sixth most in NFL history among kickers. Q: What does he miss most? A: The paychecks. "When the time was right, we put football behind us and came home," says Cathy. "Georgia was always our goal."

Cathy and Kevin had business opportunities waiting for them. Cathy works at her mother's bridal shop, Formally Yours, in Lilburn. Kevin is vice president of Production Group International, which helps businesses achieve objectives through creative events. He actually began his business career even before his NFL career ended, joining forces with his late Bears teammate Walter Payton to develop golf courses and promote the NFL Pro-Shop line of golf accessories.

"Being back in Georgia gives Cathy and me a chance to reconnect with the University," says Butler from his Sugarloaf Country Club home in Duluth, where he and Cathy live with their son and two daughters. "It's hard to be active with your alma mater when you're playing football during football season. But it's nice to be home because Athens is the place where we fell in love—and a place where we always feel loved."

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