The year is 1976.
After playing briefly in his freshman year, Salem up-and-comer Rich Carliss is persuaded by friends to rejoin the football team. He always enjoyed sports and was a devout Green Bay He grew up a Packers fan, but he never kicked a football.
That season he served as the Quakers’ primary kicker and punter. He had a quick idea, but he didn’t have many opportunities to show his work that year.
A little over a decade later, Carliss, now in the NFL, has broken the hearts of Northeast Ohio football fans.
The barefoot Quaker-turned-Bronco cemented his place as a villain in Cleveland football lore. The game-winning field he kicked the goal in overtime to send Denver to Super Bowl XXI. I still get dirty looks when I say “Rich Carliss”.
But the road to history books was not easy. Far from it. Carliss, a University of Cincinnati walk-on, said that at the college level he only kicked his goals on the field 16 times and had 13 extra point attempts (all during his senior year), and that he We didn’t see any action until his junior year. His junior year was used almost entirely for kickoffs, with the exception of one field goal attempt.
Following his senior year, he expected another year of qualification to hone himself for the NFL Draft, but that year never came. , came and went without Carlis’ name being called, leaving him with the feeling of “Well what?”
He kept kicking, that’s all.
After a brief stint in Houston with the Oilers’ offseason roster, Carliss returned to Cincinnati to finish his degree.
Meanwhile, in order to keep things fresh, Karlis sneaked onto the Bengals’ practice range from the Interstate 71 overpass and kicked field goals for as long as possible. He was kicked out, but that didn’t deter him. In fact, it became an endurance round of the night how long he could kick before being caught.
“I was sneaking into a Bengals practice facility under a viaduct in the bowels of Cincinnati and kicking those NFL posts until they kicked me out,” Carliss said. Come and do it again.”
These nightly practices were paired with a letter to each of the 28 NFL teams at the time. Of the players who responded, he was the only one to bring an invitation. It was the Denver Broncos who had an open free agent his camp.
Of the approximately 500 participants, 75 were kickers.
“[Kickers and punters]sat for about four hours while we tried other positions,” Carliss said. and let me kick it from 20 yards, 30 yards, 40 yards, 50 yards, I probably kicked it better than I’d ever kicked that day, suddenly they said, ‘192, your name What is it and where did it come from?” At the end of the tryout, they agreed to a contract with me and gave me a $500 signing bonus.
“I came to camp and kicked four other guys, including the incumbent. My first kick was in a preseason game against the Rams. I thought I was definitely packing up, but they held me back for a few weeks, I scored a field goal, then another goal.
Even after he made the team, things didn’t get any easier. Carlis’ rookie season was cut short by the players’ strike in 1982. Just as he was finding his footing in the NFL, it seemed like it could have ended there.
“I finally got into the team and took a short kick in overtime to beat the defending world champions, the 49ers. Told.
Notably, Karlis twisted his ankle in a pick-up basketball from during the strike.
Luckily for him, his roommate, who was in Denver at the time, was part of the facilities staff and was able to help nurse his injuries.
“We were locked out[from the medical staff]but my roommate just happened to be the assistant manager for the equipment,” Karlis said. “So he used to take things home. He did my physical therapy at our apartment because I couldn’t get into the trainer.”
Fast forward to the 1986 season when the strike was resolved and Carliss became a staple in the Broncos lineup. An 11-5 season, an AFC West championship and a #2 seed in the AFC were all things to come.
Karlis was 20 of 28 for 51 yards long that season.
After defeating Super Bowl runners-up New England in the divisional round, the stage was set for Cleveland in the AFC title game.
The top-seeded 12-4 Browns welcomed Denver to the city. Both teams traded batting all the way, but with 5:39 on the clock, a 20-13 lead, and the Broncos locked at their own 2-yard line, Cleveland had a bottle of champagne ready.
Denver had different ideas.
This story has been told many times, but quarterback John Elway had the biggest performance of his career to that point. The Gunslinger coordinated a 98-yard touchdown drive over five minutes to force him into overtime.
Of course, it could have all ended there had Carliss not scored the extra points to tie.
In fact, the sure-footed Salemite said he was more nervous about extra points than the winner of the match. Mainly because he was kicking into Dawg Pound on the extra point. Dawg Pound littered the field with dog bones trying to attack someone in blue and orange.
He had already made two games by that point, and the field conditions were terrible at that point. It had all the makings of a disaster.
“Field conditions were very bad and the weather was terrible,” said Carliss. “Early in the game, we had already scored two field goals. No. I was more concerned with my feet, especially at the edge of the field, because they just painted the dirt green and it was like kicking me out of a sand trap. (Broncos backup quarterback and holder Gary) Kubiak and I came out and tried to make a place to kick out but ended up digging a hole and backfilling it with sand and saying ‘Let’s go together’ That’s it. ‘
“Looking at kicks in my entire career, I never hooked the ball or sliced it badly, but with that kick, the grass was so loose that the plant’s leg definitely slid into the ball. And that’s why the ball has a really funky flight, people don’t realize that it’s 50 yards from behind the goalposts to the stands, so from the TV angle, it’s terrible. It was the angle of the TV, maybe 100 yards away.I even hesitated, but I looked straight down at the post and the referee never hesitated.Whether he was just cold or they were out of there I don’t know if he wanted to get out or what, but he didn’t hesitate to call it good.
Both the extra point and the 33-yard field goal went through the uprights and that was it. With the comeback complete, Carliss has graced the cover of his Sports Illustrated.
The Broncos made it to the Super Bowl, lost, then came back the following season and lost again.
Karlis was a member of the Broncos until 1989, when he signed with Minnesota after a contract dispute. That season he played alongside Salem alumnus and his brother-in-law, Kirk Lowdermilk.
After one season in Minnesota, one game in the 1990 season in Detroit, and about an hour of play in Atlanta, Carliss hung up his cleats. Sure, he could probably have played longer and finished his career at just 31, but at that point he wasn’t enjoying it.
“If it wasn’t fun anymore, I wasn’t going to do it,” Carliss said. “It was a bit of a hasty decision. I don’t know what I was rushing because I could probably kick it for another five years. Maybe I should have let it cool for six months and waited for the dust to settle.” But I made up my mind and never looked back.”
Moving from one career to another, Karlis started working in sports marketing for Qwest, which later became CenturyLink. During that time, Carliss signed his NBA, NHL and Olympic sponsorship deals, and Seattle helped secure his sponsorship rights to the Seahawks stadium.
Now retired from the marketing world, Karlis runs the aptly named Barefoot Bronco Woodworking from her home south of Denver. In addition to raising horses, chickens, and bees in his home, Carliss creates a variety of items, including a charcuterie board, his chess board, and his coasters for drinks imprinted with his Quaker logo in Salem. doing.
Growing up around his father’s business, Karlis and his father were jacks-of-all-trades. He knows the tools well, but this is still being adjusted.
“We did a lot of different things. Everything from roofing, commercial roofing, to painting, concrete work, gym floors. You name it, we did it.” “I’ve always been comfortable with tools, but woodworking has been a big change for me in the last few years,” Carlis said. In fact, learning and developing finer woodworking techniques over the last few years has been a great learning curve, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Though he didn’t score anything big with the Broncos, Karlis has cemented himself as a hero in the eyes of Denver’s sports fans for years to come. A friend of the family?