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This Day in Buffalo Sports History / March 17, 1966 -- Gogolak signing escalated a war

It's almost difficult to believe, but a Hungarian-born kicker was one of the great "revolutionaries" in the history of pro football. Twice.

Pete Gogolak (inset) came to America and tried out for the Cornell football team as a kicker. Everyone looked at him oddly at first, because he kicked the ball from the side of his foot. Gogolak's soccer experience prompted him to take that approach. It seemed to work well.

He joined the Buffalo Bills in 1964, and became a key part of the Bills' teams that won championships in 1964 and 1965. Soccer-style kickers eventually came to dominate the sport.

In the spring of 1966, Gogolak had played out his option and was a free agent. No player of value had jumped between the American Football League and the National Football League until that point. But the New York Giants needed a kicker . . . badly. Bob Timberlake had kicked for the Giants in 1965, and was a particularly dismal 1 for 15 in field goal attempts.

On this date, the Giants signed Gogolak to a contract. It was the first shot in an escalation of the war between the two football leagues. (According to legend, one NFL owner told Giants owner Wellington Mara, "If I had known you wanted a kicker that badly, I would have given you one.") All of a sudden, the AFL teams were raiding NFL teams in retaliation, and the price of talent went sky-high. By June, the sides reached a merger agreement, and peace was restored.

Gogolak stayed with the Giants through 1974, completing a good and significant career.

-- Budd Bailey

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