Re-living ‘99: A week-to-week look back on one of the greatest seasons in NFL history.
Kickers who have been drafted who are in the Hall of Fame:
That’s it. That’s the whole list.
Of course, there are only four kickers in the Hall of Fame at all and two of them (Lou Groza, George Blanda) played other positions. Andersen and Jan Stenerud are the only two kickers in the Hall who were simply kickers.
This is a high bar (so to speak) and unfair to those who had great careers and didn’t get Hall consideration, but the prospect of ever drafting a kicker is something that has been debated for a long time and the reality is that many of those taken “early” ended up as disappointments. Great disappointments.
In 1978, the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Steve Little with the 15th overall pick and he was out of the NFL three years later having gone 13-of-27.
In 1986, the St. Louis Cardinals, opting to never learn a lesson, drafted John Lee with the 32nd overall pick, and he was out of the league by the next year after going 8-of-13 and missing three extra points.
In 1995, the St. Louis Rams, opting to take on the identity of the Cardinals, drafted Steve McLaughlin with the 82nd overall pick, and he also only lasted one year after missing half of his 16 attempts as a rookie.
I am skipping around and bypassing a lot of names here of kickers drafted in the top-85, including some good players like Sebastian Janikowski, Jason Hanson, Nate Kaeding, Jason Elam, and Jeff Jaeger, but the overall message with drafting kickers in the top three rounds seems to be negative. Even Jaeger was drafted by the Browns but a foot injury caused that relationship to end after only one season and he had all of his success with the Raiders.
There have been 25 kickers to get drafted 84th or earlier and out of those names, six players made one Pro Bowl, three players made two Pro Bowls, and Elam made three Pro Bowls. Or you can skip all the way down to Mark Moseley in the 14th round at pick 346 and find a controversial MVP winner.
The 26th-highest drafted kicker of all-time is Doug Brien, who went 85th overall to the San Francisco 49ers in 1994. Morten Andersen, when he was drafted in 1982, went 86th.
Naming players on the 49ers in the 80s and 90s is relatively easy compared to most teams because of the immense amount of success they had over those two decades. What’s not so easy, for me at least, would be naming their kickers during that time. From 1988-1993 that name was Mike Cofer, a former undrafted player who initially signed with Cleveland in 1987 but went 1-for-1 on field goal tries that year with the New Orleans Saints.
They released Cofer and then he found himself in an unbelievable situation, kicking for San Francisco in 1988 after they had parted ways with longtime kicker Ray Wersching, who had retired. Cofer was not great, but he wasn’t bad enough to get released and he won back-to-back Super Bowls under Bill Walsh and George Seifert. By the end of his six years, Cofer had made 67% of his attempts and went only 5-of-19 on kicks of 50+ and 36-of-64 (56%) on kicks of 40-49. But the Niners gave him a ton of extra point tries and he was good on most of those.
Seifert wanted to go in another direction in 1994 however and that’s when the team finally went “screw it” and drafted a kicker in the third round.
Having two picks in the first and two picks in the second, the 49ers may have felt this was their best opportunity to make a special teams pick since they’d gotten to address offensive and defensive positions with their first four selections. That special teamer was Brien, the only kicker drafted in 1994.
A three-year starter at nearby Cal, Brien went 50-of-64 on field goals and 112-of-115 on extra points for the Golden Bears. He remains the all-time leading scorer in school history almost 30 years later. As you can gather from context clues, he is not the leading scorer in San Francisco history, but he could at least call himself “the next Mike Cofer” by landing in a perfect situation.
Doug Brien went a respectable 15-of-20 on tries as a rookie and 60-of-62 (both NFL highs that year) on extra points, “helping” one of the all-time greatest offenses go 13-3. The 49ers then won all three of their playoff games by double digits and Brien instantly became an NFL Super Bowl champion. And that joy was gone nearly as quickly as it had arrived.
In 1995, Brien missed a field goal try in both Week 1 and Week 2, getting no attempts in Week 3. In Week 4, he missed two field goals in a 27-24 loss to the Lions. He was perfect in Week 5, but in Week 6 he missed a potential game-winner in a 18-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. And herein lies one of the problems with drafting a kicker early: most teams will never carry more than one.
If Doug Brien played almost any other position, the team would simply bench him at this point and see if he can work it out in practice before coming back later in the season or next year. But teams typically only have room for one kicker and if the starter is struggling, he needs to go all the way off the team. The 49ers cut Brien after the game against the Colts and signed a little known kicker (redundancy warning) who went undrafted out of Youngstown State in 1994, the same year that San Francisco made Brien the only placekicker drafted.
Though his overall numbers over two seasons with the 49ers look very impressive (42-of-47 on field goals, 89.4%), Wilkins attempted zero kicks of 50+ and went 8-of-12 from 40-49. He was thriving on short kicks but also missed two PATs at a time when that almost never happened. San Francisco parted with Wilkins and signed 38-year-old Gary Anderson, who oddly enough did share time on the Philadelphia Eagles roster with Wilkins in 1994.
(Wilkins handled kickoff duties for six games but Anderson handled field goal tries.)
As mentioned earlier, the Rams drafted McLaughlin in the third round in 1995 and he too turned out to be a dud. The next year, head coach Rich Brooks opted to go with Chip Lohmiller, who perfectly enough had kicked with the Saints in 1995, splitting the season with Doug Brien, who New Orleans had signed after he was let go by the Niners.
The Saints draft Cofer, he stinks, goes to the Niners for six years. The Niners then draft Brien, he stinks, goes to the Saints, where he replaced Lohmiller, who next went to the Rams. Meanwhile, Wilkins starts with the Eagles, sharing a locker room with Anderson, who eventually goes to the 49ers to replace Wilkins, who had replaced Brien, who had replaced Cofer. Wilkins is a free agent, goes to the Rams to replace Lohmiller, who had replaced McLaughlin.
I think that’s it?
The year is now 1999 and the Saints and Rams are both fairly comfortable with their kickers, Doug Brien and Jeff Wilkins. St. Louis is 8-2, New Orleans is 2-8. So maybe they aren’t exactly the same level of comfortable in each town.
Week 2 - BYE
Week 12 - New Orleans Saints at St. Louis Rams, November 28, 1999
The year is 1999 and the Saints are still a year away from their biggest milestone in franchise history. Despite joining the league in 1967, New Orleans has yet to win a playoff game. That wouldn’t change in ‘99 as they started 1-7 under final year head coach Mike Ditka and the rookie running back sensation he overpaid for who wasn’t much of a sensation at that point.
In perhaps the most clear sign we have that this is all a simulation, the Saints went 1-6 under starting quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver and 1-6 under starting quarterback Billy Joe Hobert that year. (And 1-1 under Jake Delhomme.) Their biggest win thus far was a 24-6 victory over the 49ers in which San Francisco’s only points came from two field goals by Wade Richey, the kicker who replaced Anderson.
So that wraps one storyline up. Let me now begin to wrap the rest.
Brien starts the game with a 64-yard kickoff that is returned 64 yards by Tony Horne. Three plays later, Kurt Warner finds Torry Holt for a 25-yard touchdown pass and Wilkins knocks in the extra point.
Midway through the first quarter, good starting field position gets Brien in position to make a 51-yard field goal for the Saints, a distance he would go 2-of-2 from that season.
The Saints do a stunning job on defense early on and suddenly Hobert has the ball again. He goes 5-of-5 for 58 yards and Brien makes another field goal, this time from 42.
The Rams again go nowhere and Hobert goes 3-of-4 for 36 yards on the next drive. Brien hits again, this time from 45. He is now 3-of-3 on his attempts and the Saints lead early in the second quarter.
(Ricky Williams didn’t suit up for this one.)
That lead wouldn’t last long though. Horne returned Brien’s next kickoff 41 yards and the Rams immediately picked up a 35-yard pass interference penalty on the following play. The drive ended in a one-yard run by Marshall Faulk and took less than two minutes.
Rams lead 15-9.
However, the Saints held tough and St. Louis didn’t score again in the half. New Orleans did get back in there though when Hobert again did better than anyone expected and they were inside the red zone just before halftime. That’s when Brien came in and he was good again, now nailing a field goal from 35.
It’s 15-12 at half, the Saints are not giving up in spite of the odds against them. This was also a special half for Doug Brien. The second half, he’d like to forget.
Not only were the Saints in the game, they got the ball to start the second half. Hobert completed passes of 5, 13, 8, 18, and 11 yards, ultimately getting first-and-goal from the 7. This was their chance to take a lead but instead must settle for a 24-yard field goal try by Brien.
In his entire 12-year career, spanning seven teams, Brien was 62-of-65 inside of 30 yards. His first miss in that range came on October 10, 1999 against the Falcons, a 20-17 loss in which he was no good from 28 and 49. It’s now seven weeks later and Brien would suffer the shortest miss of his career at that point.
Instead of tying the game, he was no good from 24 and the Rams got the ball back. And the game in control.
Warner went 5-of-5 on the next drive for 75 yards and Faulk scored a 6-yard touchdown.
On their next series, St. Louis marched down the field and scored on a three-yard run by Robert Holcombe.
Dexter McCleon picked off Hobert on the following drive and Faulk had runs of 17 and 18 when the Rams got the ball back, that drive ending in a 20-yard touchdown to Holt.
Hobert is intercepted by Charlie Clemons who laterals to McCleon for 14 additional yards, Warner attempts no passes on an ensuing 8-play drive that ends in a James Hodgins 1-yard run. Danny Wuerffel, former Heisman winner, takes the last few snaps for the Saints.
The win gave the Rams their first division title since 1985 and guaranteed their first winning season since 1989. There were still five more games left to play.
FINAL SCORE: Rams 43, Saints 12
Kurt Warner: 15-of-27, 213 yards 2 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks
Marshall Faulk: 18 carries, 102 yards, 2 TD, two catches for 13 yards
Isaac Bruce: 5 of 13 targets, 81 yards
Torry Holt: 5 of 6 targets, 87 yards, 2 TD
Sacks: D’Marco Farr (2)
Interceptions: McCleon, Clemons
Game Recap (ESPN):
“Faulk, Holt each score two TDs”
Kurt Warner shook off a bad first half like a 10-year veteran.
After an awful start, the NFL’s leading passer was 10-for-12 for 153 yards in the second half to lead the St. Louis Rams to 43-12 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
“I kind of told myself at halftime I didn’t want to go through a whole game playing that way,” said Warner, who was 5-for-15 for 60 yards in the first half. “It’s not the way I play football, so I took what the defense gave me and tried to go out and play the way I know how.”
Warner’s passer rating in the first half was 68.8, and in the second half it was 146.5. Teammates said his positive attitude never changed.
“He was very poised,” center Mike Gruttadauria said. “His demeanor was the same.”
The Rams’ average winning margin was 35-10 at home this season entering the game. They bettered that as they won their seventh straight game at the Trans World Dome going back to last season.
Saints coach Mike Ditka had a tantrum after New Orleans (2-9) fell flat following a strong start. The Rams have outscored the opposition 52-0 in the second half, and Ditka was asked whether he was the “right man for the job.”
“Did I do anything out there wrong?” Ditka said. “Did I drop the ball? Did I miss the field goal? Did I miss the tackles? I’m not sure, did I throw the interception?”
The Saints outgained the Rams 202-78 in the half and held the NFL’s top-rated offense to 11:07 in time of possession and only six first downs, but could muster only four field goals by Doug Brien. Brien missed his shortest kick of the day, a 24-yarder that hit the left upright and blew a chance to tie the game at 15 with 7:19 to go in the third quarter.
“Looking back on it, it was real crucial,” Brien said. “At the time, it was just a bad kick.”
“I think the best thing that happened is we were standing in the huddle when they were flashing the stats right after halftime,” Faulk said. “That rung a bell, and we went out there and executed.”
Holt has four touchdown passes, but hadn’t made it to the end zone since the second game of the season.
“I think it was a breakout game,” said Holt, who caught five passes for 87 yards. “A couple of my teammates have been saying I needed one.”
The Saints were without Ricky Williams, who missed the game with turf toe. Billy Joe Hobert was 23-for-41 for 254 yards, but threw two interceptions in the second half. Andre Hastings caught nine passes for 113 yards.
Willie Whitehead of the Saints used the throat-slash gesture after sacking Warner in the first half. The Saints weren’t penalized, but Whitehead is subject to a fine for the action, banned this week by the NFL.
The Rams have won six division games for the first time. The NFL went to the division format in 1967.
D’Marco Farr had two sacks in the first quarter, then strained a hip flexor muscle and didn’t return. Rams coach Dick Vermeil said there’s a chance Farr could make his 76th consecutive start next week at Carolina.
Rams free safety Devin Bush left with injured ribs in the third quarter.
Rams defensive tackle Austin Robbins left with an injured leg in the first quarter, and cornerback Ashley Ambrose sprained his left ankle in the second half.
Vermeil evened his career record at 72-72. He’s 8-2 against the Saints, including 5-0 as head coach at Philadelphia from 1976-82.
Maybe I just didn’t know Mike Ditka’s reputation as well as I thought I did, but I am stunned to read a coach throw his team under the bus like that. Really felt it needed to be highlighted.
St. Louis was now 9-2 and had won the NFC West. The closest team to them was Carolina at 5-6, as the 49ers, Falcons, and Saints were all awful that season. The Jacksonville Jaguars still had the NFL’s best record at 10-1. The Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans were both 9-2 also. The Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins were 8-3. The Rams were two wins better than any other team in the conference and close to clinching the number one seed.
Their biggest competition was Washington, Minnesota, Detroit, and Tampa Bay at 7-4. But St. Louis had a fairly easy schedule ahead with games against Carolina, New Orleans (again), Philadelphia, Chicago, and the Giants remaining. None of those teams finished above .500.
D’Marco Farr now had 6.5 sacks in his last four games, but he finished the season with 8.5 sacks so do the math on his production outside of this run. Charlie Clemons wasn’t a regular for any team at this point but had 48 tackles and three sacks in 1999. Not playing in 2000, Clemons came back and had a monster year — for the New Orleans Saints obviously — in 2001: 93 tackles, 13.5 sacks, one interception. He was out of the league shortly thereafter. His nephew is Chris Clemons, the former Pro Bowl pass rusher with the Seahawks.
Wilkins went 64-of-64 on PATs in 1999, which at this point is the ninth-most made PATs in a single-season all-time. He had the Rams career that you probably know about already, twice leading the NFL in field goals made (2003, 2006).
Mike Cofer started a career in NASCAR racing (or something along these lines, I’m not familiar with the racing world and I’m ready to be corrected) after his football playing days ended.
Lohmiller ended up becoming a high school football coach at Pequot Lakes in Minnesota, helping them reach the state tournament for the first time in school history. He retired in 2018 and said he may be interested in coaching at a higher level.
Steve McLaughlin spent eight years in the Arena Football League and he eventually went back to his first love: music. In college, his band had opened for acts such as Weezer and Dave Matthews Band. His most recent known work is self-titled.
Doug Brien kicked for the Saints from mid-1995 to 2000, connecting on 82.6% of his field goal tries. In his final season though, Brien missed a few kicks he probably should have made and he split 2001 between the Colts and Bucs. He then played for the Vikings, Jets, and Bears before ending his career after the 2005 season.
Brien next went into real estate, where he may have found a lot more success (including financially) than his days in the NFL.
He is currently the co-founder and CEO of MYND Property Management, whose company website has the following biography for Brien:
Doug Brien, former Super Bowl winning NFL placekicker, doesn’t take anyone or anything for granted. The same consistency, resiliency, humility and positivity that propelled his NFL career has helped shape his mission and values as a CEO and co-founder. Doug founded Mynd Management in 2016 with his close friend, Colin Wiel after achieving great success together at Starwood Waypoint (NYSE: SWAY), formerly Waypoint Homes.
Doug has been listed as one of the Goldman Sachs Top 100 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs and earned the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He is the former CEO of Starwood Waypoint (NYSE: SWAY), received a BA from Univ. of California and an MBA from Tulane. He skis 32 days a year, mountain bikes 2x a week, meditates often and is a doting father to two daughters and a son.
Missing a kick in the NFL sure seems like a big deal to us when we’re watching it on TV. Drafting a kicker early and seeing him “fail” on the field drums up feelings of disappointment and terms like “bust.” But from where I’m sitting today, Doug Brien’s had a really good life.
Up next: at Carolina Panthers