Behind Garo Yepremian’s exploits on special teams, the Miami Dolphins became a juggernaut when they broke into the National Football League at the turn of the 1970s decade.
Yepremian’s game-winning, 37-yard field goal against Jan Stenerud’s Kansas City Chiefs in the 1971 AFC Divisional Round capped off the longest game in league history at the time.
It was a fitting tribute to Yepremian, who led the NFL in scoring that season.
Garo Yepremian’s powerful kicking leg helped Miami go undefeated in 1972 and win consecutive Super Bowl titles in the early 1970s.
Despite Yepremian’s late-game gaffe in Super Bowl VII that nearly cost the Dolphins their undefeated season, he eventually got over that embarrassing moment years later.
Remarkably, Yepremian, a two-time Pro Bowl kicker, spent fourteen seasons in the National Football League without ever playing a single down in the collegiate ranks.
To sum things up, Garo Yepremian overcame insurmountable odds and left behind a legacy football fans will remember forever.
Garabed Saarkis “Garo” Yepremian was born in Larnaca, Cyprus on June 2, 1944. His parents are of Armenian descent. He has a brother, Krikor, who played college soccer for the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Yepremian family lived in deplorable conditions in the Mediterranean region during the post-World War era.
According to The Huffington Post‘s Brian D’Ambrosio, the Yepremian household didn’t have indoor plumbing. Olive pits kept Yepremian and his family warm during the cold winter months.
When Garo Yepremian was 21 years old, he worked in a warehouse in London, England. He played semi-pro soccer on weekends.
Born in Larnaca, Cyprus, on June 2, 1944, Garo Yepremian, National Football League place kicker (Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints; NFL Kicker of the Decade of the 1970s). pic.twitter.com/CYssHVvZ7i
— MMJYBBJWIdols (@MMJYBBJWIdols) June 2, 2020
It was around that time when his brother, Krikor, who was already playing NCAA soccer in the United States, convinced him that becoming a soccer-style placekicker on the American gridiron could open more doors for him.
Krikor Yepremian thought of the idea after he watched brothers Pete and Charlie Gogolak—two soccer-style kickers who became successful in the pro football ranks, per The Huffington Post.
Pete Gogolak played for the AFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NFL’s New York Giants. His younger brother Charlie suited up for the Washington Redskins and the Boston/New England Patriots.
Krikor Yepremian thought his younger sibling, Garo, had a stronger kicking leg than either of the Gogolak brothers.
Thanks to his brother’s timely intervention, Garo Yepremian enjoyed a memorable fourteen-year career in professional football.
Pro Football Career
Krikor Yepremian wasn’t done laying the foundation for his younger brother’s pro football career.
He implored the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons to give Garo a tryout. Before long, the Lions signed Garo Yepremian as an undrafted free agent on October 13, 1966.
It was a monumental signing considering Yepremian never played football at the NCAA level.
Yepremian couldn’t speak a lick of English at the time. He was also clueless about how to wear a football uniform. It wasn’t surprising considering he had never even watched a football game prior to signing with the Lions, per D’Ambrosio.
Yepremian’s change of fortune could not have come at a better time. He only had ten dollars in his pocket when he became a Detroit Lion.
He admitted to D’Amborsio some forty-eight years later that he was a bundle of nerves when he stepped on the pro gridiron for the first time.
Yepremian weighed only 142 pounds and had a 28-inch waist when he signed with Detroit in the mid-1960s. He was in awe watching his gargantuan teammates put on their uniforms and protective gear inside the Lions’ locker room.
Yepremian could not contain his emotions when he kicked his first extra point in the National Football League in 1966.
The Lions were losing badly in their season opener. Detroit managed to score a touchdown toward the end of the game. That set the stage for Yepremian’s first PAT attempt in the pro football ranks.
Yepremian celebrated like a madman after the ball sailed between the uprights. People would have thought the Lions had won the Super Bowl with the way he reacted.
Yepremian’s over-the-top reaction caught the eye of the Lions’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle Alex Karras, who placed his foot on the bench and gave his new kicker a piece of his mind. Karras thought Yepremian’s antics were out of line, considering the Lions were losing by a huge margin.
The naive 22-year-old Yepremian told Karras, “I just keeked a touchdown.”
That became a regular punchline on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Garo Yepremian also made NFL history in 1966. He was the last NFL player who played a game without a face mask during his rookie year with the Detroit Lions in 1966.
Yepremian shunned the one-bar face mask—the latest fashion trend among the league’s players during his era—because it made him feel claustrophobic.
— Ken Gelman (@kengfunk) March 23, 2017
Unfortunately, Garo Yepremian learned his lesson the hard way after ferocious Green Bay Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke pulverized him four games into the 1966 NFL campaign.
“I would wake up every morning with blood in my mouth,” Yepremian told ESPN’s Tim Graham forty-four years later. “I learned my lesson, and I adapted in 1967 and stayed with (the single-bar face mask).”
The Lions had an atrocious 9-16-3 record in Garo Yepremian’s first two years in the National Football League. Since winning their fourth NFL Championship in 1957, the Lions had missed the postseason for ten straight years.
More Than a Football Player
Yepremian enlisted in the United States Army after the 1967 NFL season. Lions’ management told him to return during the 1968 NFL campaign and avoid the draft.
However, Yepremian’s conscience wouldn’t allow him to do it. The United States was his new home. He wanted to serve his new country.
Yepremian told The Huffington Post in 2014 that he served as a cook in the U.S. Army’s medical corps. He was also a four-year member of the National Guard.
“That gave me a lot of pride, a lot of discipline, a lot of love and appreciation for my country,” Yepremian told D’Ambrisio. “I think young people and society would gain a lot if they had to serve.”
To Yepremian’s dismay, the Lions did not re-sign him when he returned to the Motor City in 1968.
In two years with Detroit, Yepremian made just 15 of 28 field goal attempts. However, he made 33 of his 34 extra-point attempts.
Yepremian sat out the entire 1969 NFL campaign. He spent the year with the Continental Football League’s Michigan Arrows, per the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson.
According to The Huffington Post, Yepremian also made neckties in his Detroit, Mi basement to supplement his income.
The Miami Dolphins
The turn of the 1970s decade ushered in a new chapter in Garo Yepermian’s pro football career.
After a two-year hiatus from the National Football League, Yepremian earned a spot on the Miami Dolphins‘ roster in 1970. He would eventually spend nine of his fourteen years in the NFL in South Florida.
Not only that, but Yepremian’s change of scenery also coincided with the historic AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He joined a Dolphins juggernaut that enjoyed its most prolific stretch in franchise history in the early 1970s.
Yepremian and former Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula were two men who helped changed Miami’s fortunes at the turn of the 1970s decade.
Shula replaced George Wilson as Dolphins head coach and promptly turned Miami into a perennial Super Bowl contender.
Miami won an average of ten games per season in its first two years in the National Football League from 1970 to 1971.
#DolphinsDidYouKnow Today is the 50th Anniversary of The Longest Game, the #Dolphins 27-24 double OT playoff victory over the powerful Chiefs which sent the Dolphins to their first AFC Championship game. K Garo Yepremian's GW 37-yd FG stands as a seminal moment in team history. pic.twitter.com/SzsZEneRJo
— Columnist, Phins com (@PhinsChris) December 25, 2021
Yepremian, the former soccer star-turned-NFL placekicker, nailed a 37-yard field goal to secure Miami’s 27-24 double-overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round on December 25, 1971. It was the longest game in league history at the time.
Yepremian knew the Dolphins would win all along. He claimed they never lost whenever he beat his teammates in a game of cards.
“I knew we would win because last night I was very good at cards,” Yepremian told Sports Illustrated’s John Underwood on January 3, 1972. “When I win at cards, we win.”
To the Super Bowl
It was sweet vindication for Yepremian. Prior to kickoff, Shula informed him that Chiefs kicker Jan Stenerud had gotten the nod for the AFC’s Pro Bowl squad. The Dolphins head coach felt his kicker was robbed.
Stenerud missed a field goal in regulation. To make matters worse for him, Miami linebacker Nick Buoniconti blocked his 45-yard field goal attempt in overtime.
It was a game Jan Stenerud would rather forget. He still felt bad about it many years later, per Yepremian’s 2012 book.
Nevertheless, Stenerud showed genuine sportsmanship by sending Yepremian, the NFL’s leading scorer in 1971, a telegram after the overtime battle. He congratulated him and wished him luck in the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins’ incredible two-year postseason run ended with a 24-3 loss to Roger Staubach’s Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI on January 16, 1972.
Their resurgence was a far cry from their four years in the AFL under Wilson from 1966 to 1969. Miami averaged just four wins per season during that four-year time frame.
Nobody would have predicted Shula would take the Dolphins to unprecedented heights just three years later. It all began with that historic undefeated 1972 NFL season.
Garo Yepremian became a part of it all.
In Yepremian’s 2012 book, Tales from the Miami Dolphins Sideline: Reminiscences of the Dolphins’ Glory Years (Tales from the Team), he recalled their stadium, the Miami Orange Bowl, averaged roughly 80,000 fans during their glory years in the NFL in the early 1970s.
By Yepremian’s estimate, there were already 20,000 fans in the stands before kickoff. Many of them watched him warm up and nail field goals ranging from 55 to 58 yards behind the goalposts.
Putting on a Show
Yepremian never did his warm-ups farther than 50 yards out in blustery field conditions. He always made sure to kick against the wind so he had an idea how hard the wind was blowing on game day.
Although Yepremian put on a show, he berated himself after his warm-up routine. He admitted to himself he wanted to show off in front of the hometown fans. By the time he finished warming up, he was already exhausted.
Somehow, Garo got his second wind as the game wore on. In fact, he felt looser and more confident with each passing minute.
Yepremian’s meticulous pregame kicking warm-ups eventually paid dividends in his third season with the Dolphins.
Garo Yepremian – #Armenian American NFL placekicker that played from 1966-1981 and won 2 Superbowls. He played on the 1972 Miami Dolphins that had a perfect season #ArmenianExcellence pic.twitter.com/shnQHPOMyk
— Armenian Excellence 🇦🇲 (@armexcellence) April 22, 2021
Yepremian told D’Ambrosio in 2014 that he never forgot Miami’s third game of the 1972 NFL campaign against the Minnesota Vikings on October 1.
Miami trailed 14-6 with just three-and-a-half minutes left in the game. Shula asked Yepremian to kick a 51-yard field goal to trim the deficit to five.
Yepremian had never kicked from that distance before. However, he felt that Shula’s trust in him boosted his confidence. Yepremian promptly kicked the 51-yarder between the uprights.
Several possessions later, Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese threw the decisive touchdown pass to tight end, Jim Mandich. Miami prevailed in stunning fashion, 16-14.
It seemed Miami’s season would take a turn for the worse when Griese fractured his leg and dislocated his ankle against the San Diego Chargers just two weeks later.
Shula remained undaunted, however. He turned to his 38-year-old former backup quarterback with the Colts from 1968 to 1969, Earl Morrall.
Morrall defied Father Time and recorded 1,360 passing yards and eleven touchdown passes in Griese’s absence. With Morrall under center, the Miami Dolphins had an immaculate 14-0 win-loss record in the 2014 NFL season.
One of the most embarrassing moments of Garo Yepremian’s memorable stint with the legendary Dolphins teams of the early 1970s occurred in the waning moments of Super Bowl VII on January 14, 1973.
After Miami botched a field goal try with 2:07 remaining in the game and the Dolphins leading the Washington Redskins 14-0, Yepremian summoned his inner Bob Griese.
Yepremian tried to play quarterback and scanned downfield for an open receiver. Unfortunately, the ball slipped out of his hands. The ball wound up in the hands of Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who took it 49 yards the other way for a defensive touchdown.
For a while, it seemed Miami’s undefeated season was in serious jeopardy.
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 14, 2022
When Bass scored a pick-six to trim the deficit to seven, President Richard Nixon whooped it up in the White House.
On the other hand, an irate Shula wanted to get his hands on Yepremian after the flubbed special teams play.
“I’m looking for Garo, and I’m ready to kill Garo, and I couldn’t find him,” Shula told ESPN in the spring of 2015. “He went down to one end of the bench, and I haven’t seen him since.”
For his part, Yepremian thought it was the end of the world.
“I honestly felt as if my life was over,” Yepremian told D’Ambrosio twenty-one years later. “I never, ever had been disappointed like that in my life. Goodness, I felt as if it was the end.”
Dolphins tackle and spiritual leader Norm Evans comforted Yepremian moments after his blunder. That gesture helped put the beleaguered Miami placekicker at ease.
However, Yepremian’s stress level did not dissipate completely as the night wore on. He even left the Dolphins’ postgame Super Bowl party early and took an ice bath in his hotel room.
The Perfect Season
Yepremian received tons of flak for his near-costly miscue for many years. However, he never made a big deal out of it.
Fortunately for the Dolphins and their fans, the team held on to preserve their undefeated season and win their first Super Bowl title in franchise history, 14-7.
Yepremian was part of the only undefeated team in National Football League history. He felt part of a big family that kept in touch with one another more than forty years after winning Super Bowl VII.
It got better for Yepremian and Co. just one season later.
The Miami Dolphins beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-7 in Super Bowl VIII to win back-to-back titles in only their eighth year of existence.
Keeping It Clean
Garo Yepremian admired his head coach, Don Shula, for his integrity. Shula was a member of the league’s rules committee. He always abided by the rules and forbade his Dolphins players from resorting to dirty tactics. If one of his players disobeyed his rule, he chewed him out incessantly.
— MIAMI DOLPHINS HQ (@MiamiDolphinsHQ) May 16, 2015
The Miami Dolphins averaged 10 wins per season, made the postseason six times, and won two Super Bowl titles during Garo Yepremian’s nine years in South Florida from 1970 to 1978.
They regularly competed against Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders for supremacy in the AFC during that memorable 1970s decade.
Not only did the Dolphins win consistently in Shula’s first decade in Miami, but they also set the bar high in terms of integrity.
Yepremian mentioned in his 2012 book Miami amassed the fewest penalties in the National Football League when he donned Dolphins aqua, orange, white, and marine blue for nine years in the 1970s.
When Yepremian played for the Dolphins, he savored the sumptuous meals during team charter flights across the country. Their airline menu typically included cold subs and a steak or chicken meal.
Flight attendants also provided Yepremian and his Dolphins teammates with six-packs of beer whenever they flew for road trips. Yepremian could only finish one bottle each time. He handed the rest of the six-pack to his teammates while they were playing cards.
Injury and Moving On
Yepremian also never forgot a game against the New York Jets at Shea Stadium during his heyday in the 1970s. Jets linebacker John Ebersole plowed into him after a botched field-goal attempt.
When Garo boarded the team bus after the game, he experienced breathing issues. He couldn’t even laugh. He thought he was having a heart attack. One of his Dolphins teammates suspected he cracked his ribs after Ebersole ran into him.
Sure enough, on the following day, a team physician confirmed Yepremian had cracked two ribs. The doctor gave him heat therapy and an injection to help soothe the pain.
Unfortunately, the pain returned during warm-ups for the Dolphins’ next game. Yepremian, who’d had no time to get another shot, took an aspirin instead.
The aspirin was of little help. Garo’s kickoffs fell way short of their usual distance on the gridiron. The local media thought he was losing his touch. However, the reporters didn’t realize he was hurt.
October 17, 1976
The Monsoon in Miami.
The #Chiefs are in the Orange Bowl and it’s 🌧 buckets.
Henry Marshall puts the #Chiefs up, but Garo Yepremian sends it to Overtime.#Dolphins pic.twitter.com/2NAHb9v9rr
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) March 13, 2019
Garo Yepremian played his final down for the Dolphins in 1978. He earned two Pro Bowl and two First-Team All-Pro selections during his nine-year tenure in Miami. He also earned two Super Bowl rings with the Dolphins.
Yepremian split his final three seasons from 1979 to 1981 with the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He retired following the 1981 NFL season.
Yepremian finished his 14-year NFL career with 210 made field goals out of a possible 313 for a 67.1 percent accuracy. He also made 444 of his 464 extra-point attempts for a 95.7 percent accuracy.
Years after Garo Yepremian retired from the NFL, numerous people asked him how it felt like whenever fans booed him during a game.
Yepremian was fortunate. In his 2012 book, he claimed fans never booed him during his pro football career.
Post-Football Life and Death
Garo Yepremian and his wife Maritza were married for 43 years. Their union produced two sons: Garo Jr. and Azad.
Yepremian did television and radio work after he retired from the National Football League. He eventually became a speaker who earned approximately $10,000 for each motivational speech. Among his clients were Xerox, Honda, and IBM, per Sports Illustrated‘s John O’Keefe.
Yepremian’s daughter-in-law, Debby Lu, succumbed to brain cancer in 2004. He had launched the Garo Yepremian Foundation in her honor three years earlier.
Garo Yepremian was a talented painter. He put his talents to good use in the aftermath of Lu’s death. He produced roughly 40 to 50 oil and acrylic paintings annually since she passed away and donated a portion of his earnings from those paintings to brain tumor research endeavors, per The Huffington Post.
We are deeply saddened to have learned of the death of Garo Yepremian. pic.twitter.com/sYLWXq4ln5
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) May 16, 2015
Garo Yepremian ran into John Ebersole, the New York Jets linebacker who had cracked two of his ribs, at a golf tournament during their retirement years. The first thing Ebersole asked Yepremian was how his ribs were.
In Yepremian’s 2012 book, he mentioned Ebersole, who became a councilman in Altoona, PA, was a good friend who he saw three or four times yearly.
Sadly, Garo Yepremian passed away due to cancer on May 15, 2015. His wife Maritza told ESPN that he succumbed to his illness at a hospital in Media, PA. Doctors first diagnosed her husband with cancer one year earlier. Garo Yepremian was 70 years old.
Yepremian is a member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, and the American Football Association’s Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame.