Former Detroit Lion Eddie Murray learned a big lesson from 1983 missed kick in playoffs

Detroit Free Press
Bill Dow |  Special to Detroit Free Press

As part of his series on former Detroit sports figures, Bill Dow caught up with former Detroit Lions kicker Eddie Murray.

How we remember him

After being selected in the seventh round of the 1980 NFL draft, the Canadian-born “Steady Eddie” led the NFL with 27 field goals and became the first rookie named Pro Bowl MVP when he kicked four field goals. He soon established himself as one of the game’s best kickers and had a 19-year career that ended at age 44. In his second season, he tied Rafael Septien for the league lead in scoring with 121 points. For the first 10 seasons of his 12-year Lions career, he led the team in scoring.

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After the Lions

After helping to lead the Lions to a 12-4 record and the NFC championship game in 1991 and setting franchise records for points (1,113) field goals (244) and extra points (381), the 35-year-old was released a week after the Lions drafted Jason Hanson in the second round. In 1992, he briefly played for Kansas City and Tampa Bay, then signed with the Cowboys in 1993 after their 0-2 start. In just 14 games, he had his best season, making 27 of 32 field goal attempts; his overtime field goal in the season finale against the Giants clinched the NFC East and home-field advantage in the playoffs. He then helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl 28 with three field goals. He finished his career in 2000 after further stops in Philadelphia, Washington (twice), Minnesota and again Dallas. He played in 250 NFL games and kicked 352 field goals with a 75.5% field-goal percentage.

Today

Murray, 65, has been married 27 years to wife Cindy, and they live in the Detroit area. The couple have a daughter, Nicole, together, while Murray has a son, Rob, from a previous marriage. Murray is the director of donor relations in southeastern Michigan for the HOPE Network, a faith-based healthcare non-profit whose mission includes mental health and autism services.

How’d he become a kicker?

“From age 4 to 15, I lived in England where I played a lot of soccer and rugby. I could always kick a ball hard, far and accurately. When we moved to Victoria, British Columbia, after my father died, I began playing football as a receiver and kicker in a sandlot league. People there had not seen anyone my age kick like me. When I graduated from high school, my mom was dying of cancer and I had no plans to go to college so I worked at a lumber yard, played in a football beer league, and then accepted an invitation to participate in a development camp with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League. The head coach, Cal Murphy, asked me to kick for him one day and he kept pushing me back from the goal post until I finally missed one at the 52-yard line. He was so impressed that he signed me to a training camp contract. But then a coach from Tulane University, Willard Wells, who had had previously coached with Murphy at San Jose State saw a film of me at that camp and offered a full scholarship. My mom encouraged me to go to Tulane, and she died a month before I left for New Orleans. I’m very proud that I graduated with an education degree in four years.”

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His first game with the Lions

“On my first kickoff ever in the NFL, Drew Hill of the (Los Angeles) Rams ran it back for a touchdown to start the game and it was like, ‘Oh my God, welcome to the NFL, this is going to be a long game.’ But then it became ‘The Billy Sims Show.” It was his first game, too, and he ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns. In my first field goal attempt that game, I converted a 52-yarder and made another one of 38 yards and we won, 41-20. To say the least, it’s a great memory. The next game, I kicked five field goals, and we went on to win our first four games, but then we eventually fizzled out.”

On winning the MVP of the Pro Bowl as a rookie

“Back then, only the players voted you in for the Pro Bowl. To have my peers recognize me, and being a rookie, it was a very humbling experience. I was awestruck to be with all those great players. Walter Payton came over and congratulated me for making the Pro Bowl. I’m thinking, ‘Walter Payton knows who I am?’ I didn’t know that I’d been picked as the MVP of the game until the next day when I read it the newspaper. No one had told me. It was like, ‘really’? The MVP the year before was Chuck Muncie of the Saints and he received a car. I got a crystal bowl in the mail. It’s nice but I can’t drive around in it.” 

His last-second, no-huddle field goal to beat Dallas in 1981

“At training camp and during practice throughout the season, our special teams coach Joe Madden had us practice a scenario where, at the end of the game, we had no timeouts and needed a field goal. We would run out there without a huddle and I would kick it. It took about 16 seconds to do it. One day, I turned to Eric Hipple (quarterback and holder) and said, ‘Why in the hell are we doing this damn thing, we’re never going to be in this situation? This is stupid.’ Sure enough, in the Dallas game, we had no timeouts left, the clock was running with around 16 seconds left. Normally, we should have thrown the ball out of bounds, which, back then, that’s what you had to do to stop the clock. I was standing by my kicking net around the 40-yard line when I heard Hipple yell ‘Clock, clock, clock!’ which meant he was going to stop the clock with a pass out of bounds, but on the sidelines, Madden was yelling ‘Field goal, field goal, field goal!’ My long snapper, Tom Turnure, rushed onto to the field and told our center Amos Fowler to get off. Meanwhile, I’m sprinting out there, and we did it just like we practiced it. I took no steps to set up and kicked it hard. I knew that I hit it solid and remember looking up and seeing it going through the uprights. Hipple threw me to the ground and it seemed like the whole team piled on us. It was the most bizarre kick I ever had. Later, it was shown that we actually had 12 men on the field.”  

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His miss in the playoff loss at San Francisco in 1983

“We dominated in that game and were going up and down the field, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. Gary (Danielson) had five interceptions, and Billy Sims fumbled on the goal line. We had so many opportunities to put them away. It then came down to me trying to make a field goal from about the 44-yard line with seconds left. Earlier, I had missed a field goal but made three field goals including a 54-yarder that tied the Lion record. It was then the longest field goal in playoff history. During pregame warmups at that same end, the swirling wind at Candlestick Park was moving eight to 10 miles, right to left. Like I’d done in warmups, I aimed and kicked it right down the right upright thinking that the wind would move it right to left. I hit it so good and hard, but it cut right through the wind and went right by the right upright and it didn’t budge a centimeter. I hit it exactly the way I wanted to hit it, but my problem was that I relied on the wind to help me. From then on, I learned to rely on my ability to kick it through the uprights, and if the wind blows it out, there’s nothing I can do about it. If I play for the wind, and it doesn’t help me, then it’s my fault.

“I have always taken the approach that I may be given the opportunity to win the game but I didn’t lose it. Football is a team sport and there are so many things that happen prior to me trying to win it. If I make it, great. I didn’t win the game, the team won it. If I kick it and miss, I didn’t lose it, the team did.

“That game changed my approach to kicking, and from then on, I aimed everything inside the uprights and let the elements take care of itself. It made me a better kicker and gave me the focus and the drive to really work at what I was doing. Those bad moments don’t define me as a person. I had some good moments and some bad moments, just like every kicker.”

The pressure of being an NFL kicker

“It comes down to your make up as a person. While growing up, I would play games in my mind. For example, I would pretend there were three seconds in the game and I have to make the winning free throw, or as pitcher, I would pretend that I was Nolan Ryan and I had to throw the ball into the square on a wall to get the strikeout to win the World Series. I always loved being in a pressure situation because I practiced it in my head. I also tried hard to get better, no matter what sport I played. The success of my longevity in the game was my continuous work to improve my endurance, strength, and accuracy.

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“For a kick to go right, there are a lot of elements that have to go right with the timing of the snap, the hold and the kick. There were a lot of hours spent with my center and holder with the three of us practicing to get our timing down. “

Playing for the Lions

“I have great memories playing for the Lions even though we only had three winning seasons in my 12 years with them. When the Silverdome was packed, there wasn’t a better place to play. I remember that, during the ’91 playoff game when we beat Dallas in the Silverdome, I was on the sideline trying to talk with Jim Arnold. I had to yell in his ear even though he was standing right next to me, because it was so loud. It was deafening. I never played in a stadium before or since that was that loud. It was an amazing feeling going through all of that. The fans were such great supporters, and they are to this day. It was unbelievable with what we did, going 12-4 in 1991 and playing for the NFC championship. It was exciting and so much fun just being out in the community that year. It’s a shame we haven’t yet been able to put something together and have those kinds of years. The problem with the Lions is that they’ve had some great players and memorable games, but they haven’t had memorable seasons. That’s been so frustrating to say the least for fans and the Lion alumni. “

Being released by the Lions

“Prior to the 1992 NFL draft, someone with player personnel told me that there wasn’t a kicker worth drafting. The day of the draft, I was at a Red Wings game and a friend came up to me with a shocked look on his face. I said ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ He said, ‘I’m sorry, but the Lions gave picks away to move up in the draft and they picked a kicker (Jason Hanson) in the second round.’ Right away, I knew I was gone. I was in shock. At the time, I was engaged, and we were planning our wedding. Within a week of the draft, we had our minicamp. I was at my locker getting ready for practice and one of Wayne Fontes’ guys told me to get back into my street clothes and that Wayne wants to see me. Wayne says, ‘You know the situation, we’re releasing you.’ I said, ‘Why now? He said, ‘We’re always bringing kickers in and you’re always (expletive) with them.’ I said, “I was trying to help them out and gave them advice.’ He said, ’I don’t want you messing with his (Hanson’s) head.’ I said, ‘Don’t you want to first see if he is ready to go?’ ‘He said, ‘I don’t want you around.’ I said, ‘I knew my fate when you drafted Jason, and I hope he works out for you.’ I did the best I could to move on from there, and I did, because I played seven more years and helped win a Super Bowl.”

On winning the Super Bowl with Dallas at age 37

“It was a magical year, and it was my best season. I had rededicated myself the year before and got myself in really good physical and kicking shape to compete at an older age with younger guys. Jimmy Johnson (the Cowboys’ head coach) has always said, ‘If Eddie Murray hadn’t made that overtime kick to win the NFC East title, we wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl.’ It’s because in that game Emmitt Smith separated his shoulder, and if we had lost the division, we would have played in the wild-card game against the Giants the following week. Because we had a bye week after winning the division, it gave Emmitt two weeks to get healthy. The kick gave us the window to have our playoff run. I can proudly say that I had a big part in winning the Super Bowl, and it’s pretty gratifying. Of course, having been cut by the Lions, there was a little vindication, but I wish my Super Bowl ring said Detroit on it, because I’d been there for so long.”

On the Lions today

“I still attend Lion games and closely follow the team. They’ve been very open that they knew this was going to be a rebuilding year. It’s difficult to see the trials and tribulations, especially with the two games they lost by a kick that easily could have been wins. They’re playing hard, and they’ve been in most of the games, but they let a couple get out of hand. It’s difficult when you can’t win some games and gain confidence. When they cleaned house, the intent was to rebuild. Hopefully, they can stay the course and keep believing in what they are trying to do.”

What he is most proud of from career

“Just being able to play for 19 years in the NFL. It was all pretty improbable for a kid coming out of Victoria, British Columbia, under some difficult circumstances, and to have the success that I had and to win a Super Bowl.”

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