25 Years Later, Kleinís Seven Field Goals at Mizzou Still an NCAA Record
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Mike Rucker, Eric Warfield, Dale Klein and the Nebraska Women's Basketball Team will be signing autographs Saturday from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in the Autograph Zone at Husker Nation Pavilion.
Klein, a Husker walk-on kicker whose name is still in the NCAA record book, admits he feels a bit awkward sitting down with two successful ex-NFL players and the most successful basketball team in Nebraska history, waiting to sign autographs for Big Red fans.
True, Dale Klein is no Alex Henery, who could become one of the greatest kickers in NCAA history. But still, he need not discount himself.
Maybe he's just been too busy as a lead engineer putting rockets into space that sometimes, Klein forgets about the zone he was in himself. Surely, some of you remember that day in Columbia, Mo., 25 years ago when every ball that connected with Klein's right foot went straight through the uprights, helping the Huskers escape with a 28-20 victory over Missouri.
You could say Klein almost single-footedly won that game, scoring 22 points with an NCAA- record seven field goals and an extra point. Quite a day for junior who wasn't sure he was the Huskers' No. 1 kicker the weekend before and ended up kicking more field goals in one afternoon against Mizzou than the six career field goals he'd kicked leading up to that game.
"It's hard to believe it's been 25 years," Klein said.
Time for His Kids to Experience the Stadium
Since it's the Silver Anniverary, "I thought it would be nice to bring back my whole family and show the kids that their dad actually had one good game back in his day," said Klein, who returned to Lincoln Friday with his wife, MiMi, 16-year-old son Michael, 15-year-old daughter Kylie and 10-year-old son Zachary.
Klein and his family were able to rendezvous with Tom Osborne in his office Friday afternoon, and the record-breaking kicker/engineer will be recognized Saturday in Husker pre-game activities.
"Michael has seen one game in Lincoln, but Saturday will be Kylie's and Zachary's first," said Klein, whose record outburst against Mizzou included first-quarter field goals of 32 and 22 yards, second-quarter field goals of 43, 44 and 29 yards, a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter and then another 43-yard effort to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Look in the NCAA Division I record book 25 years after the accomplishment, and you still see Klein sharing the single-game record with Western Michigan's Mike Prindle, who kicked seven field goals a year earlier. It seems worth pointing out that Prindle missed two of his nine field goal attempts in 1984 against Marshall while Klein converted all seven of his tries.
After going 0-for-3 on his first three kicks that season, Nebraska coaches were ready to move Chris Drennan, a freshman scholarship kicker, into the starting job at Oklahoma State the weekend before Klein's record day at Mizzou.
But Drennan was experiencing leg problems so the plan was for him to kick the short field goals and PATs and for Klein to kick the long field goals in Stillwater.
Who Wants This Kick? Klein, of Course
"Clete Fischer was our kicking coach," Klein recalled, "and the first field goal opportunity that came up was one that really wasn't that long, so Coach Fischer came over and said: 'Who wants this kick?' Being older, I didn't hesitate and told him: 'I'll take it!' and started heading toward the field."
A minute later, after kicking the ball 40 yards right down the middle, Klein got into what he calls a zone. "I was able to redeem myself with a second 40-yarder at Okie State, so I got my mojo back and was the only kicker to make the Missouri trip.
"Kicking is a lot like playing golf," Klein said. "Making the first two kicks that day just made me all that much more confident, and I was able to get into a zone. It was weird because the field was pretty slippery. Mizzou had installed that new-fangled technology turf like we have now. I guess I had the right kind of cleats on, and our whole kicking team was putting everything together perfectly."
Mark Cooper, a senior center from Lincoln (Neb.) East, was the deep snapper, and Clete Blakeman, a junior quarterback from Norfolk (Neb.), was the holder.
"We had a great line that year," Klein said, pointing out that a key protection player on the outside was Ken Kaelin, a Westerville (Neb.) senior fullback who played at Ansley.
Klein makes sure that he gives everyone credit for that record day because it all resulted in him getting something he never would have imagined as a walk-on - being named Sports Illustrated's College Football Special Teams Player of the Week for his record-breaking performance.
Oct. 19, 1985 Was a Day for Kickers
Interestingly, even though Klein got the biggest headlines for that Oct. 19, 1985, kickers were getting mentioned all day long on national telecasts. Texas kicker Jeff Ward, for instance, scored all of his team's points that day after kicking five field goals to lift the Longhorns over No. 4 Arkansas, 15-13, in Fayetteville. In an even bigger game, Rob Houghtlin also accounted for all of his team's points when No. 1 Iowa beat No. 2 Michigan, 12-10, in Iowa City.
"I guess you could say that game put me on the map," Klein said. "There were bigger games that day, but I think I was the only one who didn't miss."
Amazingly, a quarter century later, Klein is still the only college football kicker in history to hit as many as seven field goals without a miss in a single game.
The Missouri game lifted Klein to All-Big Eight Conference status as a junior. He ended the season connecting on 13 of his last 17 attempts. As a senior, he was even more accurate, hitting 10 of 13 field goals en route to becoming a First-Team Academic All-American.
As a walk-on who earned a scholarship for his last two years as a Husker, Klein appreciated the attention, but was more concerned with how the Huskers finished in his three years as a starter. "I think we finished in the Top 10 every year," he said.
And sure enough, Nebraska finished third, tenth and fourth in those 1984-85-86 seasons. The Huskers played in two Sugar Bowls and one Fiesta Bowl. "We had good teams with good players," Klein said, admitting that he toyed with the idea of trying to kick professionally.
He Rode That Kicker's Mental Roller Coaster
"I know how tough kicking can be," Klein said. "I missed two field goals against Oklahoma when I was a sophomore and got benched, and I almost never made it back into the lineup until I hit those two 40-yarders against Okie State."
Kicking, he said, "can be a mental roller coaster."
Klein talked to several NFL teams about trying out as a free agent, but then something happened that was more important because a lifelong goal of his came sharply into focus - an engineering job with Martin Marietta in Denver.
"We lived in Seward, but always vacationed in Colorado," Klein said. "I got my dream job offer at the same time I had to decide if I wanted to try kicking in the pros."
Actually, it was a pretty easy decision, and Klein decided with his brain rather than his heart. "I took the engineering job and have really never looked back," he said.
From the moment he started at Martin Marietta, Klein was assigned to the company's program that launches unmanned rockets into space. Martin Marietta became Lockheed Martin and then Lockheed Martin and Boeing, two companies that competed fiercely against each other, merged their space divisions and now call themselves United Launch Alliance.
"We put all the military satellites and all of NASA's communications satellites into space," explained Klein, who is the certified lead engineer for the structural design of the rockets' nosecones.
From NCAA Record-Holder to Rocket Man
"I've been working on launching rockets for 23 years now - ever since that first job working on the Titan IV rocket program," he said. "What we do now is like launching a space shuttle without the astronauts. It's very exciting work, and I will always be grateful for the education I received at Nebraska."
Klein is equally grateful that he had the opportunity to walk on and play football - an experience that he's convinced enabled him to do and be what he is today at age 46.
With no disrespect to scholarship players, "all that walk-ons want is a chance and the opportunity to earn the respect of their coaches and teammates," Klein said. "As a walk-on, you come to Nebraska with that extra drive to prove yourself worthy. You know you have to open the eyes of the coaches and gain the respect of your teammates. A walk-on has to compete to get a chance and then prove that you deserve it once you get it. That's the way life is."
Klein can't wait to watch Henery continue his quest for perfection after hitting all nine of his field goal attempts and converting all 35 of his extra point tries this fall.
"I've waited to say this because I don't want to jinx him, but I think it's the right thing to say now: It looks like Alex will end up being THE best kicker we've ever had at Nebraska," Klein said. "He's breaking Kris Brown's records and looks like he might break several NCAA records. He's just an unbelievable kicker and a great punter with distance, hang time and all the right angles."
No wonder Henery is the only kicker in the country on the Lou Groza watch list for kickers and the Ray Guy watch list for punters.
"Last Saturday, Alex kicked a 52-yard field goal with ease, and he took off on a fake punt without fear," Klein said. "He's a weapon, but the thing I like most about him is that he's a walk-on. I think he turned down a soccer scholarship to take a chance at Nebraska. I think everyone would agree that he's earned everything that's come his way."
Voices from Husker Nation
Nice remembrance of a very special day in Nebraska football history. The NU-MU rivalry has produced a number of special games, and Dale Klein's record-setting performance is a highlight. Dale was a junior high student at Seward Middle School when I student taught there. I remember watching him be so methodical during our archery unit. His pre-shot routine was always the same, much like his kicking style. A couple years later, I was at Misty's in Lincoln and saw Dale, now a high school student, with his parents for supper. They were at the table, and he was studying all the artifacts in the Nebraska display. Dale Klein is the kind of Nebraska kid that makes the program special He was a great young man ... someone I knew would be successful at whatever he did. Rocket scientist. Perfect. David Friedli, Plattsmouth, Nebraska
I was on the freshman football team with Dale in 1982. We worked out together in August two-a-days and the thing I remember about that experience was when you held the ball for Dale. Back then, we used a 2-inch rubber kicking block, and of all the kickers on the freshman team, Dale was the only one that when the ball left the tee, you would smell a slight whiff of burnt rubber afterward. I had long since left the team by 1985 and remember how thrilled I was for him watching the Missouri game. I wish him and his family all the best. Robert Butler, Liberty Hill, Texas, UNL '86
I have always been amazed at Nebraska football history, and I am not afraid to admit it - I had completely forgotten about Dale Klein's record field goal performance. I had no clue that he outscored Mizzou with his leg and that if he hadn't done it, a good season would have gone right down the drain. Thanks for reminding those of us who think we remember everything that we really don't. Congratulations to Dale on still being in the NCAA record book and for having a job that is truly out of this world. Steve Sampson, Des Moines, Iowa
When I saw on Huskers.com that Dale Klein was going to be at the game Saturday, I was telling my nephew about his making seven field goals in one game, and that he still holds records an NCAA record. My nephew was not born yet when that happened, but I remember it. Thanks for the update on Dale. Lennae Seevers, Omaha