Big Red at the Big Game

Sadly, there are no alumni playing in Super Bowl LVIII—but the event has a scoreboard’s worth of Cornellian connections

Do you have a topic you’d like Cornell’s history expert to explore in a future column? Let us know at cornellians@cornell.edu!

By Corey Ryan Earle ’07

As football fans across the United States prepare for Super Bowl LVIII, Cornellians may be disappointed to find zero Big Red alumni playing in the big game this year. Fortunately, as with most things, a look beneath the surface reveals that Cornell’s connections run deep. In fact, without one Cornell alumnus, there might not even be a Super Bowl.

On October 28, 1961, sophomore Pete Gogolak ’64 kicked a 41-yard field goal in a Big Red game at Princeton, revolutionizing place-kicking with his soccer-style kick from the side.

An illustration of Corey Earle with the title Storytime with Corey

ESPN would later put it at number 38 on its list of moments that defined college football. (Cornell also appears at number 35, for the infamous “Fifth Down” game of 1940.)

Drafted by the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1964, Gogolak became the first soccer-style kicker in professional football.

Without one Cornell alumnus, there might not even be a Super Bowl.

With the Bills winning the AFL league championship in 1964 and 1965, Gogolak was selected for the AFL All-Star game and attracted the eye of other teams in need of kickers.

At the time, a gentlemen’s agreement existed between the American Football League and its rival National Football League, where team owners in one league typically declined to poach players from the other.

Pete Gogolak ’64 demonstrates his signature kicking style
Gogolak shows his signature move. (Cornell Athletics)

When the New York Giants of the NFL broke that agreement by signing Gogolak in May 1966, war between the leagues escalated, and new AFL commissioner Al Davis began persuading NFL quarterbacks to sign with the rival league.

One month later, in June 1966, an AFL-NFL merger was announced, to take effect in 1970. The first AFL-NFL championship game—retroactively deemed Super Bowl I—was played in January 1967, beginning a tradition that continues to this day.

(Although Gogolak never played in a Super Bowl, he remains the Giants’ all-time scoring leader, having spent nine seasons with the team.)

This year’s Super Bowl, with the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, has its own Big Red connections.

But which team should Cornellians be cheering for—especially when both wear red?

One point in San Francisco’s favor: the first alum ever to win a Super Bowl (in 1985) was a 49er, Derrick Harmon ’84.

(Big Red great Ed Marinaro ’72, BS ’73, played in the championship game with the Minnesota Vikings in 1974 and ’75 without a win; Kevin Boothe ’05 collected two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants in 2008 and 2012, followed by Bryan Walters ’10 with the Seattle Seahawks in 2014.)

Also: San Francisco has won five Super Bowls in team history, and one thing in common for all of them was a Cornellian behind the bench.

George Seifert, Big Red head coach for the 1975 and ’76 seasons, was an assistant coach for San Francisco’s first three Super Bowl wins (1982, 1985, 1989) and head coach for the last two (1990, 1995).

The current chief financial officer for the 49ers organization is Peter Wilhelm ’93.

49er Derrick Harmon was the first Cornellian to win a Super Bowl
Harmon playing for the Big Red. (Cornell Athletics)

But perhaps the team’s closest Cornell connection is its relationship with sociologist Harry Edwards, PhD ’73.

In 1985, San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, concerned about the scarcity of Black coaches in the NFL, hired Edwards as a consultant to help advise players and staff on issues of race and other social issues.

The following year, Walsh and Edwards launched a program that eventually developed into the league-wide Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship.

The opportunity to work with NFL coaches and teams became a steppingstone for many future head coaches, including former Big Red defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, recently named head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Harry Edwards at an on-campus talk in 2019
Edwards at an event on campus in 2019. (Cornell University)

Since 2017, the 49ers have given the Dr. Harry Edwards “Follow Your Bliss” Award to outstanding Bay Area teachers.

Cornell’s Kansas City connections are a bit more tenuous (unless you count Chiefs wide receiver Cornell Powell, no relation).

Big Red Hall of Fame member John Sponheimer ’69 was drafted by Kansas City in the 10th round of the pro football draft in 1969, but he never played for the team.

The last time the Chiefs won the Super Bowl? In 2023 at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium, designed by architect Peter Eisenman ’54.

The last time the Chiefs won the Super Bowl? In 2023 at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium, designed by architect Peter Eisenman ’54.

(If you’re looking for a Big Red Link to pop superstar Taylor Swift, girlfriend of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce: in 2015, Swift purchased the Beverly Hills estate of Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn; it was originally designed by architect Douglas Honnold, who matriculated into the Class of 1924 but didn’t earn a degree.)

Actually, Cornell’s biggest connection to the Chiefs’ might be their number-one fan: Quinton Lucas, JD ’09, mayor of Kansas City, MO.

(Residents across the river in Kansas City, KS, are represented by Congresswoman Sharice Davids, JD ’10.)

“Pop” Warner was immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp in 1997
Warner was immortalized on a stamp in 1997. (Smithsonian National Postal Museum)

And for the game overall: when you see a Chief or 49er go into a three-point stance—crouching at the start of a play, with one hand on the ground and the other arm cocked back—think of Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner 1894.

That pioneering coach is credited with popularizing the position.

In their conference championship games, both teams employed another of Warner’s innovations: the screen pass.

Bottom line: Cornellians are everywhere, regardless of the team you support.

So pass the nachos. And perhaps the Beano—developed by Al Kligerman ’52.

An expert on Big Red lore, Corey Ryan Earle ’07 teaches “The First American University,” a wildly popular spring semester course on Cornell history.

Earle illustration by Caitlin Cook / Cornell University.

Published February 2, 2024


Comments

  1. Steve Sauter, Class of 1976

    Informative and entertaining; thanks!

  2. Tom Guise, Class of 1966

    Gogolak’s holder in the picture is Gary Wood, a later Giant teammate. The Cortland flash was an outstanding quarterback during the early 1960’s. In 1962 he led The Big Red to a 35-34 win over Princeton where the last team to have the ball won. Gary did it all on offense!

  3. Tom Guise, Class of 1966

    Corey Earle knows more about CU than Ezra. Ezra’s past and present.
    Consider him for the University Presidential position in the near future. Corey truly cares about and loves Cornell!

  4. Jon Hrbek, Class of 1979

    Thanks Corey, a great bit of Big Red history!

  5. Walter Milani, Class of 1978

    Brilliant! Very enjoyable! TY! Great, clever ending!

  6. Marian Rambelle, Class of 1985

    Little-known fact: Informative and Entertaining are Corey’s seldom-used extra middle names.

  7. Michael Rubin, Class of 1967

    One thing that may have been forgotten is that when Pete Gogolak’s brother, Charlie, first began place-kicking for Princeton, Cornell devised a defense by putting two players standing on the shoulders of two other players to try to block the kick. My recollection is that the ploy didn’t work, and was subsequently outlawed by college football altogether.

    • John Shaffer, Class of 1966

      Yes, I remember that game! I was a second stringer watching from the sidelines. The play didn’t work because Cornell was offside. This was the ‘Tom Harp’ coaching era 1962 – 1966. Harp was also an assistant coach at Army prior to coming to Cornell when Army introduced the ‘Lonesome End’ formation. He left Cornell to coach at Duke after a mediocre Cornell tenure.

  8. Chris Dawson

    I was contacted by a Cornell Engineering alumni a couple of years ago who claimed to have invented and patented the tee almost all NFL teams us to kickoff from. Turns out, he was serious!

    https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/09/nfl-uses-kicking-tee-invented-cornell-alum

  9. Helen Rockwell

    Wasn’t Jan Stenerud, point kicker for the Chiefs when Lenny Dawson was quarterback, a Cornellian? They played in one of the first Super Bowls.

    • Corey Ryan Earle, Class of 2007

      Stenerud attended Montana State University, but he was one of the first “soccer style” kickers, like Gogolak.

  10. Dale Witwer, Class of 1967

    Yes, I was on top of the “twin towers” trying to block Charlie Gogolak’s field goal in 1965. As mentioned, it was at first unsuccessful due to Cornell being offsides. Charlie later said he used our twin towers as “rangefinders” to kick an Ivy record 54 yard field goal. At the end of the season, the NCAA made rule changes to outlaw the formation. The NFL followed suit a few years later. Cornell is responsible for changes in the NCAA rules as well as the NFL!

Leave a Comment

Once your comment is approved, your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Other stories You may like