Back in the 1980s, the NFL was a strange place. Dan Marino was throwing 40-yard behind-the-back passes. The Chicago Bears created a hit song (and music video) known as “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” Heck, even the New York Jets posted winning seasons during that wild decade.
Nothing may have more bizarre than the kickers. The barefoot kickers. Yes, back in the day a good number of players attempted field goals and booted kickoffs without a cleat (and sometimes without a sock) on their kicking feet. Mike Lansford and Rich Karlis were a couple of them, but the best was without a doubt Philadelphia Eagles kicker Tony Franklin.
Franklin produced a legendary college football career, setting NCAA records at Texas A&M University. “The Barefoot Kicker” then carried his shoeless ways into the NFL, where he played in two Super Bowls.
Times have changed since then. Shoes were designed lighter for kickers and special teams players, which ultimately made barefoot kicking a thing of the past.
But where is Tony Franklin AKA “The Barefoot Kicker” today?
Tony Franklin Texas A&M
Tony Franklin was originally a safety in high school at Fort Worth Arlington Heights before he tore ligaments in his left ankle in 1972. That’s when he shifted gears and began a new life as a kicker using his right foot.
Soon enough, he realized he could kick at the collegiate level. New Mexico State and TCU offered him scholarships. Oklahoma and Nebraska said they’d welcome him as a walk-on. When Texas A&M head coach Emory Bellard gave him a full ride to College Station, Franklin jumped on the opportunity.
Barefoot kicking was new back then. Teammates of Franklin’s, like College Football Hall of Fame member Jacob Green, sat in disbelief at what Franklin could do when he struck the pigskin with his bare foot skin.
“When I first saw him I said, ‘You forgot your shoe,’” Green told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “But he could kick it. Field goal range for us was getting inside the 45-yard line. We knew he was going to kick 50-yarders, but then he was kicking 64 and 65-yarders.”
Green wasn’t lying.
Tony Franklin emerged as a superstar at Texas A&M. Standing just 5-foot-8 and 182 pounds, Franklin made a then-NCAA career record 56 field goals in four years for TAMU.
None were as impressive as the two famous ones he drilled against Baylor on October 16, 1976 at Kyle Field.
Franklin set the NCAA record for longest field goal when he booted a 64-yarder against the Bears that day. Later in the game, he broke his own record when he was good from 65 yards out. That same day, Abilene Christian’s Ove Johansson kicked a 69-yarder that stands as the longest in college football history.
Franklin that day become the only kicker in NCAA history to hit two field goals of 60 or more yards in the same game.
Franklin left Texas A&M with a whopping 18 NCAA records and multiple All-American honors. He still owns the three longest field goals in school history.
Tony Franklin NFL Career
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Franklin in the third round (74th overall) in the 1979 NFL Draft.
As a rookie, he made 23 of 31 field goal attempts. In a Monday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite team growing up, he split the uprights on a 59-yard field goal. It was the second-longest field goal in NFL history at the time.
“We had a penalty and Dallas declined it instead of backing us up and making us replay it. So it ended up being a 59-yard attempt and fortunately that’s as good as I’ve hit a football when I was playing professionally,” Franklin told PhiladelphiaEagles.com. “I mean, it was dead down the middle. I was very fortunate to make it. It was definitely a high point in my career.”
The Eagles won their first NFC Championship and earned a trip to the Super Bowl the following season.
He’d kick 80 field goals over five seasons in Philly before he was traded to the New England Patriots. Franklin led the NFL in scoring and field goals made in 1986 when he was a Pro Bowl selectee. He even kicked a 36-yard field goal in Super Bowl XX, which the Patriots lost to the Chicago Bears.
Tony Franklin spent one final season with the Miami Dolphins and after a 10-year NFL career retired with 177 field goals under his belt.
Where is Tony Franklin Now?
Franklin has worked in the auto finance business for more than 30 years and lives outside of San Antonio, where he and his wife Sally own a ranch, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.
In addition to working for a car dealership, the 64-year-old Franklin serves as a high school football color analyst for the Texas Sports Radio Network.
“Football has been my entire life. I’ve actually done some of Johnny Manziel’s games, and some other kids that are now playing professionally. So it’s fun for me. I get to see them at an early age. You’ve got a lot of kids in the San Antonio area that are playing D-1 and D-2 (college football),” Franklin told PhiladelphiaEagles.com.
Franklin has two sons, Sean and Shea. According to PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Sean “works for a government contractor” and inspects schools in Japan. Shea also worked at a car dealership in San Antonio.
In 2019, Franklin was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Barefoot kickers may have been left in the past, but it’s good to see that Tony Franklin is still hanging around the gridiron even if he’s wearing both shoes.