Garo Yepremian, the former Miami Dolphins kicker who was a member of the perfect team and NFL 1970s All-Decade team , has passed away after a short battle with brain cancer. He was 70 years old.
Yepremian was Armenian and stood only 5 feet, 7 inches while weighing in at a measly 160 pounds. He had never played football in Cyprus where he was born but knew he had the talent to make it in the NFL. In 1966, he made the Detroit Lions roster and spent two years with them. After joining the army in 1968, the Lions didn't re-sign him. Then in 1970, the Dolphins signed him and he was a member of the team until 1978. After the Dolphins released him, he played with the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before retiring after the 1981 season.
Many modern day fans who weren't alive or old enough to see Yepremian play will remember him for his Super Bowl pass against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, the year of the perfect season. Immediately after the error, Yepremian was obviously distraught and thought it was the end for him.
"I honestly felt as if my life was over," said Yepremian in a 2014 interview. "I never, ever had been disappointed like that in my life. Goodness, I felt as if it was the end. Norm Evans, the spiritual leader of the Dolphins, he said, 'don't worry, God is with you.' That was the best thing that ever happened to me, to have that encouragement from a friend. If the other team scored, and it would have went to overtime, that would've haunted me for the rest of my life."
While the Redskins weren't able to complete the comeback with just over two minutes left in the game, Yepremian has never lived it down. Of course, everyone is now able to joke about it since the Dolphins won but had they not, he would've been remembered in a much different way.
"Every airport you go to, people point to you and say, 'Here's the guy who screwed up in the Super Bowl,'" Yepremian said in a 2007 interview. "After a while it bothers you. If it was anybody else he would go crazy, but fortunately, I'm a happy-go-lucky guy. Some of my teammates, they are jealous at the attention. But I never use the past in my motivational speeches, I never talk of the negative. I talk of the pride in my country, my flag, my freedom, and my anthem. And I talk about how proud I am to be an American."
In an interview that happened years ago, head coach Don Shula was able to laugh at it and poke fun at Yepremian.
"I thought, 'Boy, this will be great if Garo kicks this field goal and we go ahead 17-0 in a 17-0 season. What a great way that would be to remember the game," Shula said. "And then Garo did what he did, and it's 14-7 with still a couple of minutes to go. I'm looking for Garo, and I'm ready to kill Garo, and I couldn't find him. He went down to one end of the bench, and I haven't seen him since."
However, for those who saw him play, they'll know him for his many accomplishments. For example, he once owned the record for the most consecutive field goals made in a season. He was also clutch in many moments, including playoff games and the moments in the regular season when they counted the most. In 1973, he was named the Pro Bowl MVP and was voted the kicker of the decade in the 1970s by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee. From 1966 through 1981, he connected on 210-of-313 field goals.
In 2014, Yepremian was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Cancer was no stranger to his family as his daughter-in-law also had a brain tumor back in the early part of 2000. In 2001, he had created a foundation devoted to fighting brain cancer. In a story published in January 2015, Chester County Sheriff Carolyn Welsh, a longtime family friend of the Yepremian's and a foundation board member, had nothing but praise for Garo.
“Garo is a wonderful, caring human being, which is evident from the passion and energy he used to start the foundation,” Welsh said. “He has worked tirelessly for this cause and now has become a part of it in ways no one could have ever imagined.”
Certainly, his legacy will live on forever and the impact he has made in so many people's lives - both on and off the field - will leave a memory that will last for decades to come. Private funeral arrangements are pending. A viewing is planned Wednesday in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
This story was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs