Fall was upon them in Abilene, Texas. The overcast sky and the crisp 58-degree air resembled the breath of a peppermint. Wind? Seventeen miles per hour with a tailwind of 12 miles per hour. Sixty-nine meters was all that stood in the way of Ove Johansson and history.
Forty-five years ago, Johansson scored a 69-yard basket against East Texas State, becoming the record holder for longest basket in college football history.
Reunion Weekend brought crowds on October 16, 1976 at Abilene Christian University and Shotwell Stadium. The stands were full of students, teachers, staff, parents, alumni. They knew a record would be broken that day. Wilbert Montgomery was one touchdown from surpassing the career touchdown record of fellow Mississippi native Walter Payton (63). What they didn’t know was the pre-game dialogue between ACU teammates Johansson and Montgomery. The two agreed to set records that day.
Two of Johansson’s pre-game warm-up kicks were good at 70 yards.
“The leg was working,” Johansson told NCAA.com in 2019.
Wilbert scored his long-awaited touchdown. It didn’t put Johansson under pressure, but something special got his adrenaline pumping. Ten minutes before he and the Wildcats special teams unit rallied on their own 41-yard line, Texas A&M’s Tony Franklin kicked a 65-yard (and 64-yard later in the game) basket against Baylor to take full ownership of the longest goal in college football history.
“It was exciting to come into this field knowing that if I make this placement successful I will be doing something that no one in sport has ever done,” said Johansson.
The Kicking Gods traveled 270 miles down the road from College Station to sprinkle magical kicking powder on Johansson’s right foot in Abilene. He was on target at 69 meters, so much so that officials said it would have been good at 75 meters.
Some people like to see the kick as a fluke, that mystical powers were at work that day, that the wind gave the ball extra life – all to make Johansson’s feat short.
Even the team of officials was the least bit amused.
“One of the refs got a little pissed off because he had to walk all the way down (to get the ball),” Johansson said, laughing in his Swedish-Texan accent.
He didn’t know he would do it, but he knew he could.
Many say the point where his foot met the soccer ball looked like a shotgun. Those same people thought the group on Abilene’s 41-yard line was a fake. Johansson could hear laughter as he took the training. “But my wife April said, ’10 -15 seconds before you kicked you could hear a needle drop into the stadium.”
Here are actual footage from the record-breaking kick:
Ron Hadfield, former editor of the student newspaper Abilene The optimist and current editor of the school’s alumni magazine, recalls covering the game behind the scenes that day. He remembers people asking Coach Wally Bullington why he tried to hit a basket from that part of the pitch.
Bullington replied, “Well, we needed three points.”
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Johansson had only kicked four college baskets before this game. Growing up in Sweden, he spent most of his life on a football pitch. Ironically, his dream of playing football took him to Irving, Texas, in 1972 and Dallas where he played for a European team.
Each stop led to another important moment in his life. A girl in the stands caught his eye during a game and he spent half time using the 24 words of English he knew to get her phone number. He was successful and the couple dated for five to six months until he got a call.
While playing against a team in Colorado Springs, Davis and Elkins College football coach witnessed Johansson’s play and soon after offered him a football scholarship. He moved to West Virginia and became an All-American.
The childhood game he adored and crossed an ocean for, however, could not be compared to the girl from Texas. April was enrolled in Abilene Christian and Johansson sacrificed her athletic scholarship to follow suit. The Wildcats didn’t have a men’s soccer team, so to stay at Abilene he had to try for the soccer team. Two kickers already had a place in the squad and Bullington pity Johansson.
Looking back, there was nothing pitiful about it. “I said, ‘This little baby is going to fly,’ and I drove off and it went through the posts and over the chain fence of the athlete’s dormitory.”
Coach Bullington replied, “Ove, you just made the squad.”
At the end of the season, he was selected in the 12th round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, becoming the oldest drafted player in NFL history at 28 years, 281 days and the first player. Swedish-born NFL.
He spent three years bouncing around three different teams.
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Today, Saturdays are for football. At 6 a.m., Johansson channels his childhood and turns on the television. Looking at the 110-yard field with football goalposts at opposite ends through the LED-lit box, he remembers the 1958 FIFA World Cup. He was supposed to attend the event every four years. in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden that year. By proxy, he now lives through the Premier League and every other televised football event.
The Swede continues on the football field to help mentor the local high school kickers. He is still married to April, the woman he fell in love with at the football game, the same woman for whom he sacrificed his football dream. This has led him on a path of many personal and professional successes.
And people still ask him to talk about that miraculous day in 1976.