Officially, Shawn McCarthy’s 93-yard punt was the third-longest punt in NFL history.
Steve O’Neal’s 98-yarder is famous for being the perfect punt (from the 1 to the 1, without the extra yard that would have caused a touchback).
But what happened on Joe Lintzenich’s 94-yarder? Turns out, the deeper you look, the more strange twists come up that make this entry in the record book a real oddity.
The first thing to note is that the date listed in the official record book for Lintzenich’s punt is wrong — the Giants and Bears played on the 15th of November, not the 16th.
The second oddity is that the NFL didn’t begin keeping official statistics until 1932, the year after Lintzenich’s punt. As Dan Daly and Bob O’Donnell pointed out in their seminal NFL history book The Pro Football Chronicle, the NFL didn’t even list Lintzenich’s punt in its records until 1976.
The NFL might want to look more closely at Lintzenich’s punt…. It’s currently number two on the all-time list, but it wasn’t added to the record book until 1976. Strange. What piece of pre-1933 evidence could have convinced the league?
In the 1930s, the official guides to the NFL were published by the American Sports Publishing Company under the banner of the Spalding’s Athletic Library. This was an offshoot of their intercollegiate version which began publishing in the 19th Century.1 In 1941, NFL commissioner Elmer Layden ended the contract with Spalding, reportedly because other professional leagues were also devoted space in the Official Guide. The individual and team records listed in the official guides originally took up a mere half a page, later expanding to about 3 pages. So Lintzenich’s punt, even if valid, could not have shown up in these barebones records in the years immediately after it occurred.2 In fact no punt showed up in the records, with scoring, passing, receiving, and rushing being the only categories published.
The 1942 official NFL Record and Roster Manual — the precursor to the modern Record and Fact Book — significantly expanded the records, but listed no punts nor any other non-scoring events that occurred before 1932.
By 1969, the record book had added a Wilbur Henry 94-yard punt from 19233 Later downgraded to about 83 yards and removed from the records. but hadn’t yet added Lintzenich.
So what convinced the NFL to add Lintzenich’s punt to its record book some 45 years after the supposed fact?
This 1963 profile in his hometown St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentions Lintzenich had been given a scrapbook documenting his football career thirty years earlier, and that that scrapbook contained a clipping documenting his punt.
The game recaps in the newspapers in New York and Chicago didn’t mention the punt, but the last paragraph of the wrongly-datelined AP recap in the next day’s Post-Dispatch did.
The next question to ask is whether Lintzenich’s punt actually went 94 yards past the line of scrimmage, or whether it merely went 94 yards from where Lintzenich kicked it.4 Other disputed plays of the era like Hap Moran’s supposed 91-yard run have the same line of scrimmage vs. start point confusion. Unlike field goals, official distances for punts have been measured from the line of scrimmage since before the NFL existed, and while punters of yore did not line up 15 yards back like modern punters do, they certainly didn’t kick from the line of scrimmage.
In 1935, Lintzenich was interviewed by the Omaha Sunday Bee-News. The article begins with a description of the punt, and it is said that Lintzenich “stood on his six-yard-line in kick formation,” which would make the punt something less than an official 94 yards.
There are several reasons to dispute this account, however. It’s being told four years after the fact; Lintzenich’s memory might have been faulty; Lintzenich may have told the story accurately but the writer presented the account wrong, etc. Indeed, the writer incorrectly has the game in Yankee Stadium instead of the cross-river Polo Grounds, not a slight distinction in New York sports, but a minor detail to Omahans.
Thirty-five years later, Lintzenich was profiled in the Orlando Sentinel, which provided a little more supposed detail about the 94-yarder.5 Note that Lintzenich has gone from “it was just one of those things” in 1935 to “[today’s punters] don’t know the fundamentals” in 1970.
It is unlikely more detail did emerge about this punt from the pre-TV, pre-video, pre-statistics, barely-recapped era. So, again, how did the misdated clipping in Joe Lintzenich’s scrapbook make its way into the official record book?
As mentioned in the 1963 profile, Joe Lintzenich had a daughter, a local St. Louis stage actress who performed under the name Carole Lindsey.
A few years later, Carole Lintzenich met another local St. Louis performer of note.
6 These articles appeared within six weeks of each other in the winter of 1969.
At the time, Jack Buck broadcast the St. Louis baseball Cardinals, but also doubled as CBS’s main play-by-play announcer for the NFL.
Buck must have tried to stay in the good graces of his new father-in-law; in 1977, Buck co-authored Football Greats, which included a profile of Lintzenich, a man who had had just a two-year NFL career.
While no one can say for sure, it is likely that Jack Buck’s ongoing NFL connections played a large part in getting his father-in-law’s thinly sourced accomplishment into the NFL’s record book.
But the kicker to this unusual record: just one month after Jack and Carole’s wedding, the newlyweds had a son.
Joe Buck is named after the man that has perhaps one of the most dubious entries in the NFL record book.
- 1In 1941, NFL commissioner Elmer Layden ended the contract with Spalding, reportedly because other professional leagues were also devoted space in the Official Guide.
- 2In fact no punt showed up in the records, with scoring, passing, receiving, and rushing being the only categories published.
- 3Later downgraded to about 83 yards and removed from the records.
- 4Other disputed plays of the era like Hap Moran’s supposed 91-yard run have the same line of scrimmage vs. start point confusion.
- 5Note that Lintzenich has gone from “it was just one of those things” in 1935 to “[today’s punters] don’t know the fundamentals” in 1970.
- 6These articles appeared within six weeks of each other in the winter of 1969.