State Your Case: Why Nick Lowery is worthy of HOF debate

Nick Lowery photo courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs

As you know by now, there are only two pure placekickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen. But there should be a third, and, no, I’m not talking about Adam Vinatieri … not yet, anyway. I’m talking about someone who’s waited on Canton for years.

Someone like … Nick Lowery.

Go ahead and roll your eyes, but, yes, Nick Lowery, star of the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets and numero uno on the stat site, Football Perspective, for career placekickers — ahead of Andersen and ahead of Stenerud.

“Frankly,” wrote Chase Stuart of Football Perspective, “it’s not much of a question as to who is the best kicker ever. Until presented with evidence to the contrary, that honor belongs to Nick Lowery.”

I thought that was a bold statement, too, until I consulted our friend and colleague, John Turney of Pro Football Journal, for his thoughts. And his thoughts were consistent with those of Stuart, with Turney last summer ranking Lowery as his top kicker of all time.

Nick Lowery photo courtesy of Kansas City Chiefs

As he explained, Lowery had everything. He was the most accurate kicker of his era. He kicked outdoors, conquering the weather elements at Arrowhead Stadium. He had such a strong leg he could power field goals from 58 yards. And in PAL and PAL2 — Points Above the Average, a statistic invented by Rupert Patrick of Pro Football Researchers Association — Lowery was first.

“Lowery was the most accurate kicker of his era,” Turney said, “and even past that for a few years. For me, I followed Lowery’s career in the 1980s and 1990s.I remember his clutch kicks and many of the distances. I found it odd he never got the acclaim he deserved. He easily could have been the all-decade kicker of the 1980s and 1990s (he led both in kicking percentages).”

Yeah, but he wasn’t. Andersen was. And that’s one reason he was elected to Canton, and Lowery wasn’t.

But Turney makes a good point. If Lowery was that accomplished — and he was, the league’s most accurate kicker when he retired and a guy who beat out Stenerud in Kansas City — why hasn’t he been considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? I mean, he’s never been a semifinalist, and it’s been 21 years since he retired.

One of the reasons, of course, is that until recently the Hall’s board of selectors never took specialists all that seriously. There was only one — Stenerud — elected in the first 51 years. But then punter Ray Guy was chosen in 2014 and, three years later, Andersen was elected. So that’s two in four years, and hallelujah. But why stop there? Vinatieri will be on a fast track when he retires, and, frankly, Lowery should’ve been, too.

But he wasn’t … and he’s not … and I don’t get it.

“I once saw a stat,” Lowery told us when we had him on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast earlier this month, “that during the regular season — all the kicking game — punting, kickoffs, returns, field goals, everything … determines about one out of every three outcomes. But in the playoffs, it close to doubles. So the pressure on kickers is tremendous, and I do think it’s time that more recognition has happened.”

So do I. That’s why I’d like to see Lowery at least discussed — meaning he not only makes the ballot as a semifinalist but makes the cut to 15 as a finalist. No, I don’t think it happens, either, but I wish it would. The guy was a seven-time All-Pro who set a passel of records during his career — including most games with two field goals of 50 or more yards, more than 15 game-winners (including two in the playoffs), most career field goals (384) and highest career percentage (80.0).

And this from someone who learned how to cope with the changing atmospheric and field conditions of Arrowhead Stadium and, later, the Meadowlands. Nick Lowery wasn’t just a good placekicker. He was a great one. There should be a place for someone like that … and there is.


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  1. bachslunch
    October 24, 2017

    Great article, Clark. Have been convinced of Nick Lowery’s HoF worth for some time now. Adjusted for era, he’s the best PK in history by every such measure I’ve encountered. And his honors of 4/3/none are excellent for his position. No idea why he didn’t make either the 80s or 90s all decade team, never mind both. Well put, and thanks for posting.

    • October 24, 2017

      Won’t get a sniff, of course, but doesn’t make it right. Guy rubbed people the wrong way, and I think that hurt him. Too bad. Qualified. Thanks for reading.

      • Debbie Brinkoetter
        October 24, 2017

        I have faith the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee will do the right thing and vote him in. If selection is truly based on merit and not a popularity contest, he should have been voted in before now. The stats speak for themselves and voters have the opportunity to prove there is no bias in the selection process.

      • Joseph Wright
        October 24, 2017

        How did Lowery rub people the wrong way? Nothing was mentioned about his personality or actions off the field. Did I miss something?

    • Joseph Wright
      October 24, 2017

      “FOXBORO, Mass., Dec. 10— Kicker Nick Lowery admitted after today’s game that he slapped a 20-year-old Patriots ball boy after becoming angered over the fact that the Jets were kicking footballs that had not been properly rubbed up to combat the cold…He also noted that (before he slapped him) Foscaldo had been profane and disrespectful. ‘I’ve never been spoken to like that in my 20 years of football,” Lowery said.'”

      I guess he was not going to spare the rod to spoil the child, right John?

    • bachslunch
      October 26, 2017

      John, thanks for posting. Didn’t know this. Of course, there being no character clause to consider, it shouldn’t matter anyway. Kevin Greene attacked his own coach on the sidelines, and he’s in, after all.

  2. Debbie Brinkoetter
    October 24, 2017

    That was a very regrettable situation, but Nick owned up to what happen, offered no excuses and answered for it. What didn’t get shared is that not only did he apologize to that young man and his family — he was not a boy by the way, he was 20 years old and as big as some of the players – Nick invited him and his Dad to his charity event in which they both attended, and he did his best to make it right and nothing like that ever happened again. It was never reported in the media that the young man was fired two weeks later by the Patriots for not only profanely taunting another player like he had done to Nick, but also for running out on the field and knocking over a player returning an interception! Have you ever heard of sideline crew attacking visiting team members!?!

    Earlier that same year, in July, Warren Moon was arrested for domestic violence and later acquitted by a jury and it did not keep him from being inducted into the Hall. If Nick had been arrested for assault and both sides had been presented he probably would have been acquitted, not only in a court of law but in the public’s eye as well, for similar reasons… the incident was initiated by the other person.

    I’ll mention, too, even AFTER this incident Nick was named the Jets Man of the Year, making him the only player at that time to be NFL Man of the Year for two teams. I chaired Nick’s “Kick with Nick” program for Cerebral Palsy and worked with him over the years on several youth initiatives. We were proud to work with Morten Andersen, whose “Kicks for Kids” program was patterned after Nick’s, as well as Bo Jackson’s “Bat with Bo” program when he was with the Kansas City Royals. Nick’s program was the longest running player program in the league at the time and served as a prototype for others.

    I’m sorry that isolated incident came up and I’ll be even more sorry if there is small mindedness great enough amongst the voters that they would let that keep someone as deserving as Nick out of the HOF. I think anyone being put in the position to kick balls in freezing weather that seemed like cement would be pushed to the limit. You learn from mistakes and grow, and as a winner of the Byron “Whizzer” White Humanitarian award, Nick has led an exemplary life of service on and off the field…and those efforts continue today through the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation.

  3. Kerouac
    October 25, 2017

    Hall of Fame nomination or enshrinement: the issue ‘comparison’ one kicker vs another, this era vs that one, it is not an easy thing to do. Will acknowledge my own bias when I say: as cars past vs those today, will take the ‘classics’ 24/7/365. As such give me a Stenerud in lieu Lowery same (my ’70 Dodge Challenger instead the century 21 Hellcat (and/or anything else, btw : )

    Bias mine old in lieu new stated on the record, Stenerud kicking most of his games on grass/outside 1967 – 1971 KC, vs an latter era Lowery spent in his entirety KC on artificial turf (also kicking domed stadiums moreso than Stenerud was ever able to, while playing with KC.

    Later/end his career, Stenerud played GB & MIN (Vikings domed), his fg % better (77%) his final 6 years age 38-43 compared to his 13 in KC (64%) age 24-37, including success 50 yards or more (63% in GB/MIN, 21% at KC; correlation advanced age or progress modern medicinal?)

    Do old kicker legs get naturally stronger/more accurate as old Barry Bonds ‘improved’ bat/eyesight advanced age? Nod the better quality not just stadium surfaces, footing & domed venues (as footballs too), reality success trended up through the years far back one’s research.

    Nod a parable, ‘to whom much is given much will be (or should be?) required/expected. Which is to say, I do not subscribe to ‘everything modern is better’, understanding a bigger/stronger player likely has some benefit (comparison the old/old fashioned way more so effort) vs/compared to a ever more insidious, modern medicinal assist tack, ergogenic aids (steroids, HGH among them.) Also comes with a price to pay: health and for some fans loss some degree relevance re: stat and semblance that a statistic holds the same weight, those yore.

    Reported training advances as well nutrition and steroid use (notables far back at least 1963 the Chargers and up through early 70’s Steelers) and continuing to date, offers at least some ponderance that said can skew integrity/legality in sports football, baseball, basketball, etc., and part & parcel, results. Advances as such, tantamount modern players teeing off ‘ladies’ or ‘forward’ tee comparison eras past which did not, analogy competitive advantage today vs yester.

    If it’s Stenerud vs Lowery (example), Jan had his big misses career (’71 vs Dolphins), but, Lowery had big misses too, including 20 years later, the 1991 post season when he missed a fg that would have provided the difference what became a 1 point KC loss to the Dolphins, 16-17.

    Would also offer for thought this fact: overall post season each kicker played in 7 games: Lowery was 8-12 while Stenerud was 13-21, but of course Lowery never kicked under the same pressure post season as Stenerud (Jan was perfect in the Superbowl example, Lowery never.)

    If (in reference to Hall of Fame consideration) off field matters hold any weight (Lowery ball boy ‘slapping incident, or, something other such as case of another Chiefs player Jim Tyrer), reportedly Lowery (among other players/coaches) was involved in a revolt to get rid of Head Coach Mackovic (Lowery even referred to by some as ‘leader’.)

    1986 under Mackovic, KC made a first post season appearance in 15 years since under Hank Stram in 1971. Mackovic was fired & player’s choice Frank Gansz hired. Aft 2 seasons .274 ball and 8 wins, Gansz was shown the door; as Mr. Spock once said Star Trek episode: ‘you may find that ‘having’ is not as much as ‘wanting.’

    Upshot: if modern players are (nod amorphous) ‘better’ than older era ones (I submit they are not sans copious help, variously), the measure ‘Hall of Fame’ pearly gate’s Canton should be that much more difficult, discriminating, than it was for earlier hopefuls… seems only fair. Then again, who said Hall of Fame voting had anything at all to do fairness.

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