Austrian-born Christian Fuchs had a fine international soccer career, even before he joined Leicester City this season. But when he mentioned the other day that he’d like to try place-kicking in the NFL, a friend in New York City surprised Fuchs and his wife by sending them a photo of the news ticker in Times Square that showed Fuchs’ remark in a headline crawling along the bottom ticker of the scoreboard-sized screen.
“That was impressive, very impressive,” Fuchs said with a laugh this week in a telephone interview from Leicester. “I’m still a soccer player, and obviously my main focus is on this season, but it’s a dream of mine to kick in the NFL. And there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, right?”
As Leicester’s starting left back, the 30-year-old Fuchs handles many of the team’s crosses and other set-piece kicks where accuracy is required. He guesses his NFL field goal range would top out at 60 to 65 yards after kicking an American football last season. In 2015, Leicester struck up a long-distance friendship with the Carolina Panthers, who were in the midst of a magical season of their own. A few players on the clubs exchanged jerseys; soon, tweets were flying back and forth, as well as a video of some Leicester players, including Fuchs, kicking an NFL football.
Carolina kicker Graham Gano said the Leicester players looked “natural” at it.
“It would be interesting to see them kicking field goals and what it would look like,” Gano told The Guardian during the lead-up to the Panthers’ appearance in Super Bowl 50. “Obviously, their form looks good, but I never saw the ball going through the uprights. It’s a little different swing than to keep the ball under the [soccer goal] posts.”
Pete Gogolak, whose family moved to upstate New York after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is generally credited with starting American pro football’s move to soccer-style kicking after the Buffalo Bills drafted him out of Cornell in 1964. Around the same time, Jan Stenerud, still the only place-kicker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, left his native Norway to attend Montana State on a ski-jumping scholarship, of all things. Once in Bozeman, Stenerud, another former soccer player, was asked to try out for the football team after a coach saw him kicking for fun at their stadium.
English-born John Smith was set to play in a semi-pro soccer league — the same circuit Leicester City star Jamie Vardy once played in — before he accepted a tryout with the New England Patriots. Smith didn’t win an NFL job right away, but he eventually led the league in scoring twice during a 10-season career and kicked the winning field goal to beat the Miami Dolphins in 1982 in what became known as the Snowplow Game.
If you go by stats, Danish-born Morten Andersen was the best of them all. Anderson — who retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in scoring (2,544 points) and games played (382) — just missed making Denmark’s junior national soccer team before attending high school in the U.S. and trying football.
Smith agrees with Gano that the biggest adjustment Fuchs would face in a move to the NFL is revising his leg swing to account for the onrushing linemen.
“You have to kick the ball in 1.3 seconds or less, because if you kick it in even 1.5, they’ll stuff it in your throat,” Smith says. “There are [soccer] guys who can kick the ball 75 yards on a line drive. But when you throw in the snap, the hold, the timing and need to get lift on the ball for a field goal, I’ve seen a lot of [soccer] guys who just can’t do it. You absolutely have to get the ball up very quickly — with height — and kick it the same way whether it’s 55 yards or a 35-yard attempt. You have to have the same rhythm and same lift on the ball so it’s at least 7 feet high by the time it’s going past the linemen.”
“The first NFL game I ever saw was the first one I played in.”
John Smith, former Patriots kicker
On top of all those adjustments, Smith says that soccer players — even world-class pros — have never really been hit until getting hammered by an NFL player.
“They not only make NFL players much bigger, those big blokes hit you pretty hard too,” Smith says. “I had two separated shoulders from getting hit. Sometimes you get pushed by one of your own guys. Or rushers are coming off the end and flying at your feet.”
Fuchs, who is plenty big for a kicker at 6-foot-1, 176 pounds, says the amped-up physicality is among the differences he likes about the NFL.
Fuchs has never actually seen an NFL game live (“I have the league pass and watch the games on my iPad and iPhone, but in person I’m sure the contact and collisions are amazing.”), but Smith squashes the notion that this lack of background is insurmountable.
“The first NFL game I ever saw was the first one I played in,” Smith says.
Fuchs’ status as captain of the Austrian national team suggests he has a level-headedness that would serve him well as a kicker. Any culture shock he might experience during his NFL transition should be mitigated by the fact he already speaks fluent English and his family lives in New York City. His wife, Raluca Gold-Fuchs, is a former Goldman Sachs exec who runs an event company in the Big Apple as well as Fuchs’ soccer academy. Fuchs joins her and their two sons there during the soccer offseason. But he has said they don’t want their careers to force their family to continue the intercontinental commute indefinitely.
“So Christian just thought, ‘Why not look at this other option too?’ as a way to extend his career,” Raluca says.
It makes sense. Anderson kicked in the NFL until he was 47. George Blanda didn’t quit kicking until he was 48.
Besides, if Leicester’s unlikely run toward its first division title since the club was founded in 1884 has reminded everyone of anything, it’s the folly of setting limits.
“I’m chasing the ball my whole life, since I was 9 months old,” Fuchs says. “Why not continue in the NFL when I’m done with soccer? I believe I can do it. So why not? Why not?”