Ted Gerela booted his way into football’s record books, his success helping to make placekicking a full roster position and not a part-time duty.
Mr. Gerela, who has died at 76, introduced the soccer-style kick to the Canadian Football League. He twice kicked five field goals in a game, tying a CFL record. In his sophomore season of 1968, he set a professional football record by kicking 30 field goals in a season.
He spent seven seasons with the BC Lions before retiring as the team’s top scorer with 570 career points. Nearly a half-century later, he remains tied for third on the team’s career scoring list.
While his records have since been eclipsed by other kickers, Mr. Gerela’s success led to the evolution of the placekicker as a specialist job. He had entered the CFL as a backup running back who occasionally played defence while also handling such placekicking tasks as kickoffs, conversions and field goals.
At 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, he was a fireplug athlete with “beer-keg calves,” in the colourful words of sportswriter Jim Taylor. After eschewing the traditional straight-on kicking style for the soccer one, in which he approached from the side and kicked with the instep instead of the toes, Mr. Gerela was able to boot the ball through the goalposts at a greater distance and with more accuracy.
A younger brother, Roy Gerela, used the same kicking style to become a star player with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League, inspiring a Gerela’s Gorillas fan club. A third brother, Dymetro, known as Metro, played briefly with football’s Montreal Alouettes before winning a North American Soccer League championship in 1979 with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The kicking brothers came from a hardscrabble immigrant background.
Theodore Gerela was born on March 12, 1944, on a homestead in Sarrail, Alta., about 180 kilometres northeast of Edmonton in the Lac La Biche district. He was the second-youngest of 11 children born to the former Olga Sawchuk and William (Bill) Gerela. Both parents were ethnic Ukrainians and the father was an immigrant.
During the Second World War, Bill Gerela left the family on the farmstead to work in a pulp mill on the B.C. coast. The family joined him in Powell River in 1947. Bill’s meagre income was supplemented by Olga’s work in a hospital laundry. The day began with a large steaming pot of porridge on the stove.
Ted Gerela was a star high-school athlete in football, soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball, and track and field.
To further the chance of gaining a football scholarship, he enrolled at Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Wash., a private Jesuit high school. He boarded with Evelyn Gaffaney, whose son, Greg, was a teammate on the Bullpups football team. Young Mr. Gerela also played for the school’s baseball team and was a top state athlete in the 100-yard dash and the broad jump.
Mr. Gerela, a straight-A student, was selected to the All-City football team by the Spokesman-Review newspaper. He told the newspaper he wanted to study to be a doctor and to play for Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind.
In 1963, Gonzaga Prep enjoyed an undefeated season, led by the rushing Mr. Gerela, who carried the ball for 965 yards in 10 games. On the team’s 50th anniversary, former player Jerry McGinn told the Spokesman-Review that his teammate was a “grown man playing a boy’s game. They might catch Gerela and then he would drag them 15 or 20 yards down the field. They had to hit him five times before they could get him down.”
In his final high-school game, the fullback ran for 200 yards, scored three touchdowns and kicked seven conversions for 25 points in a 74-0 shellacking of the Shadle Park Highlanders.
The prep school success led to a four-year football scholarship at Washington State University in nearby Pullman, where Mr. Gerela was a full-time right halfback and defensive linebacker, as well as a part-time kicker for three seasons.
While with the Cougars, Mr. Gerela decided to try out the innovative, soccer-style kicking that had been successfully adopted at Cornell University and, later, the professional Buffalo Bills by the Hungarian-born Pete Gogolak, who had fled his homeland with his parents at the age of 14 in 1956.
Mr. Gerela had mixed success at first. Several early attempts were blocked, but he adjusted his sidewinder approach to get greater elevation on the ball and was soon hitting field goals from beyond 40 yards. Cougars coach Bert Clark rebuilt his team’s offence based on his kicker’s ability to score from midfield. Mr. Gerela was also the team’s leading rusher in his junior season.
He left university after three years to return to British Columbia to play professionally for the Lions. At a training camp in Victoria in 1967, he explained to Vancouver Sun sports columnist Jim Kearney why he adopted the soccer style.
“You get more power,” he said, “and your leg doesn’t tire as easily. When you kick straight on, the power comes from the knee down. The soccer style is from the hip. It’s forward hip rotation. You get your whole leg into it.”
In a season-ending game at Empire Stadium in Vancouver on Nov. 6, 1967, Mr. Gerela tied a record set by the great Jackie Parker by kicking five field goals. He booted his “cannon-shot field goals,” in the words of Mr. Taylor, from 26, 50, 28, 47 and 48 yards at a time when any attempt beyond 40 yards was thought desperate. Despite his heroics, a woeful Lions squad lost, 35-30, to the Calgary Stampeders.
The kicker won the Dr. Beattie Martin Trophy as the CFL Western Conference’s rookie of the year in 1967.
The following season, he led the league in scoring by kicking 30 field goals (worth three points), 16 converts (one point) and nine singles to lead the league with 115 points.
The longest field goal of his career was a booming, wind-assisted 53-yarder in Calgary in 1969.
The kicker was versatile, handling some rushing duties, including a 46-yard romp in 1968. He was used as a punter and pass receiver that season and did spot kickoff returns throughout his CFL career.
Unfortunately, the Lions did not have a winning season during Mr. Gerela’s tenure with the team.
He retired before the start of the 1974 season. Two years later, he had an unsuccessful tryout with the Seattle Seahawks, an NFL expansion team, after aggravating a calf injury.
During his playing career, Mr. Gerela worked as a sales representative for a sporting goods company. He later spent a quarter-century as a district sales manager for a cardboard-box company.
Mr. Gerela, a resident of Chilliwack, B.C., died on July 16 after a diagnosis of colon cancer. He had earlier survived testicular cancer. He leaves his second wife, Trudy, a former amateur golfer of note. He also leaves two sons, three grandchildren, three sisters and four brothers, including Roy and Metro.
Mr. Gerela and his kicking brother Roy Gerela were inducted into the Powell River Sports Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class last year. The BC Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver has on display the bronzed Adidas right-footed cleat with which Ted Gerela kicked his 30 field goals in 1968.