In his engaging self-published memoir 106 Yards, versatile Packers halfback Al Carmichael recalls the biggest moment of his nine-year professional career – his 106-yard kickoff return against the Bears in 1956. That return stood as the longest return in NFL history for 51 years until the Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs returned a kick 107 yards in 2007. Al begins by noting that his wife Jan just barely made it into City Stadium in time to see the play that unfolded thusly 60 years ago this Friday:
Initially it looked more like a big blunder than a big moment. It is a cardinal rule in football that whenever the ball is kicked deep into the end zone, you never run it out. The defense comes down so hard on kickoffs that the odds are you would be lucky to get it out to the 20-yard line. But on this October 7, 1956, I didn’t care about any cardinal rules. We were playing our archrivals in front of a packed house, we already trailed 7-0 a few minutes into the game, and I was still fuming over a pregame run-in with an assistant coach who questioned my toughness.
The assistant, who had given me trouble in the past, apparently felt I had not recovered quickly enough from my knee injury. He told me, “You should learn to play with pain.” Learn to play with pain? It seemed like I was always playing with pain. We were one step away from trading blows when the word came for everyone to take the field. At that point, I didn’t care what any of the coaches thought about me. No, nothing was going to stop me that day. Besides, when I handled the ball on kicks, I always had the same mind set” “I’m going all the way!” I ran with reckless abandon, full out with no hesitation and great desire and determination. Former Detroit Lion s and Buffalo Bills Coach Buster Ramsey said I returned “the ball in kickoffs and punts as if [I] were running downhill.”
So there I stood, seething, while waiting for the kickoff from the Bears’ George Blanda. I told Jack Losch, the other return man, that if the ball came to me, I was going to run it out, even if I was in the end zone. This didn’t exactly endear me to Jack, who thought he might be blamed for my recklessness. After all, as the off-back, it was his responsibility to warn his partner whether to field the ball or let it go on punts and kickoffs.
Blanda really put his foot into the ball, so much so that I had to look back to see if I had stepped out of the end zone. I glanced at the referee, who signaled the catch as a live ball. That was my green light.
I instantly took off upfield, catching everyone by surprise because they expected me to take a knee. I began my return to the left, as planned. (We designated returns and punts with either a left, right, or up-the-middle return.)
I met my first Bear at the 20-yard line. Ed Meadows, a 6’2”, 221-pound end out of Duke University, accidentally dived in between my stride and missed me. As I went flying down the field, looking for opening and dodging different colored jerseys, it seemed as if everyone else was moving in slow motion. It was not until I crossed the Bears’ goal line that I realized I had covered the entire length of the field in almost a flash. Later when I looked at the game film, I realized there had been at least five more attempts to tackle me, but they were only a blur on my journey down the field.
Carmichael concludes the account by mentioning that not one of Green Bay’s coaches congratulated him on the sidelines because of his unconventional decision to take the ball out from the back of the end zone.
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