Pat Leahy, former placekicker for the New York Jets from 1974-1991 and a member of three men’s soccer national championship teams at Saint Louis University is my next New York Jets “Where Are They Now” blog. In 2007 Pat was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and is currently ranked 17th on the list of highest NFL career scoring leaders. With 22 consecutive successful field goal attempts, Leahy set a franchise record for the Jets in 1986 that was tied by Jay Feely in 2009. In 18 years, Pat never had a kick blocked.
I decided to look up “place kick” in the dictionary and this is what it said: “Place kick is a kick in which the ball is held nearly upright on the ground either by means of a tee or by a teammate, as in a kickoff, an attempt at a field goal.” This definition makes it sound fairly simple and easy enough to do, right? In the best of situations the average person would not be able to kick a football far enough to place it between goal posts. Imagine being inside Shea Stadium, the wind tunnel, add some freezing rain and a pinch of sleet. Would you be able to kick a 35 yard field goal? Just the thought is a little scary to me. The sensible fan might want to be on their couch in front of the TV with a crackling fire watching these games. Well, maybe not diehard Jet fans. One of the most well-liked and well-respected placekickers for the New York Jets, Pat Leahy, who is the team’s all-time leading scorer with 1,470 points, emailed me from his home in St. Louis to share with us some of his experiences he had in New York and what he has been doing since he left the Jets back in 1991. The following are questions that I emailed to Pat and his answers that I found to be inspiring and brought back so many great memories for me from a great Jet era!
How has your faith directed you in life? “Some people might say that faith is the primary “director” of their everyday lives. I prefer to think of faith as your daily guideline. I was raised in a Catholic home, and taught in Catholic schools for my entire 16 years of education. I still attend church regularly. None of that ever helped me or any other player kick a field goal or throw a touchdown pass. But what that education and background gave me was a base of stability to deal with every aspect of life, football and the Jets being just one piece of the puzzle I faced every day.”
What is your most memorable off the field experience while playing for the Jets?
“Near the end of my career, my family and I were in the City checking out the Christmas decorations and doing some shopping. While we were waiting to cross Broadway near Times Square, someone in the crowd recognized me and shouted out my name. I got a rousing round of applause from the large crowd of people waiting to cross with us. Another would certainly be the day I came up for my initial tryout in 1974. When I walked in the locker room to get ready, there was only one person in there. And who would that be???? You probably guessed it…..#12. What a thrill!”
What is your most memorable on the field experience?
“There were many on field experiences…..my first year, the six game winning streak at the end of the year and the electricity in Shea Stadium. Coming from a soccer background, that was all so new to me. Certainly some situational field goals would be right at the top as well. But I think that just running out of the tunnel every Sunday and just thinking that I should pinch myself and make sure this is really me getting to do this every week.”
Who was your holder and how important was he?
“I certainly had a variety of holders and snappers over the 18 year career. But I was really fortunate in that for 10 seasons (1980-1989), I had one special teams coach (Larry Pasquale), one snapper (Guy Bingham), and one holder (Pat Ryan). Joe Fields and Ken O’Brien filled in periodically, but to be able to have that consistency enabled me to relax and never have to concentrate on anything except what I had to do.” Larry Pasquale also commented: “Every year Pat showed up at training camp extremely prepared and at a consistent weight of 205 lbs. He was truly a joy to be around.”
Your first touchdown and the holding call that brought it back?
“I remember several things about that play. It was the old option play, and first of all, I couldn’t believe Pat Ryan actually flipped the ball to me. Secondly, as I crossed the goal line, Eddie Johnson, Cleveland Browns linebacker, had a chance to take my head off and just ran right past me. Third, when I turned around and saw the flag on the ground, I knew someone had been caught holding. And finally, with my legs shaking and me out of breath, we had a 10 yard penalty and had to kick the field goal….yes, I made it. Poor Paul (Frase), it was my 15th year in the NFL and he was a rookie. He took grief for that the entire season [for that holding penalty].”
What do you think of Nick Folk, the kicker for the Jets now?
“Like every other aspect of the game, kicking has really changed since I retired 20 years ago. Just the size of the kickers….Jets kicker Nick Folk is 225 pounds, and guys like him absolutely hammer the ball. Thirty years ago the cutoff point for field goal attempts was the 30-35 yard line, with the rare attempt over 52 yards. Today you’ll see several 57-60 yarders made each year. Nick Folk is doing a good job for the Jets. The AFC East is a tough division for kickers.”
Who was your closest friend on the Jets?
“I really had a good relationship with all my teammates. I still keep up with Scott Dierking, and get an occasional e-mail from Chuck Ramsey, Pat Ryan and Joe Fields. I always enjoy when we go back for a reunion…It’s like we never left.” Special Teams Coach Larry Pasquale remembers fondly the team camaraderie surrounding Pat, “His teammates (Joe Fields and Pat Ryan) stayed after grueling practices to help Pat during his down times.”
After the Jets where did you reside? “I grew up in St. Louis, and it was important for me and my wife to remain close to family, especially after we had children. So, St. Louis has always been home.”
What are you doing today?
“I have a couple of business interests, one being a shareholder and investor in a local men’s hair cutting chain, The Hair Saloon For Men….an upscale recreation of the barber shop. Day to day, I work for a merchandising group that covers ten Home Depots here in the St. Louis and the mid-Missouri area. I have the Pat Leahy Foundation, and we primarily try to raise money for a scholarship fund in my name at my alma mater, St. Louis University. My wife Colleen and I will be married 35 years this year. My 3 children are spread out around the country and all are doing well.”
For those of you who don’t know, the Pat Leahy Foundation is a scholarship that was originally intended to supplement the men’s and women’s soccer programs at St. Louis University, but the language of our by-laws enables us to contribute to any charitable causes the Board might choose. We have raised over $250,000 since the inception of the Foundation back in the mid 90′s.
If you had to do it all over again would you change anything?
“Would I change anything???? Absolutely!!!! I would have been born in 1981 instead of 1951……Some kickers today make more in one year than I did in my entire 18 year career!!!! “
To close with Pat said, “I’ve always said that one thing I am most proud of is the fact that I had a chance to play (and survive) in one city for my entire career, and the fact that it was New York made it even better!! Growing up, I knew we had cousins that lived In New Jersey, but other than the yearly Christmas card, never really knew anything about them. When I was with the Jets, they came to almost every home game, and today we are not only relatives, but great friends as well. It’s really strange how things worked out…..I was fortunate to be able to experience the things I did.”
I don’t know about you, but I would applaud Pat Leahy if I saw him crossing the street in Times Square any day!
About the Author
Written by DonnaJanoffAugustyniak
I am a former Public Relations Assistant for the New York Jets Football Team and a PR Director for the Fort Wayne Komets Hockey Team. My dad was a sportswriter in New York for over 60 years covering the New York Jets, New York Knicks, US Open Tennis, Harness Racing and penned three books. I grew up in Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium learning from the best of the best columnists.