[With 24 days until the start of training camp, we take a look back at the career of punt blocking guru Bill Malinchak. Malinchak made a career out of recording timely blocked punts against some of the greatest teams of his era.]
As the Washington Redskins prepare for training camp in 24 days, new special teams coordinator Keith Burns is inheriting a special unit that features record breaking kicker Kai Forbath and five-year veteran boot Sav Rocca.
What remains to be seen, however, is who will fill the void left behind by 2012 Pro Bowler and special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander, spent the first seven years of his career in our Nation’s Capital after going undrafted out of California, but left the Burgundy and Gold during the offseason.
Long before any current crop of Redskins or modern-day NFL players graced the gridiron on Sundays, there was one guy who made a career out of highlight reel special teams plays—Bill Malinchak.
Before being selected in the third round of the 1966 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, Malinchak was the University of Indiana’s leading receiver from 1963-1965. In his three years in the Hoosier State, Malinchak recorded 1,686 yards and 14 touchdowns.
In his last two years at the Big Ten institution, the receiver recorded 634 and 699 receiving yards respectively—by far the most receiving yards by a player on the team as no other receiver recorded even 200 yards.
Just one pick after the Burgundy and Gold selected Ohio State University running back Tom Barrington as a possible replacement to Charley Taylor (who was moving to wide receiver under new head coach Otto Graham); the Lions selected Malinchak with the 66th overall selection.
After being used sparingly in his rookie season, Hall of Fame linebacker and new Detroit head coach Joe Schmidt knew he had a “diamond in the rough” with the former Buckeye. In 14 games (six starts) Malinchak led the Lions in receiving yards (397) and touchdowns (four).
Malinchak would spend two more seasons with the Lions, but with a 22-28-6 over a four-year span and playing time dwindling, the receiver left Michigan by the enticement of playing under a Hall of Famer (of the coaching variety) George Allen.
Despite his track record for being a team leader in receiving, Allen had a different role for the former Hooiser—special teams ace and punt blocking master.
With the team’s playoff drought officially over following a nine win season in 1971, expectations quickly grew in our Nation’s Capital that the division crown dearth would soon disappear too. Behind a top-five defense and quarterback Billy Kilmer leading the way on offense, the sky was the limit for the Burgundy and Gold in 1972—or at the very least a Super Bowl appearance.
Per the usual, though, the special teams unit got little exposure in season previews. Malinchak changed that—on national television of all places.
In the Redskins’ opener on Monday Night Football against a Minnesota Vikings team that won four straight NFL/NFC Central division crowns, Malinchak set the tone for a team that won a then franchise-high 11 games.
In the first quarter, Malinchak blocked a Vikings punt and gather up the loose pigskin for a touchdown. Then, just two weeks later against the New England Patriots, he once again found himself in open field against a punter and blocked the attempt.
Similar to the Redskins’ Week 17 do-or-die victory over the Dallas Cowboys last December, George Allen and company faced their bitter rivals in the last game of the 1976 season with playoff implications on the line. If Washington failed to beat Dallas, they would be knocked out of the wild card race. The Redskins, however, defeated the Cowboys 27-14 thanks in large part to another Bill Malinchak blocked punt, the prefect way to end his last regular season game.
Former Buffalo Bills head coach and Redskins special teams coordinator (1971-1972) Marv Levy had seen his fair share of special team stars through his 46 years of coaching, but no one quite like Malinchak. As told in The Redskins Encyclopedia, Levy stated the following about his ability to wreak havoc in the punt game:
“Everybody comes in with their hands up. Bill split his hands out at the foot to block that ball off the foot. His technique was not to raise his hands and block the kick, because the ball rises much faster than your hands, but to block it before it rises.”
Be on the lookout for the next possible Bill Malinchak in training camp later this month as the Redskins are looking for their first blocked punt since 2006.
For those of who had the opportunity to see Malinchak in action, let us know your recollections of his blocked punts.
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