[With six days until the start of training camp, we take a look back at kicker Ali Haji-Sheikh’s 1987 season. Haji-Sheikh’s lone season with the Washington Redskins was full of clutch kicks made and crucial, nail-biting misses.]
Last season kicker Kai Forbath solidified the kicking game behind an NFL-record 17 straight field goals made to start his career.
For years, the Washington Redskins seemingly lacked a franchise kicker that regardless of brisk weather or pressure packed moments could calmly walked up to the huddle, make his necessary pre-kick steps and tack on three points.
Forbath, however, booted away any misconception that the Redskins currently lack a franchise kicker.
While not necessarily the franchise caliber player of his predecessor (Mark Moseley) or successor (Chip Lohmiller), Ali Haji-Sheikh’s was just one of many whose under-the-radar contributions led to a Lombardi Trophy—something Forbath and Redskins fans hope to replicate this season.
Ali Haji-Sheikh, although born in Michigan, played high school football in football crazed Texas. The state’s mantra, “Everything is Bigger in Texas”, applies to almost anything Texans can wrap their heads around to include football talent. Long before Robert Griffin III attended Copperas Cove High School or Brian Orakpo was terrorizing younger quarterbacks at Lamar High School, Haji-Sheikh was making quite the name for himself with the local community.
Despite a fairly successful high school career, Haji-Sheikh walked on at the University of Michigan where he made 31 field goals during his career.
In the famed 1983 NFL Draft, the former Wolverine was selected in the ninth round (237th overall) by the rival New York Giants. He was the third kicker taken in the draft behind only Chuck Nelson and Mike Bass (not to be confused with the cornerback).
In his first season with Big Blue Haji-Sheikh had, perhaps, the best season of any rookie kicker in NFL history.
No. 6 nailed 35 field goal attempts to include a 56-yarder against the Detroit Lions in the second quarter of their Week 10 matchup. It was the second of three kicks he made and were the only points the Giants mustered that day.
His performance was the lone bright spot on a 3-12-1 team as he was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro.
After being hampered by hamstring injuries over the next few seasons, problematic for someone who’s many duties is using his legs, Haji-Sheikh spent the 1986 season with the Atlanta Falcons before landing with the Washington Redskins in 1987.
Normally kickers come and go with most gradually disappearing from the minds of football fans, but Mark Moseley was no ordinary kicker. On the Redskins first Super Bowl-winning squad, Moseley was league MVP. After the 1986 season, though, Mosley retired with the franchise’s all-time record for point scored (1,207)
So when Haji-Sheikh landed in the Nation’s Capital in 1987, he had very large (kicking) shoes to fill.
In his debut against his former teammates in Atlanta, No. 6 nailed both of his extra point attempts, but failed to make his only field goal try. Better days were ahead, though.
In a Week 7 matchup against the visiting 3-2 New York Jets, Haji-Sheikh reminded everyone that he was the same kicker who deserved a trip to Hawaii after his 35 field goal makes his rookie season. His first field goal make of the season gave the Redskins a 17-16 victory.
It was the first of two game-winning field goals, as he did the same against the Minnesota Vikings in overtime of the season finale.
Washington trailed late in the fourth quarter 24-14, but after a Haji-Sheikh’s 37-yard field goal and a Gary Clark 51-yard touchdown (followed by a successful extra point attempt) the game headed to overtime where No. 6 booted a 26-yard game-winner.
The former Michigan star finished the season 13-19 on field goal attempts.
After sneaking past the Chicago Bears in the first round of the playoffs, the Redskins once again found themselves in the NFC Championship against the Vikings. Despite missing two crucial field goals, No. 6 and Co. secured their third Super Bowl appearance in six seasons.
Super Bowl XXII will forever be remembered as the day the Washington Redskins offense came alive—scoring 35 points in the second quarter en route to a 42-10 victory. Haji-Sheikh’s job was easy that day. With the blowout starting early and touchdown after touchdown, all he had to do was make his six extra point attempts.
Haji-Sheikh’s career epitomizes the ebb and flow of success for an NFL kicker. Despite nailing two crucial game-winners in his lone season in Washington and being one of the most promising kickers early on in his career, he struggled at times with his accuracy. Still, his six extra points during the Redskins second Super Bowl victory will never be wiped away from the record books.
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