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O'Neal's 'Perfect Moment' Punt in Denver

Being backed up at your own 1-yard line isn't fun. On Sept. 21, 1969, Jets rookie punter Steve O'Neal felt the full force of that reality.

But O'Neal, now a dentist in Bryan, Texas, fondly remembers what happened next that afternoon, when he punted the football an NFL-record 98 yards to the other team's 1. The record was announced immediately in the stadium and there was an instant celebration.

"I'm kind of surprised by how many people do know about the record," he said. "As well, I have patients in my dental practice that are big football fans and they're not aware that I hold that record and they see some of the football memorabilia in my office and think that I'm just a Jets fan."

O'Neal, 64, said he still gets a few autograph requests a month because of that punt at Denver's Mile High Stadium against the Broncos. The Jets were backed up as far as they could be and O'Neal was sent in to punt. Standing with his heels barely inside the end line, he got the snap and booted the ball as far as he could.

"I just hit it well," he said, "But of course back then the goalposts were on the goal line and they were just to my right. So I had less than 10 yards to kick the ball, in a real tight situation. It went about 75 yards in the air, it went over the returner's head and when it hit the ground it just took off like a groundball."

In the thin air, the ball traveled all the way to the Broncos' 33, glancing off the outstretched hands of punt returner Bill Thompson, a rookie like O'Neal. Then it took a perfect bounce, rolled to a stop and was downed at the 1.

O'Neal was taken in the 13th round of the 1969 draft, 338th overall, out of Texas A&M, and played for the Jets from 1969-72. Then he was traded to New Orleans and played for the Saints in 1973. He played in 70 regular-season games and hit 337 punts.

And the one that will always be remembered came in the second game of his career. The only way he can lose the record is by a 99-yard touchback punt. And even if that happens, he'll always have at least a share of the record for the longest net punt in pro football history.

O'Neal now looks back at how different the NFL is today.

"They're certainly bigger and faster now," he said. "As far as punting, I've noticed they try to pooch-kick more to keep it from going into the end zone and try to kill it inside at least the 20. They didn't really have that mentality so much when I was playing. New techniques for punters certainly have developed."

O'Neal's mentality in 1969 was simply to punt the ball as far as he could and into the "coffin corner" so that opponents wouldn't be able to make a return, even if that meant getting a touchback. In recent years he's reconnected with former Jets teammates Don Maynard, Bake Turner, Pete Lammons and Curley Johnson about the day and the punt that changed his life and the NFL record books forever.

"It was one of those perfect games, perfect moments," O'Neal said. "It set up perfectly and everything happened as it should have for me and I was smiling all the way. To turn the tables on them was a really good feeling."

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