‘Sunday Morning Special Teams’ is a weekly column divised by yours truly, Greg Forbes. It’s aims are to provide in-depth analysis of all special teams play, career retrospectives, player interviews and knowledge on the latest in the world of the unit itself.
Here at NinetyNineYards HQ, I have been busy documenting the career’s of footballs favourite special teamers, ranging from Pat McAfee to Mike Vanderjagt and everywhere in between. Unfortunately however, many athletes don’t experience such career’s like those of the aforementioned ST’s alumni. Speaking of somewhat disastrous kicking careers, I decided to take a look at the career of Michigan Wolverine great Bob Timberlake, who’s NFL career was overshadowed by his struggles as the kicker (and quarterback) for the New York Giants in the mid-60’s, which has cemented his legacy as arguably the worst kicker of all-time.
A Michigan Wolverine For Life
Sure, Timberlake’s NFL career wasn’t all that great. His collegiate one however, was far superior.
He grew up in Franklin, Ohio, where he starred for his hometown team, the Franklin Wildcats. There, he was utilised largely as a halfback, and even dominated at the position, which garnered him his recruitment to Michigan.
In his freshman season for the Wolverines, Timberlake did accumulate minimal snaps at the quarterback position, having completed 16 of 35 passes for 179 yards. That produced a completion percentage of 47.1%, which was fairly poor, considering he also committed 3 interceptions without any touchdowns created. That said, the bulk majority of his involvement with the team came as a running back, as he rushed the ball 73 times for a measly return of 104 yards. In addition to that, he caught 11 passes for 164 yards, averaging 14.9 yards per reception. The Wolverines did just as poorly that season, finishing 104th out of 120 football school’s with a 2-7 win/loss record.
The following year, in 1963, Timberlake’s involvement at the helm of Michigan’s offence was enhanced. He made 48 completions that season (48% completion on 98 attempts) for 593 yards and 3 touchdowns, whilst he coughed up 4 interceptions. In addition, he improved his performance as a rusher also. This is evidenced by his 98 rushes for 228 yards, averaging 2.3 yards per attempt. Timberlake’s improvement was reflected in the team’s record for the season, as they moved up to 72nd in state rankings with a 3-4-2 record.
In 1964, Timberlake had truly arrived and established himself as a Wolverine. That season he carried the organisation to their first Big Ten Conference championship for the first time in 14 years, whilst he drummed up several monumental wins over the course of the campaign. His completion percentage in that season improved, whilst he accumulated 807 passing yards on 63 completions. He also compiled a career-high 5 passing touchdowns, whilst he rushed the ball immensely, grabbing 574 yards and 9 touchdowns in his best ever season. As a result of his, and his teammates’, contributions, the Wolverines concluded the season with an 8-1 record.
One of the most notable wins of the season came against Ohio State, as Timberlake contributed the only 10 points of the game with a 17-yard touchdown pass and 27-yard field goal in the rivalry. This win, incidentally, was Michigan’s first in 6 years.
On New Years Day of 1965, the Michigan Wolverines, led by Bob Timberlake, took on the Oregon State Beavers. Timberlake dominated much of the game as he completed 7 of 10 passes for 77 yards, whilst his 55 rushing yards included a phenomenal 24-yard rushing touchdown. The Victors ran out eventual 34-7 winners, as Timberlake became a national hero.
Bob concluded his career as the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten Conference, as voted for by Chicago Tribune Silver Football. Moreover, he was awarded nominations to multiple All-American teams, whilst he ranked fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Now, listen. I hear you – “what has any of this got to do with special teams, or his woeful kicking record?!” – that part is coming up on the horizons, but unfortunately there are no records, to my knowledge at least, of his kicking production at the collegiate level, but there are in the NFL, where we are headed to next.
With The 33rd Pick In The 1965 NFL Draft…
The New York Giants selected Bob Timberlake, in the hope that he could improve his game as a passer, but fit in to their new outlook on what a quarterback should be able to do. And that new look focused heavily on the quarterback being able to rush effectively. That said, he failed to grab the starting spot and was subsequently used as a kickoff specialist for Big Blue. Additionally, his cannon of a leg was used for long-range FG’s, as he nailed his first and only ever successful attempt against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 3, 1965. Whilst his kick was impressive, it never transpired into a true opportunity as the team’s starting kicker.
That was until the Giants’ starting placekicker went down injured against the Browns just a few weeks after Timberlake’s made field goal. Iconically, however, this became the start of Timberlake’s woeful NFL legacy, as he failed to make any of his 14 attempts.
And that, was really all his professional career amounted to. He saw the year out with the Giants, before being cut on August 29, 1966. He has since been named to multiple sports blogs detailing him as one of the worst players to ever play in the NFL, with Deadspin ranking him at #2 in their own rankings.
Career After Football
Timberlake may not have reached the heights he wanted or expected as a professional football player, but he found his calling later in life as an Ordained Presbyterian Minister. This came as a result of his well-documented devotion to the religion of Christianity, of which he made sure to let people know of during his playing days. He also served as a hospital administrator at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, as well as joining Marquette University in 2003 where he teaches courses on community service and faith, and mentors the student Habitat for Humanity chapter.
The Final Word
In conclusion, I would say more than anything else that Bob Timberlake was a competitor at best. He may not have excelled as a kicker in the NFL, but he was determined not to be beaten, all throughout his career. In spite of constant criticism as a quarterback, halfback or placekicker, he defied odds at collegiate level, and cemented his legacy as one of the most beloved Wolverines of all-time. Irrespective of his stature as a Michigan alumni, Timberlake, and his struggles, are a metaphor for the special teams position collectively, that being: a position where one performs well enough to be a hero, or fail so badly that they become a villain.
Credit – sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, portablepress.com, Wikipedia.com & bentley.umich.edu (image).