Toni Fritsch's place in Austrian football history was assured on 20 October 1965. That day he scored twice at Wembley in a 3-2 friendly defeat of Sir Alf Ramsey's soon-to-be FIFA World Cup-winning England side – a sensational outcome that earned the Rapid Wien player the nickname 'Wembley-Toni'. Yet it would not be the peak of his sporting career.
Recruitment by Dallas
With his pace starting to fade in the early 1970s, and his international days over, he was persuaded to take a dramatic change of direction. Former Austria coach Leopold Šťastný had recommended Fritsch to the Dallas Cowboys – who were hoping to find a soccer player to convert into a specialist kicker – and they came to see the player in Vienna.
"They gave me a football and showed me how to kick it," Fritsch recalled. "The next thing I knew they were offering me money to come to America to play this strange sport."
Choke Fritsch, choke!
A limited command of English proved to be useful as he made his first appearance for the Cowboys in a match against the St Louis Cardinals. Gil Brandt, the personnel director who had signed Fritsch, told UEFA.com: "The scores were tied and it was near the end of the game.
"We took a time out and decided to kick a field goal. Fritsch came on and one of the St Louis players started hollering at him: 'Choke Fritsch, choke!' Our guy Dave Edwards replied: 'He can't understand English.' Fritsch kicked the field goal and we won the game."
By 1972 Fritsch had become the Cowboys' first-choice kicker and was in the Super Bowl VI winning team that January. He later represented the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Houston Oilers in a National Football League (NFL) career spanning 125 outings and 11 years. His record of having kicked a field goal in 13 straight play-off games still stands.
'This guy can't be a professional athlete'
He died in 2005. Oliver Luck – a team-mate at the Oilers who spoke German – remembered him fondly. "He would walk through the door and you'd think: 'This guy can't be a professional athlete. He's got a big belly – totally out of shape.' But he could kick very well.
"Oliver, this is the simplest job I've ever had," Luck remembered Fritsch telling him. "I played soccer and I can put the ball wherever you need it to go."
Other Soccer/American Football crossovers
Derek Smethurst (Chelsea, Millwall – Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The South African forward who helped Chelsea win the 1970/71 European Cup Winner's Cup moved to the United States to play in the North American Soccer League (NASL). While at the Tampa Bay Rowdies, he signed a simultaneous contract with the Buccaneers as a specialist kicker in 1977, saying: "I've been wondering for a long time if I could do it." He played some pre-season games, but injury meant he never made a professional appearance.
Finn Seemann (Lyn, Dundee United, DWS, Utrecht – Houston Oilers)
Fritsch's success with the Dallas Cowboys prompted Texan rivals the Oilers to seek out a European kicker of their own. Norwegian striker Seemann was signed in 1973 after converting nine of ten field goals at his first practice. "I find it easy," he said. "One thing I find hard – getting the helmet off my head." Yet Seemann was never to stake out a first-team place and returned to Norway to represent Lyn again in 1975.
Neil O'Donoghue (Shamrock Rovers – Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, St Louis Cardinals)
A striker for Dublin side Shamrock Rovers, Irishman O'Donoghue moved to the United States on a soccer scholarship that was soon discontinued, so he transferred to Auburn University to become a specialist American football kicker. One of the top college footballers of his generation, he went on to represent the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St Louis Cardinals.
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