Goddard's NFL story was never written

Douglas Fritz • Jul 9, 2018 at 4:00 AM

In the late 1940s, Lynn Goddard made a decision that would set a course of history for Unaka and Elizabethton high schools.

Goddard, who died in 2000, turned down an offer to punt professionally for the Detroit Lions in 1949.

“The NFL was not what it is today,” said his son, Pat Goddard. “He said he couldn’t see making a living doing it. Plus, he didn’t want to move to Detroit.

“From my standpoint, he made by far the right choice, even though he might have made more money. The year after he turned them down, television came into the league and salaries started taking off. But it was the right choice because of the people whose lives he affected. Plus, I probably would not be here, or I certainly wouldn’t be in East Tennessee. Daddy didn’t sit around dwelling on it.”

Goddard would go on to become a successful football coach for the Rangers and Cyclones.

Hall of Fame substitute

Turned down by Goddard, the Lions employed one of their regulars as the punter for the 1950 season. Future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Doak Walker handled the lion’s share of the punting duties in 1950.

Shortly thereafter, Detroit would embark on the greatest run in franchise history. The Lions won the NFL title in 1952, 1953 and 1957. Since then, the Lions have won just one playoff game in 61 years.

Pat said his dad didn’t talk much about the choice to stick around this area.

“It would be like talking about someone you got engaged to, but didn’t marry,” said Pat. “He was offered a contract, turned it down, and went on.”

The picture accompanying this story was published in the New York Times. Pat said he doesn’t know the history of how the Times got the photo, but Goddard led the nation in punting in 1947. He had a 98-yard punt against Western Carolina, and an 80-yarder against Appalachian State.

Punter’s path

Goddard was a good running back, starting as a freshman for Milligan College — a spot he landed on the GI bill after spending a couple of years in the South Pacific during World War II. He led the Buffs in rushing yards in each of his first three seasons before suffering a knee prior to his senior year.

“When he came back, they told him he was too valuable as a punter so he didn’t run anymore,” said Pat.

A memorable kick

Milligan played a game against Southwestern Louisiana in the old Sugar Bowl Stadium during Goddard’s days.

“You have to understand these guys had been in World War II,” said Pat, who said his 94-year-old mother can confirm this story. “They had seen people killed. Football was just a game to them. My dad was punting and he kicked it toward the corner of the end zone. It was like a 60-yard kick, and it missed the corner by about a yard. It went into the end zone, so the ball came back out to the 20-yard line. The coach chewed him out, saying, ‘You can’t kick the ball out of bounds like you were told?’

“So the next time he had to punt, he turned sideways and punted it straight out of bounds for a nine-yard loss. There were only about 3,000 people in the stands, and you could hear the ball bouncing down the steps. He said it was the furtherest punt he ever kicked. He came back to the bench and the coach didn’t say a word. Every one of the players was snickering.”

The rest of the story

Goddard became Unaka’s head football coach in 1949 and his teams won six championships in 10 years with four second-place finishes. In 1963, Unaka named its field in his honor.

After 12 years with the Rangers, Goddard headed back to his alma mater, Elizabethton. He turned the program around and his teams earned wins over Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Oak Ridge. In 1969, Elizabethton was conference co-champion with Morristown East, which went on to win the state championship.

His record with the Cyclones was 52-33-2, including the 1972 team which took eventual national champion Tennessee High down to the wire in a 21-15 decision for Elizabethton’s lone loss of the season.

Brush with the preacher

Pat said Goddard taught Sunday School and never missed church in those days. But after losing 28-21 to Dobyns-Bennett, in a game where the Cyclones were whistled for three straight clipping penalties, Goddard confronted the official who called each of the penalties.

“He lit that official’s butt up,” said Pat. “Back then you could get away with it.”

Goddard turned around and saw the preacher standing there. The preacher, whose son was Elizabethton’s quarterback, had witnessed the confrontation.

“Daddy said, ‘Preacher I’m sorry, I’ll be there early tomorrow,’ ” said Pat. “The preacher said, ’That’s OK. I was thinking what you were saying.’ ”

Bonding with dad

Back in those days, football game film had to be driven to Rockwood for processing.

“He was a film guy,” said Pat. “We would wait until Friday at 2 a.m. to get the film. We would stay up all night until the early morning watching film. I loved football. It was a way of life growing up.”

One of those films particularly bothered Goddard. It was the film of two clips in the loss to Tennessee High in 1972.

“Dale Fair got hit square in the back, and it wasn’t called,” said Pat. “George Heath went 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Later in the half, Dale Fair returned a punt 60-some yards for a touchdown. It was a chop block — which would probably be illegal now — but back then it was legal. It happened right in front of the Tennessee High bench and the flags flew. Later on, daddy had Ralph Stout and other officials at the house to show them the film. Ralph told my dad all he could do was say he was sorry. There was nothing they could do at that point. It was still a great game. I was the first person in the stands that day.”

Despite those calls, Elizabethton still had a chance to win.

“We had it first and goal at the 4-yard line with 1 1/2 minutes left, trailing 21-15,” said Pat.

The Cyclones were turned away, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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