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NFL dreams still haunt former Gator kicker

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2002


For a century or so, I have ended my notes columns with a "whatever happened" query, having a little fun, fishing for whereabouts of once-prominent sports figures about whom I had heard nothing for years.

For a century or so, I have ended my notes columns with a "whatever happened" query, having a little fun, fishing for whereabouts of once-prominent sports figures about whom I had heard nothing for years.

Readers are generous with nuggets of information. Well-known names seldom fade totally into the fabric of America. Even if it's a cantankerous old baseball pitcher named Steve Carlton, a hermit at heart, a Hall of Famer who now slithers around Durango, Colo.

Several times, though not from Carlton, I've heard from "whatevers" themselves. Bygone jocks providing mostly "alive and well" updates, from a remote Iowa farm or tranquil Alabama beach.

Recently, my signoff question was, "Whatever happened to Berj Yepremian?" If you're into football, the last name is probably familiar. If you have followed the Florida Gators a long time, so too may be the first.

Garo Yepremian, 57, was a dynamic placekicker for the Miami Dolphins, though the lasting NFL snapshot of the balding little fellow from Cyprus was his pitiful passing attempt after a botched snap ruined a field goal opportunity against Washington in Super Bowl VII.

While those magical 'Fins of '72 would rule 14-7 on that Sunday in the L.A. Coliseum, completing the NFL's only perfect season with a 17-0 record, the Redskins only score came on a Mike Bass touchdown return after intercepting Garo.

Then came a second kicking Yepremian. Garo's brother, Berj, a terrific field goal specialist for the Gators who made 30 of 34 field goals during the 1976-78 seasons, his longest from 54 yards. Most impressive, Berj never missed from inside 45 yards. I figured B.Y. was a cinch to make the NFL, but he never got a chance.

Even now, that steams Berj, 47.

In an e-mail, Yepremian said he owns a deli in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and the old UF hero was effusive over the athletic talents of daughter, Ani, 14, and son, Berj Jr., 9. In his 17th year of marriage to Rita, his life is more than making turkey sandwiches, sausage subs and chicken salad.

Even so, 24 years after his last kick at Florida, football demons are haunting Garo's bro. It's intriguing. Interesting study. When a youngster falls shy of dreamed-about plateaus, time is not always a healer. In Berj, the reasons he never became an NFL kicker, as he sees them, fester today.

He suspects "blacklisting."

Yepremian said, "Representatives of NFL franchises talked with me before the draft, telling me their teams wanted to pick me. Dallas was almost promising. But soon they were bypassing me. Refusing to return my phone calls.

"A (newspaper) beat writer told me he saw a letter that blacklisted me. Claiming that I was a troublemaker. I have no idea where that came from. I was promised a copy of the letter but never received it.

"People with half my talent and (collegiate) record were being drafted into the NFL and I couldn't get anywhere." Yepremian has hope some NFL source will confess. "They'll slip up and tell the truth."

Yeah, right.

It is difficult to imagine the NFL would circulate such a letter. If the Packers thought Berj was a jerk, they weren't going to warn a competitor. Helping your neighbor get stronger is not big in the NFL brotherhood.

It's a strange scenario the old Gator clutches. If a young man is big, fast and talented, or a deadeye placekicker, the pros seem more than willing to work at hiding felony charges and/or ugly rumors. So why go after Garo's brother?

Like I said, intriguing.

"What the NFL could never take from me are two wonderful children," Berj said. "They're so good. So gifted. Ani is a tremendous golfer and a brilliant student. She took the SATs at age 12 and made 980.

"My son is already punting a football 30 yards at 9. I have such dreams for both my kids. Ani is special and Berj Jr. will be something by the time he's ready to kick for the Gators."

Daddy Berj, though not financially loaded, may have more than many famous NFL names. He realizes it. Almost accepts it. I don't know why the pros in 1979 shortchanged such an effective kicker at a major school, a steady youngster who kicked three field goals against Florida State as a senior. A person so heavy in NFL family heritage. It is difficult to imagine some cloak-and-daggar reason.

Ani and Berj Jr. are Yepremian's thrills. That and making eastern Pennsylvania's best corned-beef hoagie. Success doesn't always come on the avenue of our fantasies, but there can be much heroism in making the best of the street where we live.

See you later, Gator.

-- To contact Hubert Mizell, e-mail mmizell02@earthlink.net or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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