Ben Agajanian appeared in only three regular-season games for the Green Bay Packers beside kicking off in the 1961 NFL Championship Game, but Vince Lombardi wanted him badly enough that he circumvented league rules and broke with team tradition to lure him to Green Bay.
Agajanian, 98, died of natural causes Feb. 8 in Cathedral City, Calif., the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. Agajanian was the oldest living ex-Packer.
Agajanian joined the Packers on Nov. 17, 1961, three days after Paul Hornung, who doubled as the team’s starting halfback and kicker at the time, reported to Fort Riley, Kan., for active National Guard duty.
The Packers were scheduled to play the Los Angeles Rams at home two days later and Hornung was unable to get a weekend pass for the game from his commanding officer at Fort Riley.
Desperate for a kicker, Lombardi worked out a deal with the Dallas Texans of the American Football League to obtain Agajanian, although the NFL and AFL were rival leagues at the time fiercely competing against each other for players and not bound by the same rules covering player transactions.
The Texans were in their second year of existence and coached by Hank Stram. Two years later, they would move to Kansas City and change their nickname to Chiefs.
“It was a secret trade,” Agajanian said in a 2002 interview. “Hank Stram idolized Vince. So when Vince called, Hank said, ‘Sure.’ The two leagues didn’t talk to each other practically, but it was a secret trade. A quarterback from Green Bay was going to go to the Dallas Texans and I was going to go up to Green Bay. I think it was Val Keckin.”
Keckin was on the Packers’ taxi squad at the time, that day’s version of a practice squad. He also balked at reporting to the Texans.
Agajanian broke into the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1945 and was 42 years old at the time. He knew Lombardi from the time they spent together with the New York Giants. Lombardi was backfield coach of the Giants from 1954-58 and Agajanian was their kicker from 1954-57.
Agajanian retired following the 1957 season, but signed with the Los Angeles Chargers when the AFL was formed in 1960. The next year, he joined the Texans and kicked in three games with them before departing for Green Bay.
Agajanian had an arrangement with the Texans where he kicked on game day, but spent weekdays at home in Long Beach, Calif. He worked out the same arrangement with Lombardi after signing with the Packers.
“I flew back and forth every week,” Agajanian said in 2002. “(Lombardi) said take these balls home and practice. I said, ‘I don’t need any practice.’
“I played handball during the week and went back and kicked on the weekends. Hell, I was 42. I was already a kicker. I’d come back on Saturday and be there for the game. I’d fly to Chicago, then take a little jumper to Milwaukee and Oshkosh. Every little dump we’d land and then get to Green Bay.”
Lombardi also gave Agajanian No. 3, a number that hadn’t been worn by any Packers player since Tony Canadeo retired following the 1952 season and one that hasn’t been worn by any Packers player since.
Canadeo was a member of the Packers’ executive committee in 1961 and one of Lombardi’s good friends. Today, Canadeo’s number is considered to be officially retired by the Packers.
As it turned out, Hornung missed only two games in 1961 – the Nov. 19 game and the season finale against the Rams in LA -- and Agajanian attempted only two field goals, making one. He also was 8 of 8 on extra points. In the Packers’ 37-0 victory over the New York Giants in the NFL title game, Hornung kicked three field goals and four extra points, while Agajanian kicked off.
It was an arrangement that Agajanian wasn’t particularly happy about.
“I’m a kicker, not an insurance policy,” Agajanian told Hank Hollingworth, executive sport editor of the Long Beach Independent, before the Dec. 3 Packers-Giants regular-season game.
Agajanian lost four toes on his right foot in a 1941 industrial accident while at the University of New Mexico. As a result, he wore a size 7½ squared-off boot on his right foot.
Agajanian was credited with being pro football’s first kicking specialist and spent at least parts of seven seasons in the NFL, four in the AFL and two in the All-American Football Conference. His last season was 1964 when he kicked in three games for the San Diego Chargers.
When Hornung struggled as the Packers’ kicker that same season, Lombardi recruited Agajanian to come to Green Bay and work with him at one point during the season. Agajanian also went to camp with the Packers in 1962 in a kicker-kicking coach arrangement before being waived in early September.
His nicknames over his career included “Bootin’ Ben,” and “The Toeless Wonder.”