Down the Middle: Chuck Nelson Has Never Missed When Dealing With Infamous Kick

Dan Raley

Washington's Chuck Nelson was the greatest college football kicker in America when he lined up a 33-yard field-goal attempt against Washington State near the end of the 1982 Apple Cup.

No, he was better than that. Nelson ranked as one of the most prolific kickers in NCAA history -- having made all 25 of his kicks that season, and 30 in a row going back to the previous year.

Yet with 4:35 left in the rivalry game, and the Huskies trailing 21-20 with a Rose Bowl berth on the line, a very weird thing happened to Nelson.

The ball sailed wide right on him.

The kick was no good.

Streak over.

"It shocked me when he missed," WSU coach Jim Walden said.

Laboring through a 3-7-1 season, the Cougars added a late field goal and won 24-20 that day in Pullman, Washington. They savored one of their most satisfying victories over the Huskies, sending them to the Aloha Bowl rather than Pasadena.

In the aftermath, Nelson was named the Associated Press first-team All-America placekicker. He was listed in the UW and the NCAA records books. He kicked in the NFL for five seasons.

For the Huskies, he converted 61 of 75 field-goal attempts during his sterling career, for an 81.3 percent success rate.

Yet for all of those made three-pointers, all anyone remembers is the last kick attempt because it misfired. It's his Bill Buckner moment.

"I feel like I did some pretty good things in college," Nelson said. "But two-thirds of the references or questions I get come back to that field goal at Washington State."

To his credit, the Washington Athletic Club president and CEO has been more gracious than most in dealing with these constant inquiries, including one from Husky Maven/Sports Illustrated, about a kick attempt that has become larger than life.

It forever carries the mystique of being tied to the Apple Cup and the Rose Bowl, plus ending his record-breaking run.

"Most of the kicks during the streak were right down the middle," Nelson said. "It was the epitome of being in the zone. I had no thought of missing. It was pure concentration and being in the moment. I was surprised as anyone when it didn't go through and certainly disappointed." 

Through all of these years, Nelson should be commended for handling that momentary blip as graciously as he has. He can even joke about it.

"I always said I'm glad people were surprised when I missed instead of when I made it," Nelson said. 

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