Eddie Murray was supposed to be finished in 1992 after spending 12 seasons kicking footballs for the Detroit Lions.
At 36 years of age, he appeared to be breaking down. Murray suffered a hip injury in his 11th season in 1990 that cost him five games but rallied in 1991 to score a team-runnerup 97 points, helping Detroit reach the NFC championship game. Nonetheless, the Lions claimed Washington State kicker Jason Hanson in the second round of the 1992 NFL draft and cut Murray to make room for him on the roster.
For all extents and purposes, it did look like Murray was finished. The Chiefs signed him for a game to fill-in for an injured Nick Lowery in 1992, then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought him in for the final seven games of the season to settle an unsettled placekicking situation. The Bucs cut him the following summer.
But Murray wasn’t finished. What happened in the next eight years put him in the queue for Hall of Fame consideration. He scored 481 points, almost a third of his career point total, won a Super Bowl ring and enjoyed two of his finest seasons.
But unless you were the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, like Morten Andersen was, or a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, as Jan Stenerud was, the Hall of Fame doesn’t want to be bothered with kickers. Andersen and Stenerud have busts in Canton and they will one day be joined by Adam Vinatieri, who has since passed Andersen as the game’s all-time leading scorer.
But there have been other great kickers – Hanson, Lowery, Tommy Davis, Jim Bakken, Gary Anderson and John Carney, to name a few – who deserve to have their careers discussed and debated for the Hall of Fame. Count Murray among the deserving.
In 1993, after an 0-2 start, the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys signed Murray to straighten out their early kicking woes. Did he ever. He went on to score a career-high 122 points to lead the Cowboys in scoring and pick up a Super Bowl ring that eluded him all those years in Detroit. He converted 85 percent of his 33 field-goal tries, including three from beyond 50 yards, and was perfect with his conversions. He also was a perfect 6-for-6 in field-goal tries in the playoffs.
The Cowboys moved on in 1994 and so did Murray, signing with their NFC East rival the Philadelphia Eagles. He led them in scoring with 96 points – at 38 years of age. Like the Cowboys in 1994, the Eagles also went younger in 1995 so Murray was again on the move. He stayed in the NFC East, signing with Washington, and led the Redskins in scoring with 114 points – at 39 years of age.
That was the fourth best season of Murray’s career. He scored 116 points as a rookie with the Lions in 1980 and followed that up with a then-franchise-record 121 points in 1981 to lead the NFC in scoring. Murray also became the first rookie ever selected Pro Bowl MVP in 1991 after kicking five field goals in Hawaii.
Murray sat out the 1996 season, then played the parts of three more seasons as an injury fill-in. He kicked for 12 games for the Vikings in 1997, four games with the Cowboys in 1999 and six more games with the Redskins in 2000 before finally calling it quits at the age of 44.
Murray retired in the NFL’s Top 15 in scoring but over the years has slid to his current No. 20 standing with 1,594 points. He converted 75.5 percent of his career field-goal attempts, but don’t try to compare his accuracy with that of today’s NFL kickers.
When Murray broke in, not all NFL teams employed special-teams coaches and some didn’t have designated deep snappers. In his Super Bowl season with the Cowboys, his holder was Pro Bowl tight end Jay Novacek. Practice time for placement kicks was often more after-thought than routine during that era. When Murray broke in, placekicking in the NFL often was an adventure, not the art form it has become.
But Murray succeeded in his 20s just as he did in his 30s and into his 40s. It’s debatable whether or not he deserves a bust in Canton. But it’s not debatable that his career deserves that discussion. The Hall needs to acknowledge that, in what has become a three-point league, kicking has become an important part of football. The 1993 Super Bowl champion Cowboys, among others, will attest to that.