Lee Pistor described the scene on the sideline at Arizona Stadium as “chaos,” which is not the way a kicker wants to be sent on to the field to make the go-ahead field goal in the waning seconds of a monumental game.
Arizona started its last possession trailing Texas Tech 28-27 with 43 seconds remaining and the ball on the Wildcats’ own 44. In their previous possession, the Wildcats scored a touchdown and coach Jim Young went for the 2-point conversion to take the lead but failed. Their defense stuffed the Red Raiders on three straight running plays and forced them to punt the ball.
Bruce Hill, one of the best playmaking quarterbacks in Arizona history, drove the Wildcats 32 yards to the Texas Tech 24 in only 32 seconds.
They got that far after an 18-yard completion to receiver Theopolis “T” Bell (who went on to win two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers) was followed by a 10-yard connection with running back Marvin Baker.
The 39,854 in attendance (capacity at Arizona Stadium in 1975 was listed at 40,000) became frenzied as Young deliberated over what to do next. Get one more play in or try the go-ahead 41-yard field goal with 11 seconds left?
With Baker’s reception close to the first-down marker, Young and his assistants, which included future Arizona head coaches Larry Smith and John Mackovic, made the smart move by asking the referees to measure for a first down. Young knew it would be just short, so in the time the refs made the measurement, he sent out Pistor, a sophomore, for the first potential game-winning kick of his career.
“I just remember it was kind of chaos on the sidelines, trying to get ready, and then running out, I have done that a thousand times before my career,” Pistor told me this week in a phone interview from where he lives in Phoenix. “It was just so funny because I ran out there so nervous, I asked the holder, ‘Where do I put my tee?’ Bill Baechler was my holder and he goes, ‘Right here!’ So he just popped it down and then it was just like kick the ball as quickly as we could. It was kind of interesting.
“Obviously, I was a little bit nervous. It was not quite ice water going through my veins at the time.”
Pistor was a straight-on kicker, a dead breed in football, and he tied the front of his kicking shoe up. The unconventional method did not deter him from making some historic kicks at Arizona.
“I was a tight end my freshman year in high school but I did not get bigger as I went on in my career,” he said. “I turned to kicking and I kicked straight on and tied my shoe back to get a little more strength out of my kicks.
“Living around ASU and going to a lot of their games when I was young, I remember a kicker there named Ed Gallardo who was a straight-on kicker who tied his shoe back and I gave it a try. I worked hard at it and became successful at it.”
Young was so confident in Pistor — who also made a game-winning kick at Utah in 1976 — that he let the young kicker try a 61-yarder before halftime against Texas Tech. The kick sailed about a foot wide right from the upright.
The Tempe-area kid made a 20-yard field goal late in the game against ASU as a 5-foot-11 and 147-pound freshman in 1974 when the Wildcats snapped a nine-game losing streak to ASU and coach Frank Kush.
Kush did not recruit Pistor out of Phoenix Central High School. He did not have a chance if he tried.
“I am the eighth Pistor to graduate from the U of A,” he said. “My great uncle was the dean of the animal science college the . He was the original Pistor at the school dating back to 1875. I had that kind of history at the U of A and I was interested in studying agriculture there. They had a great agricultural school there. I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship to play football there.”
As a senior at Arizona in 1977, Pistor made a 57-yard field goal at Iowa. That kick still stands as a school record, tied by Max Zendejas in 1985, Jon Prasuhn in 1995 and Lucas Havrisik in 2017. It is also remains a Kinnick Stadium record at Iowa, tied in 2015 by Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn.
Pistor also made a 54-yarder against Colorado State in 1976. He is still No. 6 on the Arizona career scoring chart with 246 points after making 42 field goals in his career.
“There were records I had that I didn’t know of,” Pistor said. “I remember being at a game at ASU in which Luis Zendejas, Max’s brother, made three field goals in the game, and the PA announcer said, ‘And with that kick, Luis Zendejas has tied Lee Pistor’s NCAA record for most times making three field goals in a game in a season. I was amazed because I had never heard that before.”
Pistor, 63, remains active carrying various titles with the Japanese company NKK Switches, a manufacturer of electromechanical switches and programmable displays that has its North American headquarters at Scottsdale, where he is based. Pistor is the company’s business development manager, corporate account manager and customer relations manager.
He watches Arizona football while he can, but most of his time other than work is taking part in outdoor activities such as hiking, bicycling and swimming. He will not be able to attend Saturday’s game between the Wildcats and Red Raiders, another edition of the one-team heated rivalry between the Southwestern schools, because he will be training for an upcoming three-day hiking excursion at and around the Grand Canyon.
“The first day we will hike from the north rim to the south rim about 24 miles. The next day we will hike a trail from the Grand Canyon to Flagstaff, and the last day will include a hike up Humphries Peak,” Pistor said. “I wish I could make it to Saturday’s game, but I will be too busy training for that.”
Pistor’s name will undoubtedly be mentioned at Arizona Stadium on Saturday as part of one of the most memorable kicks in Arizona history.
The Red Raiders, who held a 22-2 series edge over Arizona at the time, appeared headed for another win after the Wildcats could not convert on the two-point conversion try with 2:46 left in the game. Young’s attempt for the win on that play was snuffed with Hill getting sacked. Texas Tech led 28-27 and Arizona had no timeouts.
“We had lost a close and hard fought game in Lubbock (Texas) the year before and were looking for nothing short of redemption in ’75 at home,” former Arizona receiver Scott Piper communicated to me this week.
Piper, who now resides at Arvada, Colo., and is a representative for Twisted X Boots, caught the touchdown pass from Hill that preceded the two-point attempt that Young decided on after consulting with some of his players.
“Our goal was nothing short of a win, so when you ask about Coach Young’s ‘going for the win,’ there was never any doubt,” Piper said. “It was all or nothing. Coach Young was as competitive as anyone I have known and he always expressed his confidence in us as players. His desire for us was to be champions, so, ‘strap it on and go for it.’ I wouldn’t have expected less.”
Pistor drilled the 41-yarder through the uprights against the Red Raiders (who hold a 26-4-2 series edge against the Wildcats) on that mid-October night 44 years ago that put Arizona ahead 30-28 with 7 seconds remaining.
“I remember the discussion with the offense was, ‘Let’s give Pistor a chance,'” Piper said. “I just don’t know if any of us knew what a legitimate chance was. I recall coming off the field as the field goal team came on and thinking, ‘I have never seen Lee kick one that far.’
“I don’t think God is real concerned with football games but at that moment in time, He was getting bombarded with prayers. The rest is U of A history.”
Pistor’s ensuing kickoff rolled to near the goal line and was picked up by Texas Tech’s Billy Taylor, who tried to make a return but was tackled in the end zone for a safety by Arizona’s Ken Creviston to end the game. Arizona’s players jumped on each other in celebration with the scoreboard reading 32-28 in the Wildcats’ favor. Some of the fans rushed the field.
“Was I part of the team jumping on each other on the field? You bet I was,” Pistor said. “That was the best part of my career. What a night.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.