Ove Claes Johansson (’77), whose collegiate football experience was short but life-changing after he kicked a world-record 69-yard field goal as a senior at Abilene Christian University, died Sept. 30, 2023, in Amarillo, Texas. He was 75.
Johansson was born March 31, 1948, in Gothenburg, Sweden. At age 20 he joined the Swedish Navy, and later traveled to the U.S. to attend Davis & Elkins College, where he helped the Senators reach the 1974 NAIA men’s soccer national championship game, and earned all-conference honors.
He met April Lark Bankes (’77) in 1972 while playing for a European exhibition soccer team in Dallas, Texas, began dating her in 1973, and enrolled with her at ACU in Fall 1975. Ove attended Wildcat football games that season to see Bankes perform in the Big Purple marching band, and they wed in August 1976.
That spring on campus, Ove experimented with booting two American footballs provided by longtime ACU kinesiology professor Dr. Dwain Hart. “I was so poor I couldn’t afford to buy a kicking tee so I used the cap on a shaving cream can,” Johansson recounts in Wildcat Football: Three Cheers for the Purple and White, a book by Lance Fleming (’92), Abilene Christian’s former longtime associate director of athletics for media relations.
Johansson’s efforts were noticed by a Wildcat football player, who convinced head coach Wally Bullington (’53) to take a look. A couple of booming tryout kicks later, and just four months after his first practice attempt, Johansson was on the team.
ACU’s Oct. 16 Homecoming game that fall was expected to be historic: Star running back Wilbert Montgomery (’77) was about to break Walter Payton’s all-time collegiate career touchdown record of 76, which he did just before halftime. However, his moment was upstaged in the first quarter by Johansson, who plotted his attempt at a world record before the season started, showing Bullington his personal “goals board,” and then on the day before the game, walked into his coach’s office to ask for a chance at the mark.
“Coach, on Saturday, Wilbert will set a national record for touchdowns in a career,” Johansson said, brimming with his typical fjord full of self-confidence. “And if you give me the opportunity, I will kick a world-record field goal.”
On ACU’s third possession of the first quarter, and leading 7-0, a Wildcat drive stalled at the home team’s 48-yard line. Bullington turned to his 28-year-old senior, playing in just the sixth football game of his life, and said, “Well, there it is. Go get it.”
With a 15-mph wind at his back – nothing of note following a cold front in typically breezy West Texas – Johansson’s kick sailed through the goalposts on the south end of Shotwell Stadium with several yards to spare, setting off a wild celebration by teammates and a crowd of 13,000.
Bullington was not surprised, as Ove irritated the Lions by booting two 70-yarders while he and holder Dean Low (’78) briefly interrupted the visiting team’s workouts on the north end of the field before the opening kickoff. Later, the coach told a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer he thought the 69-yarder would be easy based on Johansson’s hard-to-believe pregame performance.
“Of course, Ove always tells people the reason we kicked it is because we needed 3 points,” said the late Bullington, who died in 2018.
The kick that afternoon was sandwiched between NCAA Division I record field goals of 64 and 65 yards in College Station, Texas, by Texas A&M sophomore kicker Tony Franklin in a game versus Baylor. But 275 miles to the northwest in Abilene, Johansson’s feat won the day and in the 47 years since, has never been equaled nor eclipsed at the high school, college or pro levels of the sport. It also is arguably one of the top individual accolades in Wildcat sports history, which is filled with NFL players, Olympians and national championships.
Johansson – one month past his 29th birthday – was selected in the 12th round of the 1977 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, and is still the second oldest to ever be chosen by a league franchise. His tenure in the NFL was affected by a knee injury he suffered in ACU’s postseason win over Harding University in the Shrine Bowl in Pasadena, Texas. He spent short amounts of time over two seasons on the rosters of Houston, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys before settling in with his family in the Texas Panhandle.
He founded Johansson and Associates Financial Services in 1980, was president of Great Nation Investment Services, and was always in demand as a motivational speaker.
In 2001, on the 25th anniversary of his record kick, the irrepressible Johansson booted another jaw-dropping field goal during an exhibition he planned at halftime of yet another ACU Homecoming game: a 53-yarder at age 53.
Johansson earned a B.S.Ed. degree from Abilene Christian and in 2006 was inducted in the ACU Sports Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class. He served as grand marshal in the university’s 2016 Homecoming parade with Montgomery, who was inducted in 1996 to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I am the poster child for the American Dream,” Johannson told Fleming for his book, in a chapter titled “The Kick Heard ’Round the World.”
“When it comes to married life, children, business life, etc., I’ve been so blessed,” Johansson said. “I think of all of the kids who never had the chance to play college football or put on an NFL jersey, and here I am, a kid from Sweden who didn’t know anything about football, and I had the chance to do those things. I have so much to be thankful for in this life.”
He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Britt Johansson, and his mother-in-law, Maxine Bankes.
Among survivors are April, his wife of 47 years; a daughter, Annika (Johansson ’06) Spalding and her husband, Brett, and grandchildren Olivia Lark Spalding and Stellan Blue Spalding; a son, Stefan Johansson and daughter-in-love Monica Mosier; a brother, Robert Johansson; and many extended family members in the U.S. and abroad.
— Ron Hadfield
Oct. 5, 2023