The Line Between Football and Soccer Is Blurrier Than You’d Expect

Kicking one kind of ball well can translate to kicking a very different one

Toni Fritsch
Kicker Toni Fritsch of the Dallas Cowboys kicks a field goal against the San Francisco 49ers in the 1972 NFC Championship Game.
James Flores/Getty Images

The list of elite athletes who have made a name for themselves (or given it a shot) in more than one sport is far from long — or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Michael Jordan and Tim Tebow all come to mind — and also serve as a reminder that being skilled at one sport doesn’t always translate to success in other athletic arenas. But the actual list of players who have played multiple sports at a high level runs a lot deeper than that once you factor in — let’s just say multiple sports that are described as “football.”

For purposes of this article, we’ll focus on (American) football and soccer, though there’s even more crossover than that once you factor in the likes of rugby and Australian rules football. (Wikipedia describes this as “players who have converted from one football code to another,” and their article on the topic is a great way to go down numerous athletic rabbit holes.) Perhaps the highest-profile example of a player of one kind of football expressing an interest in another is striker Harry Kane, who has repeatedly spoken of becoming a kicker in the NFL once his soccer career is over.

There’s also a Super Bowl tie-in to all of this: as Ryan Baldi reported for The Guardian, Kansas City’s Harrison Butker has spoken about his experience playing soccer as having had a significant influence on his approach to his NFL position. Another current NFL kicker, Dallas’s Brandon Aubrey, was drafted by Toronto FC before changing directions — and has found more success with football than with soccer.

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This is not a new phenomenon. If Harry Kane does pivot from soccer to football, he won’t even be the first Tottenham Hotspur alumnus to do so. Clive Allen, whose long career featured stints at Tottenham, Manchester City and West Ham, spent a season kicking for the London Monarchs after his soccer career came to an end. Both Toni Linhart and Toni Fritsch had long careers playing soccer in Austria before coming to the United States to play in the NFL; both men’s careers in the latter included playing in the Pro Bowl.

Several of the players interviewed by The Guardian noted that the two games are very, very different — especially when it comes to the role a kicker plays in football. But that hasn’t kept some people from making that shift — and, in rarer cases, excelling at it.

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