Harry Ghaul: The Best Punter in Cardinals’ History, Who Wasn’t

Every so often, we encounter a football story that just screams to be shared. In this episode of “When Football Was Football” we’ll actually discuss a kicker who, believe it or not, boomed 100-yard punts in practice. Sometimes, there are true stories that just cannot be made up…

Such was the case of punter Harry Ghaul, whose startling back story includes the previously mentioned punting skills, but also a hall-of-fame collegiate football career at a major football university.

That type of accomplishment is not necessarily unusual in pro football circles where only the best of the best from the college ranks makes it with the NFL big boys. However, the spectacular college career for Harry Ghaul began AFTER his professional time with the Cardinals.

Let’s begin this unique story of Mr. Ghaul who was born on June 4, 1921.

In the late summer of 1944, the rumors regarding the kicking skills of Mr. Ghaul reached the Cardinals, who were preparing for an unusual season. During WWII, the NFL managed to stay in operation, but that proposition was certainly touch-and-go and a lack of players forced Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to merge for the 1943 season (known as the “Steagles”) while the Cardinals and the Steelers did the same in 1944 as the “Card-Pitts.”

With so many players off to the war effort, teams scrambled for any available talented gridders. Since the Cardinals needed both a fullback and a punter, Ghaul was plucked from the New Jersey semi-pro ranks and quickly joined the Cards at the team’s training camp in Waukesha, WI in August of 1944.

Harry Ghaul (blocking on the right) at the Card-Pitts practice in 1944 (photo from the Philadelphia Inquirer).
Harry Ghaul (blocking on the right) at the Card-Pitts practice in 1944 (photo from the Philadelphia Inquirer).

He Punted The Ball 105 Yards!

As individuals from both the Cardinals and the Steelers joined together for what everyone hoped would be a successful season for the newly christened Card-Pitts, the mammoth punts of Harry Ghaul quickly became a hot topic at the camp.

The Philadelphia Inquirer described the amazing kicks placed in orbit by Ghaul: “High, wide, and handsome, Ghaul’s punts have been sailing 60, 65, and 70 yards downfield, over the heads of weary and distracted safety players.”

But Ghaul told the Inquirer that he was not happy with his efforts and surprisingly apologized for the results: “I can’t understand it. I’m simply not getting any distance out of my kicks this year (after he had just got off an 80-yard punt).” If one had not witnessed the punting ability of Ghaul before the start of the training camp, his apology might have been confounding. Why would anyone apologize for kicking a ball 80 yards?

The Inquirer provided a glimpse into the past heroics of Ghaul as a reason for his disappointment by stating: “Once playing with Burlington High School’s champions in New Jersey, he punted the ball from behind his own goal line all the way down behind the other goal—a total distance of 105 yards!”

 Later, in semi-pro action, Ghaul blasted an 87-yarder—all in the air! So, a mere 70-yard punt for the Cardinals might have delighted the coaching staff, but it was disappointing for the punter himself. He simply expected his kicks to rocket big-time into the stratosphere!

A Triple-Threat Ace!

The athletic career of Ghaul initially earned some notice beginning in 1939 at Burlington High School in New Jersey and he quickly earned varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball as a sophomore.

He grabbed his first headline when he scored the only touchdown in Burlington’s 6-0 win over Morrisville High School. The team finished 7-1-1, its best season in nearly a decade, and Ghaul was recognized by the Morning Post newspaper as “one of the best kickers in South Jersey.”

More success followed in 1940 as Ghaul moved into the quarterback position as a junior to lead Burlington to an undefeated 10-0 record and the New Jersey state title. In a 25-7 win over Gloucester, Ghaul was the whole story for Burlington according to the Morning Post which reported:

“Ghaul proved himself a real triple-threat ace in scoring the first six-pointer on a spectacular 33-yard dash off tackle, flipping two touchdown passes, and setting up the way for a fourth score with a good runback of a punt. And to top off, this one-man show, he also got off a couple of long-distance punts for which he is noted.”

Of course, with the brilliant two-year mark of 17-1-1, much was expected of Burlington in 1941, until the Morning News sadly confirmed an unexpected rumor on September 5: “Harry Ghaul quit school.” No explanation was given for this difficult decision, but the punter was ready to move on…

Ghaul found work at a local factory in Burlington and in late September of 1941, joined the nearby Zuni Athletic Association football team of the Eastern Football Conference. The league routinely offered playing opportunities, and a few extra dollars, to former collegians wishing to continue their playing careers.

Although not a starter for the Zuni club during what would have been his senior year of high school, Ghaul still experienced a great deal of action as a backup halfback and as the team’s punter.

Once again, his kicking exploits were marvelous as tracked after one game by the Morning Post: “Harry Ghaul gave the crowd a big thrill when he booted from his own end zone in the fourth period to the opponent’s 25-yard line, a distance of more than 75 yards, considering the fact that Harry punted from behind his own goal line!”

Zuni enjoyed its finest finish in history with an 11-0 record and the championship of the Eastern Football Conference. Was it a coincidence that the teams Ghaul played on finished with a perfect 21-0 mark over the past two campaigns?

Perfect Size For NFL Fullback

By this time, the now 20-year-old Ghaul had captured the attention of NFL teams, specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Brooklyn Dodgers. On May 17, 1942, the Pittsburgh Press announced that the Steelers were successful in signing Ghaul to an NFL contract.

Although he never played college football (and apparently never graduated from high school), Ghaul impressed the Steelers with his size, speed, and kicking ability. Now checking in at 6’ tall and weighing 224 lbs., Ghaul was the perfect size for an NFL fullback. 

However, his quest for a spot on the Steelers was derailed, at least temporarily, when Ghaul was inducted into the military during the early days of WWII. He spent a year in the service before he received a medical discharge in September of 1943 due to high blood pressure that could not be controlled. 

Returning to Burlington, Ghaul latched on with the newly organized Camden Pros for the tail-end of the 1943 football season, managing to participate in four games. Now playing fullback, Ghaul continued to shine while also unleashing his usual barrage of booming punts…and that’s when the pros began calling again.

Kicking Problem of the Card-Pitts Seemed Solved

Prior to the 1944 season, the Steelers and the Cardinals merged forces and the unified team hoped to find someone who could punt more successfully than the 34.4 yards per punt that the Steelers experienced in 1943. Recalling the brief time that Ghaul spent with the Steelers back in the summer of 1942 before his induction, the Pittsburgh side of the coaching staff highly recommended a contract for Ghaul. And, as mentioned previously, his boots were quite impressive.

The Moline (IL) Dispatch noted: “The kicking problem of the Card-Pitts appeared solved, thanks to the ‘golden toe’ of one David Harry Ghaul. The 223 lb. punting sensation, whose previous football experience has been confined to high school and the Camden, NJ pros, is credited with consistently booting the ball between 60 and 80 yards.”

Bert Bell, co-owner of the Pittsburgh side of the club, simply stated “He [Ghaul] is probably the best kicker either Pittsburgh or Chicago had in at least five years.” Even the Chicago Tribune agreed, stating: “Ghaul, a plump New Jerseyite, appears to be the best punter in camp.”

During the team’s first public inter-squad scrimmage game on August 26, Ghaul started at fullback for the Black team and scored his side’s first tally with a one-yard plunge. While the Card-Pitts only scheduled a pair of exhibition games in 1944, Ghaul started at quarterback in the first contest, a 22-0 loss to the Eagles on September 12. Although the offense was missing in action, the Courier-Post newspaper in NJ reported: “One of the features of the game was the splendid kicking of Harry Ghaul.”

The final pre-season exhibition on September 18 was a 3-0 setback to the Washington Redskins. Two days later, Ghaul was released as the Card-Pitts made the final cuts to move the roster down to a mere 28 players. Was his football career over? Far from it, as Ghaul joined the semi-pro Camden Blue Devils on September 28, 1944.

It was then that the football journey of Harry Ghaul became even more intriguing…

Best Punter We Ever Had At Miami

After spending two training camps with NFL teams and stints with at least three semi-pro-outfits, and a year of military service, Ghaul suddenly showed up as a freshman candidate for the University of Miami football team in Florida. On June 29, 1945, the Miami Herald previewed the 1945 Miami squad and noted:

“Harry Ghaul, a fullback from Burlington, NJ, was rated as one of the finest prep school punters last fall. He averaged 53 yards and is a consistent 75-yard booter.” Huh? Did Miami not question the background of their newest player? Now 24, Ghaul certainly must have looked a bit more mature than your average 17- or 18-year-old freshman…and he certainly was at least six years away from his prep school stardom (not one year as mentioned by the Miami Herald).

By August 23, 1945, Miami coach Eddie Dunn had seen enough and told the Miami News: “The other day out here he smacked into one that went 70 yards on the fly—a quick kick at that. I can’t help but feel confident that Ghaul is about the best punter we ever had.”

Ghaul’s impact was immediate. He led the club to an Orange Bowl championship with a 9-1-1 mark and Ghaul, a multi-threat on offense, finished fourth in the nation by scoring an even 100 points. In comparison, the rest of his teammates scored 98 points.

In a 33-7 win over Auburn, Ghaul scored on touchdown runs of 82 and 28 yards to secure the Orange Bowl invitation. Ghaul was superb through all four years at Miami leading to his induction into the Miami Hall of Fame in 1972.

Harry Ghaul receiving his diploma at Miami in 1949 (from the Miami Herald).
Harry Ghaul receiving his diploma at Miami in 1949 (from the Miami Herald).

Ghaul's Name Is Splattered All Over The Record Book

The Miami Herald carefully documented Ghaul’s achievements at the time of his induction in 1972: “Ghaul’s name is splattered all over the UM record book. He got off the longest punt in Hurricane history—a 77-yard bomb in 1947.

He also had the best punting average (55.3 yards) for a single game and holds the record for most point scored in a season (100) and is second in touchdowns scored in a season with 13 in 1945. Ghaul is also the leading scorer for a career with 180 points.” As a senior, Ghaul finally received his college diploma on February 7, 1949.

It wasn’t until 1972 when Miami Herald columnist Luther Evans finally leaked the news regarding the unusual career path that Ghaul followed on his way to the University of Miami Hall of Fame. Or, as Evans described it: “Ghaul was the only Miami football player recruited out of a pro football training camp.”

Apparently, former Miami player (and later assistant coach) Walt Kichefski was an end for the Steelers when Ghaul was in training camp. As Ghaul himself explained it: “I’d gone into the service and when I was discharged, I decided I’d try to make it in pro football without going to college. Kichefski was an end with the Steelers and when he found out I hadn’t been to college, he started working on me. I’d run the ball and he’d flatten me and say ‘Son, I think you’d better go get a college education.’”

Kichefski added: “When I found out Ghaul hadn’t been to college, I told him, ‘I’ll get you a scholarship to the University of Miami’ and I finally talked him into it.” So, at the ripe old age of 24, Ghaul entered college and began his amateur football career—and his previous exploits with the pros were apparently never mentioned.

But what if Ghaul had instead made the Cardinals’ roster in 1944 and spent a few years with the team? The all-time punting leader for the Arizona Cardinals is Andy Lee with a 47.5 average, or just a bit less than Ghaul averaged in high school!

My Life Is Complete

Sadly, just a few months after being inducted into the Miami Hall of Fame in January of 1972, Ghaul passed away in his sleep at the too-young age of 49 (Ghaul was actually 50, but newspapers listed his age as 49) on April 15, 1972. At the time of his passing, Ghaul was the Fire Chief of Burlington, NJ.

Walt Kichefski recalled the sheer joy that being inducted into the Miami Hall of Fame brought to Ghaul: “After the Hall of Fame dinner, Harry came over to my house along with some of his old teammates. I’ll never forget Harry saying then with tears in his eyes: ‘After this night, my life is complete.’”


Author and Host - Joe Ziemba

Joe Ziemba is the host of this show, and he is an author of early football history in the city of Chicago.  Here, you can learn more about Joe and When Football Was Football, including all of the episodes of the podcast.

Joe Ziemba

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