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Reinventing the tee – from Ground Zero

How a Cornell alumnus’ relationship with Lou Groza, a kicking competition in Hawaii, and a never-before-told cheating scandal shaped 21st-century football in the NFL

H. Jay Spiegel kicking for the DC Bears in a semi-pro league game in the late 1970s (via Spiegel)

H. Jay Spiegel gazed onto the field as Cornell University’s special teams squad lined up to kick off to VMI on a late summer day at Foster Stadium in Lexington VA. As the Big Red prepared to begin their season, Spiegel’s eyes were not focused on the players. They were transfixed on a small, red block on the 35-yard line. 

“Cornell’s kicker was using the red version of my Ground Zero-1 tee,” said Spiegel.

As the inventor of the Ground Zero-1 football kicking tee, it is no surprise that Spiegel was pleased to see his creation put to use by a student-athlete from his alma mater. However, the sighting of his tees on a football field has become so commonplace that, to him, it is no longer momentous.

“That’s usually the case in most organized football games,” said Spiegel. “Either one or both teams’ kickers are using my tees.”

Cornell Kicker Jackson Kennedy (Left) Prepares to Kick Off of Spiegel’s Red Ground Zero-1 Tee (via ESPN+ Broadcast)

Spiegel’s tee has been used for every single NFL kickoff in the 21st century and has been universally used in the league since the 1999-2000 season. He has also invented several other tees which are currently utilized across all levels of the sport.

To tell a younger Spiegel that he would significantly impact the game of football may have seemed callous, as he departed the Cornell roster early in his collegiate career and never had a meaningful role on the team. But Spiegel’s days at the university planted the seeds for a consequential invention.

“I credit the engineering school at Cornell for teaching me how to think like an engineer,” said Spiegel.

Spiegel combined his engineering knowledge with a knowledge of kicking which he attributed to NFL legend Lou Groza of the Cleveland Browns.

H. Jay Spiegel (#11) with OH natives of the 1971 Cornell Football Team (via Spiegel).

“I grew up in Cleveland and my hero was Lou Groza,” said Spiegel. “When I was 18, I wrote him a letter asking if he could help me with my kicking technique. I never thought I’d hear from him, but he wrote me back.”

Groza invited Spiegel to train in Berea, OH during the early 1970s, where he learned a crucial kicking strategy.

“[Groza] would take his toe-cleat and twist it into the ground to make a little recess,” said Spiegel. “Then he would twist the ball into the recess, so it was supported.”

Groza’s tactic allowed the ball to be supported without prongs, which were features that were incorporated in all NFL tees at the time. 

Pro-Football HOF Kicker Lou Groza in 1966 (via

“Other tees had prongs sticking up to support the ball,” said Spiegel. “Kickers would hit the prongs before they would hit the ball. That would dislodge the ball slightly and make it impossible to get a good hit on it.”

Combining Groza’s ball-support method with his engineering expertise, Spiegel spent almost a decade designing and refining wax mold kicking tees in his own home.

“I almost burned my house down one time because I didn’t realize that wax had a flash point,” said Spiegel. “I was heating it up on the stove and suddenly a big flame erupted. I had to throw a blanket over it.” 

Spiegel’s tee was approved by the NFL in 1988. That same year, he traveled to an NFL kicking competition in Honolulu, HI to have the pros test his product.

“I got feedback, did some refining, and by around ‘92-’93 I had the Toe-Tal tee developed which is a two-piece tee with an insert,” said Spiegel. “That was the first tee I got in the NFL.”

Toe-Tal Tee Cheating Method: Left – Legal 1″ kickoff height / Right – Cheating 1.5″ method (via Spiegel)

Problems with the tee arose during the 1995-96 NFL season according to Spiegel.

“I had a lot of NFL kickers using my Toe-Tal tee, but the kickers were cheating,” said Spiegel. “What they would do is push the insert up to elevate the ball further off the ground to gain more height and longer hang time for kickoffs.”

Jerry Seeman, an NFL referee and the supervisor of NFL officials at the time, contacted Spiegel and requested an in-person meeting with him at the NFL headquarters in NY.

“He sat me down and said, ‘What I propose is that you recall all of the tees…and replace them with a one-piece tee’,” said Spiegel. “So, I went back to Washington and had a new mold made for a one-piece version of the tee.”

The Ground Zero-1 tee was born and reshaped the NFL kicking game. 

“Now, most of the kickers can kick it deep into the endzone on the fly and the reason why is my tee,” said Spiegel. “If it’s true it ain’t bragging.”

Spiegel has no doubts as to why his tee has been so successful. 

“[Kickers] know that they get an absolute clean shot at the ball and no chance of stinging their foot by hitting a prong,” said Spiegel. “As a result, most kickoffs end in touchbacks because the kickers can kick deep into or even through the endzone.”

Ithaca College All-American Nicholas Bahamonde practices kicking off Spiegel’s patented tee

Ithaca College kicker Nicholas Bahamonde is one of many collegiate kickers using Spiegel’s tees. He has used

Spiegel’s Ground Zero-1 tee since high school and was selected as a First-Team All-American in 2021.

“It’s by far the best option,” said Bahamonde.

In addition to kickoffs, the tee is useful for onside kicks due to the upright positioning of the ball according to Bahamonde.

“It’s more uniform,” said Bahamonde. “The backward slant of a pronged tee makes it way harder to get the end-over-end [spin].”

Spiegel sold his kicking tee business in 2015 but is still positively impacted by the way his invention has impacted the game.

“It’s been very gratifying for me,” said Spiegel. “I may have sold the business but I’m still the inventor.”

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