Today, a Canadian finding success in the NFL is still a rare thing. Prior to the 1970s, it was almost unheard of.
Then along came Roy Gerela, raised in Powell River, BC, one of the NFL’s longest and most accurate kickers with the powerful Pittsburgh Steelers for the better part of a decade and one of the most successful Canadians ever to play in the NFL.
What’s more, playing alongside legendary Hall of Fame teammates like Terry Bradshaw and ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, Roy became enormously popular with Steelers fans, a group forming a travelling fan club known as ‘Gerela’s Gorillas’, who with every field goal pounded their chests with pride and hung their banners from upper deck railings of stadiums around the NFL.
“When they told me they were going to form a fan club for me, I told them to do it for one of the players who really deserved it, like Terry, Joe, or Franco Harris, you know, future hall of famers who were more popular than me,” remembered Roy. “They said, ‘No, we’re going to make you popular because we love the way you kick!’”
Roy became the first Canadian to win a Super Bowl in 1975 with the Steelers and added two more championship rings in 1976 and 1979. To this day, he remains the only Canadian who can claim a Super Bowl hat trick.
The last of nine children, soccer in the backyard with homemade goals quickly toughened up young Roy, determined to keep up with older brothers Metro and Ted—who both ended up kicking in the CFL with Montreal and BC respectively.
“It really pushed me playing sports against my older brothers,” said Roy. “Metro built soccer goals and that really helped me get tougher and more decisive. I admired them so much.”
While Ted was playing college football, he wrote Roy a letter suggesting he try field goal kicking soccer-style. Roy had been a defensive back at Kalani High School in Hawaii and later at New Mexico State University, but tried Ted’s advice and soon turned heads with his booming boot. Drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1969, after two seasons he signed with Pittsburgh and remained there until 1978 before playing a handful of games with San Diego in 1979 when injuries forced his retirement.
“I could barely raise my leg from the gas pedal of my car to the brake,” he said. “It was excruciating, but adrenalin flows and you give it all you have and that’s what I did. Whatever it takes.”
Over 145 career NFL games, Roy kicked 184 field goals and 351 extra points. His 731 total points rank third in Steelers club history to this day. Twice he was selected to the Pro Bowl, in 1972 and 1974. Four times he was named an All-Pro. Roy led the AFC in scoring in both 1973 and 1974. At the time of his retirement in 1979, he stood as the longest-serving Canadian player in NFL history.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.