SALT LAKE CITY — The year was 1998, and the moment was enormous. Trailing 26-24 in their annual rivalry contest against BYU, with seconds remaining, the Utah Utes dispatched Ryan Kaneshiro for a field goal — a kick that would either cement the 19-year-old’s name in Utah honor, or in infamy.
Four weeks earlier, he’d missed an extra point in overtime at San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to secure a win. “That was really devastating,” he says. A week later, facing San Jose State, the redshirt freshman had a kick blocked. He recalls getting credit for half a tackle on the ensuing return, though, and from there, the Utes rolled through UTEP and New Mexico to set up a clash with their rivals on the chilly afternoon of Nov. 21. They hoped to play spoiler. The Cougars were 6-1 in the Western Athletic Conference, and a Utah win meant ruining BYU’s chance at a conference title.
Everything about Kaneshiro’s pregame felt normal. He booted the ball well. No serious errors, no reason to worry that he’d be unprepared should a potentially life-defining moment arise.
The game teetered back and forth: 3-3, then 10-10. But BYU started to pull away, first 20-10, then 23-17. With just over three minutes left, Cougars kicker Owen Pochman just about sealed it by equaling his career high with a 47-yard field goal. BYU’s lead become two scores, 26-17, and Utah’s chances dwindled. Until the ensuing kickoff, which receiver Daniel Jones took 95 yards for a touchdown.
The Utes defense held firm, and the offense got the ball back. With 1:26 left, Utah quarterback Jonathan Crosswhite dropped back to his own 26-yard line and heaved to Jones, who caught it at BYU’s 24-yard line. Kaneshiro whacked a few balls into the practice net as his teammates drowned him in encouraging words. He wished to be left alone; he knew what was about to be asked of him. At 26-24, a made field goal would pull off the Utah upset.
A 15-yard penalty on Jones for taunting set the Utes back a bit, but they regained some ground and, on fourth-and-8 with 9 seconds left, coach Ron McBride called on Kaneshiro, who’d nailed a 47 yarder earlier in the season. This kick would be from 32 yards, right between the hash marks.
“The state, your family, your friends — everybody is watching you,” an announcer said as McBride knelt and turned his back to the field. “They want you to kick a field goal and be a hero.”
Kaneshiro’s teammates slapped his helmet as he trotted out. Underneath his No. 19 jersey and anonymity-generating helmet, he took his steps — one, two, three back; one, two, two and a half to the left. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten agonizing seconds later, his foot bashed the ball and sent it hurtling toward the end zone. At the initial thump, he felt confident. No slippage; solid foot placement.
Then he looked up.
He described his view as a golf player who felt like they’d just hit a terrific shot, right toward the green, only to find it in the air and watch it slice into the bushes. In Kaneshiro’s case, he watched as the ball fluttered straight for the right goalpost. As it hung in the air, he remained anonymous in Utah football lore. He was no one, in the view of Utah football fans, aside from a potential conqueror in their 80-year history of BYU rivalry games.
The ball thudded against the right upright — a target Kaneshiro admitted is nearly impossible to hit when aiming for it. He leaped a full foot off the ground, one hand on each side of his helmet. BYU rejoiced. So did McBride, who heard the cheers, stood and lifted his arms in triumph, thinking the crowd’s reaction was evidence of Kaneshiro’s success. Then he grabbed the brim of his cap, and his expression shifted from joy to confusion to deflation.
It’s easy to ask what could have been — if only Jones hadn’t committed that penalty; if only he’d broken away on his late catch and scored a touchdown; if only they’d been a couple of yards closer. But in that moment, the only emotions for Kaneshiro were those of anguish: Anger, sadness and frustration.
The incident became known as “The Kaneshiro Doink,” per Wikipedia, or, per the Deseret News, “The doink heard around Utah.” Even McBride didn’t defend his player. “Chip-shot field goal,” he complained. “You gotta make those.”
“I would say it was pretty rough the rest of that night and then into the next day,” Kaneshiro said. “I don’t really remember after that until Thanksgiving (five days later). But I think that next day, I started to come back.”
He didn’t receive any death threats, hate mail or nasty phone calls. He said his family and friends offered nothing but support, and for Thanksgiving, he took a trip to Las Vegas with his older sister. But when he returned, he found his voicemail cluttered with concern. Family members, friends and community figures offered support.
“I remember even Rick Majerus called,” Kaneshiro said of the former Utes basketball coach, “inviting me over to his place for pizza.”
In a story published that spring, he said he was focused on moving on and putting the kick past him going into his redshirt sophomore year. He didn’t get a chance to right away.
“I remember in fall camp, I felt like I did really well. And we would keep stats, and I think I was No. 1 in accuracy,” he said. “But I was demoted to third string.”
He understood why — the miss. The shattered trust. The disappointed, vocal fans. “It was frustrating,” he admitted. “But it wasn’t my call.” He played again his junior and senior year, but none of his kicks were ever as consequential as the notorious doink.
After Utah, Kaneshiro briefly became a cargo pilot. Upon realizing he couldn’t support a family with $25,000 a year, he became an air traffic controller in northern California. One might think such an infamous moment could drag behind him at any new job, or marriage, or any other facet of life. American sports culture is full of examples.
Bill Buckner’s “between the legs” mistake in the 1986 World Series paved the way for the Mets to ruin Boston’s hopes of its first title since 1918. When he died earlier this year, headlines recalled his worst moment. In 2013, when Alabama kicker Cade Foster missed a 57-yard field goal with the Iron Bowl at stake, he dealt with death threats. Even the 1994 film “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” featured fictional kicker Ray Finkle missing a field goal to cost the Miami Dolphins the Super Bowl. The character eventually crumpled into insanity, had a sex-change operation and assumed the identity of a missing female hiker.
But Kaneshiro’s miss didn’t have that effect. Maybe because it happened before anonymous tweeters became the new gnats in your ear, except these gnats could just as easily attack your family.
“I guess I probably would’ve had a lot of trolls,” he said. “I probably would’ve definitely seen the negativity, because I’m sure it was out there. But I only heard positive things.”
He’s also refused to let the miss bother him, weighing him down wherever he goes. Instead, he treats it like a sort of inverted trophy. Whenever he hears about the Utah-BYU game, he still thinks about the doink. It still isn’t pleasant. But it doesn’t carry shame.
“It’s kind of cool to be a part of the history, even though it was negative,” he said. “There are a lot of other kickers who participated in that history. And sure, they did their job. But ... they’re not mentioned. Because of my miss, my name is still brought up.”
For that reason, Kaneshiro recalls his time at Utah with positivity. The kick may cloud the public’s perception — like Buckner, there’s no doubt he’ll be forever linked — but his is not a story of depression or longing for redemption. It’s a story of someone treating an infamous sports incident like what it was: A momentary gaffe; not a life-shattering shackle.
“I don’t wanna downplay the significance of the missed kick — it was very significant,” he said. “But as far as to recover from it, and especially looking back now, being 21 years older, it’s easy for me to say it’s just a game.”