The Seoul-born, undrafted rookie has won the Los Angeles Chargers’ starting job—and the hearts of Korean American NFL fans
The first Korean pro athlete that I ever heard of while growing up in the States was an NFL placekicker with the quite pedestrian Korean American name of John Lee. What I remember about Lee is that he went to UCLA, played for the (then) St. Louis Cardinals, and wore a single-bar face mask like Joe Theismann, the longtime quarterback of my team, Washington.
Based on perusing Lee’s very brief Pro-Football-Reference page, it appears I would have seen him play on TV at least once—on October 19, 1986, when he kicked three extra points against the Skins at RFK Stadium. Otherwise, Lee played in only 10 other NFL games. He missed five of 13 field goal attempts and three of 17 PATs, back when those were gimmes. Despite being a two-time All-American in college and the 32nd overall pick in his draft, Lee ended up playing just one season of pro football. So, a Korean NFL icon was not born.
Thirty-one years later (and with all due respect to ’90s offensive lineman Eugene Chung, who was a decent pro—but an offensive lineman), we finally have a new candidate. Last Saturday, the Los Angeles Chargers named their starting kicker for 2017: Seoul-born, undrafted rookie Younghoe Koo.