Former NFL kicker Tom Dempsey dies from COVID-19

Once held the record for longest field goal

Former NFL kicker Tom Dempsey dies from COVID-19

NEW ORLEANS — Former NFL kicker Tom Dempsey, who played in the NFL despite being born without toes on his kicking foot and made a record 63-yard field goal, died late Saturday while struggling with complications from the new coronavirus, his daughter said. He was 73 years old.

The Orleans Parish coroner has yet to release an official cause of death.

Dempsey’s game-winning field goal against Detroit on Nov. 8, 1970, stood as an NFL record for 43 years until the Broncos’ Matt Prater broke it with a 64-yarder in Denver in 2013.

Dempsey spent 11 seasons in the NFL: His first two seasons were with New Orleans (1969-70), the next four with Philadelphia, then two with the Los Angeles Rams, one with the Houston Oilers and the final two with Buffalo. He retired after the 1979 season.

“Tom’s life spoke directly to the power of the human spirit and exemplified his resolute determination to not allow setbacks to impede following his dreams and aspirations,” Saints owner Gayle Benson said in a statement. “He exemplified the same fight and fortitude in recent years as he battled valiantly against illnesses but never wavered and kept his trademark sense of humor.”

Dempsey was born in Milwaukee without four fingers on his right hand and without toes on his right foot. He kicked straight on with a flat-front shoe that drew protests from some who saw the specially made kicking shoe as an unfair advantage. Former Dallas Cowboys President Tex Schramm compared the shoe to “the head of a golf club.”

Dempsey returned to New Orleans after retiring from the league. About seven years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia and later moved to an assisted living home, where he contracted the coronavirus in March during the pandemic that has hit the city — and nursing home — particularly hard.

His kick has remained part of Saints lore and for a long time stood as one of the greatest moments in the history of a franchise that didn’t make the playoffs until its 21st season in 1987, and didn’t win a playoff game until the 2000 season.

At the time of the kick, the Superdome had yet to be build and the Saints played home games in the old Tulane Stadium, which was demolished in 1979.

“I was more concerned about kicking it straight because I felt I could handle the distance,” Dempsey told the Times-Picayune. “I knew I was going to get a perfect snap from Jackie Burkett and a perfect hold from Joe Scarpati. It was all up to me. I hit it sweet.”

Kilmer told the Times-Picayune he remembers standing on the sideline seeing Lions players across the field laughing as Dempsey lined up for the momentous kick. But Dempsey ended up carried off the field on the shoulders of teammates and recalled spending all night at a Bourbon Street bar, celebrating.

“We were there, with all the guys, until the wee hours,” he said. “From what I can recall, I had a great time.”

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