Tom Dempsey, the half-footed New Orleans Saints kicker who held the record — or a share of it — for the longest field goal in NFL history at 63 yards, died Saturday after losing a fight with COVID-19.
Dempsey, 73, had been suffering from both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The city of New Orleans has been hit hard with the coronavirus pandemic. He passed away in a nursing home in Louisiana that had been ravaged with the coronavirus outbreak. According to NOLA.com, Dempsey was one of 15 residents from the same nursing home who contracted the disease and died.
Dempsey and his family lived in a New Orleans suburb during Hurricane Katrina. The floodwaters destroyed his house and a significant amount of his old NFL and Saints memorabilia.
Dempsey, who was no stranger to adversity, shrugged off the flood damage.
“The hurricane flooded me out of a lot of memorabilia, but it can’t flood out the memories,” Dempsey told the New York Times in 2010.
The Kick that Made a Legend
Dempsey nailed a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in 1970, a record which stood for more than 44 years until Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater broke it with a 64-yarder in 2014.
The New Orleans Saints were atrocious during the 1970 season, winning just two games. Dempsey gets credit for one of the victories with his game-winning field goal on the final play to defeat the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium in November 1970.
Down 17-16, Dempsey trotted out to attempt a 63-yarder. The NFL record at the time was 56 yards. Dempsey crushed the kick that sailed through the uprights.
Dempsey held sole-possession of the longest field goal record for 28 years until Jason Elam tied him with a 63-yarder in 1998.
Two other kickers also tied for the 63-yard record. Sebastian Janikowski booted a 63-yarder in 2011, while David Akers connected on a 63-yard blast in 2012.
Matt Prater broke the record by a single yard in 2014 to break the four-way tie among Dempsey, Elam, Janikowksi, and Akers.
In the last two seasons, two more kickers tied Dempsey’s 63-yard mark. Graham Gano connected on a 63-yard FG in 2018, and Brett Maher tied Dempsey’s mark last season with a 63-yard blast of his own.
Dempsey: Born With 5 Fingers and 5 Toes
Dempsey was born without fingers on his right hand and without toes on his right foot. He did not let his reduced number of digits impede his love of football and kicking.
Since establishing his record in 1970, Dempsey became an inspiration for many other athletes.
Dempsey played 11 seasons and for five different teams in the NFL between 1969 and 1979. After spending two seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Dempsey spent four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also played for the LA Rams, Houston Oilers, and Buffalo Bills.
In 1973, Dempsey posted his best statistical season. He scored 106 points and went a perfect 34-for-34 on extra points. He made 24 field goals that season for a 60% clip.
The Dempsey Rule
Despite the kick, many other teams felt that Dempsey had an advantage because of a special shoe he wore on his toe-less right foot.
“Unfair, eh?,” Dempsey told reporters. “How about you try kicking a 63-yard field goal to win it with two seconds left and you wearing a square shoe, oh yeah, and no toes either.”
In 1977, the NFL instituted the Dempsey rule that forced any kickers to use a standardized cleat shoe.
According to the modified NFL rule book, “Any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.”
ESPN Sports Science debunked the myth that Dempsey had an advantage. The data proved that, if anything, Dempsey had a disadvantage.