SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – Tom Dempsey, the kicker whose NFL record 63-yard field goal during the 1970 season stood for 43 years, passed away this past Saturday at the age of 73.
A reported combination of Alzheimer's disease and having contracted the novel coronavirus while living at the Lambeth House senior living center in New Orleans was the cause of death.
But still, while the Saints legend may have passed, some stories never die.
Like this one, connecting the New Orleans kicker to the Dallas Cowboys and their late former president and general manager Tex Schramm.
The date was Nov. 8, 1970. The place, Tulane Stadium, in New Orleans. The Saints were playing the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys, they were playing the New York Giants that day at Yankee Stadium.
So with 11 seconds left in the Saints game, the Detroit Lions had just kicked a field goal to take a 17-16 lead. The Saints returned the ensuing kickoff to their 28-yard line, now eight seconds left. One pass got the ball out of bounds around the Saints' 45, just two seconds remaining.
The voice over the Saints' headsets screamed down to the sideline, "Tell Stumpy to get ready."
Stumpy? Well, these were different times. People weren't as sensitive as they are today, meaning political correctness wasn't such a thing. See, Dempsey was born without his four fingers on his right hand and without toes on his right foot. He kicked right-footed.
Thanks to his former coach in San Diego, Sid Gillman, they designed a $200 custom-made kicking boot for the taxi-squad kicker in 1968, equipped with a one-and-three-fourths-inch block at the toe, squared off, resembling that of a sledgehammer, it's been described.
Out comes Dempsey, lines up for the 63-yard attempt, the ball being placed down at the Saints 37-yard line. That's right, 37-yard line because the goalposts still were at the goal line, yep, 63 yards away, seven yards farther than anyone had ever kicked a field goal to date in the NFL, and that 56-yarder was registered in 1956.
And with three steps, straight-on, Dempsey kicked himself into NFL lore, a walk-off, game-winning, record-setting 63-yard field goal for a 19-17 Saints win.
The Cowboys were beaten by the Giants, 23-20, that same day. Dropped their record to 5-3. And on the team charter flight back to Dallas, members of the media flying with the Cowboys learned of Dempsey's kick and wanted to get a comment from Schramm on this record-setting feat. Now, also know Tex was chairman of the NFL Competition Committee at the time.
And in Schramm's typical blunt, opinionated fashion, he said Dempsey, the man with no toes, "had an unfair advantage" kicking with that block on his boot.
Huge story for those newspaper scribes.
Well, so as the story has been told by the writers on that flight, when Cowboys PR director Curt Mosher found out what Tex had said, he instructed the writers to double-check with Tex to see if he really wanted to say a guy with a foot deformity "had an unfair advantage."
Knowing Tex, can just hear him, in his gruff manner bellow out something like, "That's what I said."
So it was written.
Oh, the howling the next day. The ACLU got up in arms. So did groups protecting the rights of the handicapped. Tex had opened up a hornets' nest.
Yet, Tex doubled down, pointing out, "He certainly violated the rule as we intended it. We put in the rule requiring a stock shoe, which put several kickers out of business, you may recall." Tex would compare Dempsey's kicking shoe to "the head of a golf club."
Saints general manager Vic Schwenk would instruct later that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle "reaffirmed the fact the shoe had been approved by the league."
A week or so after the kick, Schramm sent a letter of apology to Saints fans and made an apologetic call to Dempsey, who was quoted in newspaper stories saying, "Mr. Schramm was calling to say he was sorry about the remark he made and that he hadn't meant to take away from my kick by what he said."
Well, took several years, but things changed. In 1974, the NFL moved the goalposts back 10 yards to the end line and by 1977 the Competition Committee adopted a rule stating that players with an artificial limb are to have footwear that conforms to the shape of a normal kicking shoe.
Dempsey's record lasted until 2013, when Denver's Matt Prater, kicking a Mile High, nailed a half-ending 64-yarder, breaking Dempsey's record that previously had been tied by Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski and David Akers.
Just this past season, Cowboys kicker Brett Maher also hit a half-ending 63-yarder against Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium.
Dempsey, though, never really got over the criticism of his accomplishment, saying in a 2010 interview, "(Schramm) said I had an advantage because I didn't have any toes. God, when I miss them, how come I don't have a disadvantage?"
To honor Dempsey, former Saints kicker Garrett Hartley of Southlake Carroll (Texas) High School and Oklahoma posted on his Instagram account hitting a 63-yard attempt with the use of one of those kicking holders on a practice field, turning to the camera with arms raised high signaling good, and saying, "That's for you Tom."
A lasting memory for sure.