Legendary Kicker Dies of Coronavirus

Tom Dempsey's record stood for decades and sparked a major New Orleans party
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 5, 2020 7:43 AM CDT
Legendary Kicker Dies of Coronavirus
Tom Dempsey steps up to kick a 63-yard field goal as teammate Joe Scarpati holds the ball in 1970 for the New Orleans Saints. The Detroit Lions' Alex Karras (71) rushes, and the Saints' Bill Cody (66) blocks.   (AP Photo/Files)

Tom Dempsey, the kicker who made a 63-yard field goal that stood as the NFL record for more than 40 years, died Saturday of COVID-19. Dempsey, 73, lived in a New Orleans senior center, where he tested positive for the coronavirus in March, USA Today reports. At least 14 other people at the home have COVID-19, reports NOLA. Dempsey suffered from Alzheimer's disease and dementia in recent years. Born without toes on his right foot, which he kicked with, and missing part of his right hand, Dempsey played 11 years in the NFL with five teams. His career began when the Saints signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1969. The Pro Football Hall of Fame displays the small, flat shoe he kicked with, per Yahoo Sports.

Dempsey entered Saints lore with a kick as time ran out against the Detroit Lions in 1970. His 63-yarder, which gave the Saints a 19-17 victory, was 6 yards beyond the record at the time, per Bleacher Report. The mark was equaled but not surpassed until Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos hit from 64 yards in 2013. The kick gave the city a rare reason to celebrate the Saints, and the party began immediately in the French Quarter. "If you’re going to set a record, this is the town to do it in," Dempsey later told the Los Angeles Times. "I didn't get home until about 7:30, 8 o’clock the next morning." When he hit the kick, a teammate said it sounded "like a cannon going off." Dempsey later said he didn't realize he was setting a record. "I knew that we were going to try a long field goal," he said, "but I didn’t think the coaches meant 63 yards." (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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