Tom Dempsey, who overcame being born without toes on his right foot and fingers on his right hand to earn a place in NFL record books died on Saturday, April 4 at the age of 73 from complications due to COVID-19.
Dempsey, who had been battling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia since 2012, contracted the coronavirus on March 25, according to NOLA.com, which first reported the news of his death.
Saints Owner Gayle Benson released a statement Sunday morning:
“Our thoughts and prayers are extended to Carlene and the entire Dempsey family on the passing of their dear Tom. The New Orleans Saints family is deeply saddened and heartbroken at this most difficult time. 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. 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. He holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Saints family.”
One of the many to pay tribute to Dempsey was Danish kicker Morten Andersen, who also played for the Saints.
You showed me how to be a pro!
Tom, you are a legend and I will always honor your relentless spirit!
Your life was well lived:) pic.twitter.com/c0C1eJsZ24
— Morten Andersen (@GreatDane2544) April 6, 2020
Signed by the Saints in 1969 as an undrafted kicker out of Palomar College, Dempsey, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native quickly proved he belonged in the NFL, being named to the Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro his rookie year. The following season saw Dempsey make the most memorable kick of his career.
On Nov. 8, 1970, the Saints trailed the Detroit Lions 17-16 at Tulane Stadium. With time expiring, Dempsey made a 63-yard field goal with room to spare, setting an NFL record for the longest field goal and giving the Saints a breathtaking 19-17 walk-off victory.
Tom Dempsey’s historic 63-yard field goal on Nov. 8, 1970 pic.twitter.com/UcZNBoOw9t
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) April 5, 2020
Saints stadium public address announcer Mark Romig:
“It was one of those games, where, I think people had lost hope. Dempsey lines up for this world record-setting field goal, and everyone is just scratching their heads, ‘Sure, why not?'”
Dempsey’s 63-yarder was the NFL’s longest made field goal until 1998, when it was equaled by Jason Elam. It was again tied by Sebastian Janikowski in 2011, and David Akers in 2012, before finally being broken by a yard in 2013 by Matt Prater.
Dempsey also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills before retiring in 1979. He made the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season with the Saints.
Inducted as a member of the Saints’ Hall of Fame in 1989, Dempsey finished with a 61.6 percentage on field goals, 89.4 percent on extra points.
The modified shoe he kicked with is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in an exhibit that chronicles the first century of professional football.