Originally Published: 05 APR 20 10:06 ET By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
(CNN) — Tom Dempsey, a journeyman NFL kicker who despite missing toes on his right foot set a field goal record that stood for more than four decades, has died of coronavirus, according to reports.
The 73-year-old, who suffered from dementia, died from complications with Covid-19 on Saturday at Lambeth House Retirement Community in New Orleans, his family told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.
CNN has previously reported state officials were monitoring the facility after a discovering a “cluster” of cases at the retirement home, where numerous residents have died.
Following a March 25 diagnosis Dempsey had initially fought the virus “promisingly,” but his condition had worsened in the last week, daughter Ashley told the newspapers that form nola.com.
Because Lambeth House residents were quarantined, his family was not able to visit with him before he passed, but Ashley Dempsey was able to speak to him via video chat, she told the news outlet.
“We didn’t want him to think we had abandoned him,” she told the papers. “We wanted him to know we still loved him — always.”
Dempsey was born in Milwaukee and attended high school and college in Southern California.
He was born without toes on his right foot and with no fingers on his right hand. To compensate he wore a custom, flat-front kicking shoe that ended where his toes were supposed to begin.
At a time when NFL kickers were increasingly moving to soccer-style field goals and extra points — booting the ball with the laces of their shoes — Dempsey was a relic, preferring the old-school, straight-ahead style (which, for other kickers, meant kicking with their toes) that had dominated the early days of football.
On November 8, 1970, Dempsey’s basement-dwelling Saints were losing 17-16 to the playoff-bound Detroit Lions at home in Tulane Stadium. With only seconds left, safety Joe Scarpati took the snap and Dempsey booted a 63-yarder, shattering the record.
Some claimed his specially designed $200 shoe gave Dempsey an unfair advantage, but he shrugged off the critics, according to “Game of My Life Detroit Lions: Memorable Stories of Lions Football.”
“How about you try kicking a 63-yard field goal to win it with two seconds left and you’re wearing a square shoe — oh, yeah and no toes either,” he told reporters, according to the book.
The record was tied numerous times — first by Jason Elam in 1998, Sebastian Janikowski in 2011 and David Akers in 2012 — but Dempsey’s defenders point out that two of those three kicks came in Denver, where the balls fly farther in thinner air.
In 2013, more than 43 years after Dempsey’s boot, Matt Prater, who played for — you guessed it, the Denver Broncos — broke the record with a 64-yarder. That record still stands.
After two seasons with the Saints, including his All-Pro rookie year, Dempsey went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills before retiring in 1979.
He was diagnosed with dementia in 2012.
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