New Orleans Saints legend Tom Dempsey passed away Saturday, April 4 due to complications with the novel coronavirus.
The NFL icon, who was born without toes on his right foot or fingers on his right hand, defied all odds in order to achieve his dream of playing professional football.
In a time where athletes competed on both sides of the football, Dempsey played both placekicker and defensive line - Tom savored the moments where he could lay someone flat on their back or knock his competitor out.
Though, Mr. Dempsey will be most remembered for his game-winning 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints on November 8th, 1970 – a record that held for decades.
Despite having no toes on his kicking foot, he used a specially adapted flat boot to kick with and the shoe is now displayed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dempsey’s 63-yard kick had been matched by three players, but was not surpassed until the Denver Broncos’ Matt Prater kicked a 64-yarder in 2013 – in the thin Denver air - a record that still stands.
As a rookie in 1969, Tom nailed 22 of his 41 field goal attempts where he was voted into the Pro Bowl for the New Orleans Saints – being released two years later, Dempsey later went on to play with the Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills, however he never reached the same form he was in New Orleans.
Retiring from the National Football League after the 1979 season, Dempsey spent time working in the oil field and later ran a car dealership owned by former Saints owner – Thomas Benson.
Tom and his beautiful wife Carlene then found themselves settled in New Orleans for life post-career.
Getting to develop a relationship with Mr. Tom is something I will never forget as a middle schooler – his wife, Carlene Dempsey, was my history teacher growing up where Tom would always be on campus with his celebrity status.
Aside from being a legend in the world of sports, Tom prided himself on being a man for others and putting his family first.
Growing up being great friends with his grandson Dylan, I got to witness first-hand the type of man Tom truly was. Whether he wanted to spend the weekend taking everyone camping – or sitting back in his Jefferson home telling stories – he always seemed to find a way to keep everyone smiling.
Tom had it all – an incredible wife, amazing children who loved him unconditionally, grandchildren who looked at him as a superhero figure, etc. I could go on for days. – yet as time went on – the years of NFL collisions took a toll on Dempsey and a pattern of uncharacteristic behavior ran about as his dementia took a toll on him.
Getting to see the way his family came to his care so eloquently showed me the type of man Tom truly was – just as he took care of his own, his own began taking care of him – exhibiting love in its truest form.
Though Tom Dempsey will be most remembered for his legendary 63-yard field goal kick, I will remember Tom as a man for others who loved his family wholeheartedly.