Thomas John Dempsey (born January 12, 1947) is a former American football placekicker in the National Football League for the New Orleans Saints (1969–1970), Philadelphia Eagles (1971–1974), Los Angeles Rams (1975–1976), Houston Oilers (1977) and Buffalo Bills (1978–1979). He attended high school at San Dieguito High School and played college football at Palomar College. Unlike the "soccer style" approach which was becoming more and more widely used during his career, Dempsey's kicking style was the standard (of the day) straight-toe style.
Dempsey is most widely known for kicking a 63-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 19–17 win over the Detroit Lions on November 8, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. Prior to 1974 the goal posts in the NFL were on the goal lines instead of the end lines. With time running out in the game, the Saints attempted a field goal with holder Joe Scarpati spotting at the Saints' own 37-yard line. The snap from Jackie Burkett was good, and Dempsey nailed the field goal with a couple of feet to spare. The win was one of only two for the Saints in that dismal season.
With the kick, Dempsey broke Bert Rechichar's NFL record for longest field goal by seven yards. That record was equaled by Jason Elam in 1998, Sebastian Janikowski in 2011, and David Akers in 2012. On December 8, 2013, Matt Prater topped Dempsey's mark by hitting a 64-yard field goal.
Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and no fingers on his right hand. He wore a modified shoe with a flattened and enlarged toe surface. This generated controversy about whether such a shoe gave a player an unfair advantage. When reporters would ask him if he thought it was unfair, he said "Unfair eh? How 'bout you try kickin' a 63 yard field goal to win it with 2 seconds left an' yer wearin' a square shoe, oh, yeah and no toes either." Additionally, when an analysis of his kick was carried out by ESPN Sport Science, it was found that his modified shoe offered him no advantage - the smaller contact area could in fact have increased the margin of error. In 1977, the NFL added a rule, informally known as the "Tom Dempsey Rule," that "any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe."
In 1983, Dempsey was inducted into the American Football Association's Semi Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dempsey has since retired from football and currently resides with his wife Carlene, who teaches history at Kehoe-France, a private school in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. His house was flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In January 2013, Dempsey revealed he is suffering from dementia. Psychiatrist Daniel Amen made the initial diagnosis of damage to Dempsey's brain. During medical examinations and scans, Amen found three holes in the brain, along with other damage.
By Dean Hanley
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