Legendary New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey, who held the record for the longest field goal in NFL history from 1970 until 2013, has died after contracting COVID-19, the team said Sunday.
Dempsey, 73, died on Saturday at a care home where he had been battling Alzheimer’s and dementia. Several other residents of the facility where Dempsey was staying have contracted the novel coronavirus.
Dempsey’s mammoth, game-winning 63-yard field goal struck on November 8, 1970, was the most famous moment of his NFL career.
Born without toes on his right foot or fingers on his right hand, Dempsey was an unlikely candidate for a career in grid-iron.
However Dempsey flourished with a specially modified, flat-fronted right boot which critics said gave him an unfair advantage in kicking.
It did not prevent him from spending a decade in the NFL between 1969 and 1979 with stints in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston and Buffalo.
His record-setting 63-yard field goal — which clinched a 19-17 triumph over the Detroit Lions — was the longest in NFL history until Matt Prater converted a 64-yard effort for the Denver Broncos in the thin air of Mile High Stadium in 2013.
“Our thoughts and prayers are extended to Carlene and the entire Dempsey family on the passing of their dear Tom,” Saints owner Gayle Benson said in a statement on Sunday.
“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.”
Dempsey’s record kick was believed to partly responsible for a change in the rules, with goalposts moved to the back of the endzone rather than on the goal-line in 1974.
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