Tom Dempsey, who was born without toes on his right foot but became a lethal long-distance kicker in the NFL because of that, died Saturday from coronavirus complications. He was 73 and his death was announced by the New Orleans Saints, his former team.
Dempsey set the NFL record for longest field goal, hitting one from 63 yards out to help the New Orleans Saints beat the Detroit Lions in the final seconds. His record was finally broken by one yard in 2014.
Dempsey had Alzheimer’s disease and dementia since 2012 and was in hospice care when he died. He tested positive on March 25 for coronavirus, and became one of 15 residents at the Lambeth House retirement home in New Orleans to die after contracting the pandemic virus, NOLA.com reported.
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“Our thoughts and prayers are extended to (wife) 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,” Saints owner Gayle Benson said in a statement. “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, born without toes on his right foot and without fingers on his right hand, wore a customized, truncated boot on his right foot during 11 NFL seasons with five teams. The gear was controversial, as its flat facing was said to be akin to using a sledgehammer to hit the face of the ball.
Dempsey was signed by the Saints in 1969 as a free agent out of Palomar College and earned a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season. He set the field goal record the next year, beating the previous record by seven yards.
Matt Prater of the Detroit Lions finally established a new mark with a 64-yarder after several kickers later matched Dempsey’s length.
In addition to his wife, Dempsey is survived by three children and three grandchildren.
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