NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Fifty years after kicking a then-NFL record 63-yard field goal to lift the Saints to victory, one of the franchise’s most beloved alumni and adopted New Orleanians, Tom Dempsey, passed away from Coronavirus complications.
His stint with the upstart black and gold was just two years but he left an immediate impression on former teammate Danny Abramowicz “We just signed a kicker who has a handicapped foot and hand - I said ‘what!?'" Abramowicz reminisced of the first time he was told about Dempsey, who was born with the defects but endured through his childhood to forge a NFL career. “When he came in, the only one that didn’t worry about the handicap was him. He came in laughing and joking and went out on the field and started kicking and I said ‘Wow, this guy can kick!’ Tom was just a positive, jovial guy.”
His crowning achievement on the field was a game-winner over the Detroit Lions that surpassed the previous NFL record by seven yards. “Tom came in and he was hitting out in San Diego at our training camp 50-yarders like they were nothing,” says former Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer. “I remember out first exhibition game that we went to was in Denver and we’re out on the field warming up and Tom is kicking field goals - first 40 yards, then 50 yards and they were booming through there. Then he’d move it back....at the end he was kicking 70 yard field goals and they weren’t just falling over the bar, it was going up when it crossed the bar. We knew we had a really solid kicker then.”
Dempsey’s stint with the Saints was just two seasons but after his playing career spanned nine more years with four more teams, he returned to the Crescent City and called it home until he passed late Saturday night. “He was a big personality - a great spirit,” longtime columnist Jeff Duncan of FOX 8 and The Athletic remarked Sunday. “He was someone who loved life, loved telling stories, had a very self-deprecating sense of humor. So the person we all grew to love, his family and all of his friends, that spirit and personality was largely gone late in his life as he was battling dementia and some other issues so I do feel like, in a lot of ways, he’s at peace now from his quality of life just not being what it was. He was someone that fit in perfectly with New Orleans, especially back in those old New Orleans Saints fun-loving teams of the sixties."
Ken Trahan serves as Chairman of the Board of the Saints Hall of Fame Museum and got to know Dempsey during a myriad of appearances and sums up Dempsey’s connection with the city “I think the most intriguing thing about this whole story is that when you see everything in print, television, radio - it’s described as former Saints kicker Tom Dempsey...And I’m not just talking about locally, nationally too - he only kicked here two years. He kicked eleven years in the NFL but everyone identifies him as being a Saint because A - he set an NFL record here and B - this was his home.”