Tom Dempsey: The Truth About The Legendary NFL Kicker

Normally, it takes two miracles to qualify as a saint, per the Associated Press. But New Orleans Saint Tom Dempsey was canonized in the annals of football for a single miracle that put his team two points ahead of the Detroit Lions in 1970. As ESPN recounts, the Lions had entered the Saints' den and roared to a 17-16 lead, thanks to an 18-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the game. Only two seconds remained when Dempsey heard a coach say, "Tell Stumpy to get ready."

Dempsey had been born without fingers on his right hand and with no toes on his right foot. When he used that foot to score a dramatic win over Detroit, he had no idea what he achieved. And that's probably for the best. Dempsey said, "If I'd known it was 63 yards, I might have messed it up." His historic 63-yarder went unsurpassed for more than four decades.

Dempsey didn't spend his post-NFL days basking in the glow of that kick. In fact, as noted by the Philadelphia Eagles website, Dempsey didn't even like being called a kicker. He referred to himself as "a football player that kicks." He could also hit. Standing at over 6 feet tall and tipping the scales at over 200 — sometimes close to 300 — pounds, he was a heavy hitter in every sense. During his stint in Philly he recorded 6 unassisted tackles in 1974. Sadly, all those hits took a heavy toll.

Dempsey remained resilient til the end

CBS says that in 2013, Denver Bronco Matt Prater booted a 64-yard field goal, breaking Tom Dempsey's record. But by then Dempsey had far weightier matters on his mind. In 2012, he had been diagnosed with dementia. Citing reporting by the New York Times, NPR writes that Dempsey's neurologist was "astonished by the amount of damage" revealed the former player's brain scans. While Dempsey suffered three diagnosed concussions over the course of his career, reports that the true number is probably closer to six.

Dempsey spent 11 seasons in the NFL as a placekicker, but he was an adept tackler, according to He also played as a defensive lineman in high school. There's no telling how many brain-rattling collisions he sustained over all those years. But even in the face of grim news, he was the picture of perseverance. An intrepid Dempsey declared in 2012, "I'm not depressed and I'm not scared. I was at first when I saw those holes in my brain, but not anymore."

Dempsey focused not only on helping himself but also children who were struggling with their own concussions. Per the LA Times, Dempsey worked with concussion patients at Tulane University, until a coronavirus outbreak struck his retirement home. He died in April 2020 at the age of 73. At least 14 other residents at the facility also died from the virus.