Kicking and Screaming (Again)

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Well, it happened again.  For those of you fortunate enough to have electricity and cable that particular day when it happened again, or who otherwise took a well-earned break from clearing your yard of fallen trees and roofing materials and listened through a radio, you may have heard that it happened again.  And those of you may have screamed with remorse.

It was Sunday, the 26th of this past September—not quite but just about one month since Ida struck, on a day in a month when just about any news would be welcomed as good news–that hearts were broken, tear ducts leaked, faces fell into frowning, and a football originating far away doinked across the crossbar of a goalpost.  Yes, it happened again:  Tom Dempsey’s long-standing, game-winning record for the longest field goal in NFL history was broken once again.

For those who follow the NFL closely, you’ll know that the record really no longer belonged to Dempsey.  On that Sunday morning, the record then belonged to Matt Prater, who booted a 64-yarder for the Denver Broncos in 2013.  Prater’s record has been widely criticized for being achieved at Mile-High Stadium in cold space with little air resistance compared to the subtropical, water-laden air suffered by Dempsey in New Orleans when he kicked a 63-yarder in 1970 at Tulane Stadium.  Further, Prater’s subsequent off-field behavior was not quite between the uprights, earning a conviction and a suspension in years following the kick.  While Prater may have been caught overly celebrating the record-holding fame of his air-density advantage, Dempsey, on the other hand, overcame disadvantages, including birth defects that included a toeless kicking foot, which, as his career would prove, adversely affected his kicking accuracy. 

Sometimes it’s tough to be the new guy in the record books.  Things would only get worse for Prater on September 26th.  Now playing for the Arizona Cardinals, he attempted a record-breaking 68-yard field goal, but it fell short and was returned for a record-tying (the other also caused by a Prater kick in 2018) 109-yard touchdown run by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  A few hours later, his field goal record fell when Justin Tucker’s 66-yard kick bounced up and over the end zone crossbar, giving Baltimore Ravens a 19-17 win over the Detroit Lions.  On a day full of coincidences and ironies, it’s notable that 19-17 over the Lions was the same score and team by which Dempsey kicked the New Orleans Saints into the second of only two wins in 1970.

For many boys and girls in PoV Country during Dempsey’s time (present company included), who spent autumn afternoons kicking footballs in their back yard using crawfish chimneys as kicking tees, the record-breaking efforts of Prater and Tucker are largely irrelevant.  That record forever belongs to Dempsey.  What Dempsey gave to the hapless New Orleans Saints in Tulane Stadium back in 1970 was nothing less than pure, emotional faith—faith that the Saints would someday muster more heroic actions like his and finally become a winning team.  For fans of a team named for religious symbolism, Dempsey’s gift was more than simply a football record.

Although Dempsey’s name may have now dropped into a tie for third place on the list of longest field goals in professional football, his momentous kick still holds a number of records.  Among the now 25 field goals of 60 yards or more in NFL history, Dempsey’s is the only kick

  • That can claim the title of the first 60-yarder in NFL history.
  • Made at or below sea level.  (Even coastal Jacksonville has 12-ft. elevation.)
  • Made from behind the kicker’s 40-yard line.  (Dempsey’s scrimmage was the Saints’ 37, and in 1970 goalpost crossbars were located at the goal line.)
  • That held the record for over 40 years.  (Prater held the record for only 8 years.)
  • That was greater than two yards over the previous record.  (In 1970, Dempsey shattered the previous record by seven yards.)
  • Made by a non-soccer-style kicker.
  • Made by a player who had an NFL shoe rule named for them.  (Dempsey wore a flat-fronted kicking shoe over his under-developed foot.  In 1974, the “Dempsey Rule” declared that any specially-made kicking shoe must have traditional toe space and shape.)
  • Made by a player taller than 6’1’ and at times heavier than 260 lbs.  (He was a big guy.)
  • Made by a team with the symbol of a flower on their helmets.
  • Made by a team whose mascot is named for a religious concept.
  • Made by a team with no previous winning season. (That would take another 20 years.)
  • Not everything is captured in record books.

Among 60-yarders, Dempsey remains the hero.