ENCINITAS — San Dieguito High School graduate and legendary New Orleans Saints placekicker Tom Dempsey, 73, died on April 4 of complications from the novel coronavirus.
The former Encinitas resident and Palomar College alum, whose 63-yard field goal in 1970 set an NFL record that went unbeaten for more than four decades, contracted the virus last month during an outbreak at his New Orleans retirement home, according to Nola.com.
Dempsey was born in 1947 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, without fingers on his right hand or toes on his right foot. Despite his congenital abnormality, he was a defensive lineman and kicker at both San Dieguito High and Palomar College. A multi-sport athlete for the Comets, Dempsey was also a wrestler and threw shot put.
In 2012, Dempsey was honored in Palomar College’s inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony at the Shawdowridge Golf Club in Vista, according to the North County Times.
After his college career, Dempsey played a few years of semi-pro football in Massachusetts before joining the Saints as a placekicker in 1970. His teammates nicknamed him “Stumpy” and he wore a modified, flat-toe shoe on his kicking foot.
On Nov. 8, 1970, at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, Dempsey kicked an NFL-record breaking 63-yard field goal in the final seconds of the game to help the Saints defeat the Detroit Lions, 19-17. Dempsey’s kick was a highlight during a season in which the Saints recorded just two wins.
Despite his flash of brilliance, Dempsey was cut from the Saints’ roster during the preseason the following year. However, Dempsey went on to play for several NFL teams, including the Eagles, Rams, Oilers and Bills. He retired from the NFL in 1979 after playing 11 seasons in the league.
Dempsey and his wife Carlene returned to New Orleans, where Dempsey worked as a salesman, football coach at Archbishop Rummel High School and managed a car dealership for Tom Benson, who later purchased the Saints in 1985, according to Nola.com.
He was diagnosed with dementia in 2012 and spent his final years living at Lambeth House, a retirement home in New Orleans.
He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 25, his daughter, Ashley Dempsey, told Nola.com.
Saints Owner Gayle Benson released a statement shortly after Dempsey’s death, which said in part, “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.”
Dempsey is survived by his wife Carlene and children Ashley Dempsey, Toby Dempsey and Meghan Dempsey Crosby, and his sister, Janice Dempsey. He also had three grandchildren, Dylan Dempsey, Logan Dempsey and Quinn Dempsey.
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