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Posted by on Nov 8, 2023 in Blog | 1 comment

The Kick of the Century



When the underdog wins, they win for everybody. When those least expected to win do succeed, their victory lifts us all.

It happened 53 years ago today.

One of my earliest football memories was watching the Lions-Saints game live on CBS in November 1970.

Most NFL fans remember the thrilling last play, which was Tom Dempsey’s (then all-time record long) 63-yard field goal to win on the game’s final play. What most fans may not recall is just how unlikely that play was in the first place, given the Saints had so little time to set up the final kick.

With 11 seconds left, the Lions kicked a late chip shot field goal to take the lead 17-16. The Saints would receive the kickoff and would have perhaps one more play to pull off a miracle. Incredibly, the Saints kickoff play resulted in a burn-off of only 3 seconds (perhaps a partial timekeeper at Tulane Stadium had something to do with it). With just 8 seconds remaining, Billy Kilmer (who never threw a crisp pass in his entire career) somehow found an open receiver and hit a wideout with a perfect bullet throw to the sidelines for a 20-yard gain. That put the Saints at their own 45 yard line. Only 2 seconds remained.

Tom Dempsey was perhaps the most unlikely NFL hero in history. He was an overweight barrel-shaped kicker who walked with a noticeable gimp. That’s because Dempsey was born with no toes on his right foot and no fingers on his right hand. So, Dempsey wore a custom, flat-front kicking shoe. It was shaped like a boot and he used it as a club. By appearances, Dempsey even making an NFL roster given his physical handicaps seemed preposterous. The notion that he’d gallop onto the field in the closing seconds in a game for the most underdog of all NFL teams, the hapless losing New Orleans Saints on a dirt field in front of 80,000 home fans was in itself a fairy tale.

Even attempting the kick seemed ridiculous. After all, the then-NFL record for longest field goal was 56 yards. So, Dempsey would try to break the record by SEVEN yards. Back then, goal posts were positioned on the goal line. The ball would be placed at the New Orleans 37. Prior to this moment, a kick from beyond the team’s own 40 had never been attempted before. Then, there was the dirt field, which provided no reliable footing or support for the ball. Add in, the kick was at sea level in humid conditions in thicker air (unlike places like Denver, where long field goals at 5,000+ feet elevation are far more common), and Dempsey faced every possible obstacle.

Watch this 1:20 clip (CLICK HERE) of the final four plays of that memorable game. It’s so much fun. What wonderful moment, no matter who you cheer for.

The Saints finished with a 2-11-1 record that woeful season. This was the franchise’s “Super Bowl moment” for decades. New Orleans went on to suffer 16 straight losing seasons. They didn’t win a playoff game for the next 30 years.

Six weeks after this miracle kick was made, the losing team, the Detroit Lions came into Dallas’ Fair Park to play the Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs at the Cotton Bowl. That was the first NFL game I ever attended in person, which was won by the Cowboys in an epic defensive struggle 5-0. (CLICK HERE FOR THAT STORY)

Tom Dempsey never repeated anything like that 1970 game winning kick, and how could anything possibly match that? Dempsey became something of a kicking nomad, playing for five more NFL teams during the 1970s before retiring. He died in 2000….in New Orleans.

When the underdog wins, they win for everybody. When those least expected to win do succeed, their victory lifts us all.

1 Comment

  1. In 1970 there was next to no sports highlights shown on TV. I lived near NYC. Somehow this kick made its way onto local TV. Excellent memory for you, thanks for sharing it and the video.

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