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Tom Dempsey recalls 63-yard kick 40 years later

Tom Dempsey resigned himself long ago to the idea that he would one day see his NFL record-long field goal surpassed.

Four decades since his 63-yard boot lifted the New Orleans Saints to a 19-17 victory over the Detroit Lions in old Tulane Stadium, Dempsey and his famously clubbed right foot still have yet to be outdone.

"I'm proud of the record and I realize someday it's going to be broken, because kickers are better now than when I played," Dempsey said Thursday during a visit to the Saints' suburban training center. "I really am surprised because you have to look at the NFL. There are so many great players. Kickers have gotten better through the years. To kick one that long, everything has to be right."

Only one kicker has tied the mark Dempsey set on Nov. 8, 1970. Jason Elam did it for the Broncos in Denver's Mile High Stadium in 1998.

The 63-year-old Dempsey sounds as if he's at least half-joking when he says of Elam's kick: "I respect the effort, but I tell him I'm still better below sea level."

Dempsey said he intends to be gracious to whoever eclipses the mark and that he'll promptly call to offer congratulations.

"When Jason Elam tied my record, I must have had 30 sportswriters around the country wanting to badmouth him because he kicked it in Denver," where the air is thinner, Dempsey recalled. "I said, 'Guys, don't worry where it is. You respect the effort that it took.' I do feel that way."

Dempsey said he didn't even know how long his famous kick was when he lined up for it.

"Don Heinrich, our offensive coordinator, got on the headset and said, 'Tell stumpy we're going to kick a long one,'" Dempsey said. "If I had known it was 63 yards, I probably would have missed it, but I just knew it was a long way."

Normally, Dempsey kicked from 7 yards, two feet behind the line of scrimmage. Holder Joe Scarpati told him he was moving the spot a yard back to help the longer kick, with its relatively low trajectory, clear defenders reaching up to block it. Dempsey said he purposely tried not to notice what yard-line they were on.

"I knew the second I hit it was going to go a long way," Dempsey said. "The only thing I was worried about was would it stay straight that long."

The locker room and stadium were buzzing after the game, and police even wound up bringing the kicker some beer to celebrate.

"If you're going to set a record, there's only one town in America to set it, right here in New Orleans," Dempsey said. "I was in the locker room and they wouldn't let me leave because there were so many people there. The Sergeant was there and I said, 'Chief, it's been a long day. I'm getting a little thirsty.' He asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted some Dixie. He sent a couple of his guys and came back with two cases and I sat in the locker room with two policemen for a couple hours and then we went downtown. I don't know how many places we went to, but I was smart enough to let them drive me home."

Soon after, the Pro Football Hall of Fame asked for the specially made shoe Dempsey used to set the record. Dempsey said he didn't want to give it up at the time because there were still seven games left in the season.

He wound up giving the shoe to the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame instead.

"I figured that's where it belonged," he said.

Dempsey's kick was easily one of the greatest moments in Saints history for much of the franchise's existence. The Saints, founded in 1967, didn't have a winning season in their first 20 years and didn't make the playoffs for the first time until 1987. Last season marked the Saints' first trip to the Super Bowl and first NFL championship, which Dempsey watched from his favorite bar on Bourbon Street, the Old Absinthe House.

"It was absolutely phenomenal," Dempsey said. "I walked out once I knew it was over with and watched the people charging down Bourbon Street. ... I was happy for them."

Dempsey, who settled in New Orleans after his playing career ended, said he didn't have any special plans for the 40th anniversary of his kick on Monday night, but added that he wouldn't mind stopping by an old, worn-down bar in the French Quarter.

"I like dives," Dempsey said. "I don't like nice places. It drives my poor wife nuts."