LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

NEW ORLEANS -- On the Tulane campus, hundreds of students on a daily basis walk over hallowed ground, oblivious to what it once was and what happened here.

This is where Tulane Stadium stood. It's history now. 40 years ago next Monday, history was made here, and he who made it, and those who saw it, will never forget the time, the place the kick.

40 years ago Tom Dempsey stood over a 63-yard field goal against the Detroit Lions to win the game. Long-time Tulane stalwart M.L. Lagarde was 42 at the time and watching from the stands.

'You remember the pigeons coming out to the Times Picayune. The photographers had homing pigeons see it,' Lagarde said. 'They take pictures, put them on the pigeons, and then they fly to the Times Picayune.'

It was an iconic moment frozen in time and honored in perpetuity at the Saints Hall of Fame museum.

The kick that's been equal but never surpassed is remembered on an annual basis here and recounted thousands of times over by the now 63-year-old Dempsey. The calls arrive about the time of the first frost of New Orleans, each reminding us of time's passage.

'The older you get, the nicer it is to be remembered,' Dempsey said.

He's seen the highlights hundreds of times, seen him in his mind's eyes hundreds of times more: The Al Dodd return, the Billy Kilmer to Dodd pass, the clock down to 2 seconds, the ball on the Saints 37, the goalposts on the Detroit Lions goalline back then. The scoreboard reading 17-16 Lions.

'As they called down, they said tell Stumpy to get ready, we're going to kick a long field goal,' Dempsey said. 'Our offensive coordinator used to say I don't think they planned on making it a 63 year field goal.'

'Tell Stumpy to get ready.' And he was. Had been since childhood, ready to succeed despite a cruel twist of fate: born without a right hand, born without half of a right foot.

'I was very fortunate. My dad had a lot to do with that. I remember one day I was building something, and I said, 'damnit, I can't kick this!'' Dempsey said. 'And he said, 'boy, you never say can't. You may have to do it differently, but you can do it.' And every time I said can't then, he'd thump me in the head like it was a watermelon.'

There were many who wanted Dempsey to find the origins of the birth defect. Drugs were suspected.

'I didn't want to, because I didn't want my mother and my father to feel bad about it,' Dempsey said. 'So I really didn't want to know. I have it, I can't change it; let's just go on with life.'

But there were those in the NFL, Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm at the forefront, who questioned the legitimacy of the kick because of the custom built shoe Dempsey had to wear to make it.

'Said I had an advantage because I didn't have any toes,' Dempsey said. 'And I said, well, God, when I miss them how come I don't have a disadvantage?'

The NFL eventually cleared the shoe that kicked the ball that cleared the crossbars. The NFL wanted both of them in the Hall of Fame, but instead they reside in the Saints Hall of Fame in the Superdome.

They, like he, belong in New Orleans forever.

The kids he coaches at Jeff Playground now are probably oblivious to the fact an NFL icon walks among them on half a foot, instructing with a withered right arm missing its hand. He says he leaves the x's and o's to his assistants.

His instructions are more about life, about dreams, about determination, about challenges met and obstacles overcome. No one in the NFL had his, and likely no one ever will. That's the record that will never be broken. That's the one that should and forever will be remembered.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://www.wwltv.com/story/news/2014/08/27/14353324/