“Tom’s life spoke directly to the power of the human spirit and was an example of his determined determination not to prevent setbacks from following his dreams and aspirations,” said Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, where Dempsey began his career.
“He was an example of the same struggle and strength in recent years when he fought bravely against diseases but never wavered and retained his typical sense of humor,” she said in a statement.
After a diagnosis on March 25, Dempsey initially “promised” the virus, but his condition has worsened over the past week, daughter Ashley told the newspapers that make up nola.com.
Since the residents of Lambeth House were quarantined, his family could not visit him before he died, but Ashley Dempsey was able to video chat with him, she told the news agency.
Dempsey was born in Milwaukee and attended high school and college in Southern California.
He was born without toes on the right foot and without fingers on the right hand. To compensate, he wore a custom flat-fronted kick shoe that ended where his toes should start.
On November 8, 1970, Dempsey’s basement saints lost 17: 16 at home to the Detroit Lions, who were tied to the playoffs, at Tulane Stadium. In seconds, security Joe Scarpati took the snapshot and Dempsey started a 63-yard, shattering Bert Rechichar’s 56-yard record of 17 years.
“How about trying to kick a 63 yard field goal to win it by two seconds and wearing a square shoe – oh yes and no toes,” he said according to the book Reporters.
In 1974, the NFL attempted to prevent long kicks like Dempsey’s by moving the goalposts 10 yards into the rear of the end zone and giving the opposing teams the ball at the point of kick after a missed field goal.
A few years later, the league called for soccer shoes “to have a step surface that corresponds to that of a normal kick shoe”.
Dempsey’s record has been tied multiple times – first by Jason Elam in 1998, Sebastian Janikowski in 2011, and David Akers in 2012 – but Dempsey’s defenders point out that two of the three kicks came in Denver, where the balls continued in thinner air to fly.
In 2013, more than 43 years after Dempsey’s historic kick, Matt Prater, who played for the Denver Broncos – you guessed it – broke the record with a 64-year-old. The record is still set.
When Carolina Panthers-kicker Graham Gano started a 63-yarder in 2018 to tie Dempsey’s record for the longest game-determining field goal (which gave the Panthers a 33:31 win over the New York Giants), Gano honored Dempsey the next day.
In a tweet, Gano said he had always wanted to win a record-breaking game like Dempsey had done, and one of the “coolest gifts” he’d ever received was a Dempsey-signed kicking tee.
“It is an honor for me to be able to put the ball from yesterday’s kick on the tee he signed,” Gano tweeted, including a photo of the ball resting on the orange tee.
After two seasons with the Saints, including his all-pro rookie year, Dempsey played for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills before retiring in 1979.
In 2012 he was diagnosed with dementia.
Dempsey is survived by Ashley and her siblings Toby Dempsey and Meghan Dempsey Crosby, according to nola.com. He also had three grandchildren, the newspaper said.
CNNs Alta Spells and Wayne Sterling contributed to this report.