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Dempsey Recaps Special Day

Former New Orleans K Tom Dempsey, who kicked for the Saints from 1969-70, booted an NFL-record 63-yard field goal on the game's final play to defeat the Detroit Lions 19-17 on November 8, 1970 in Tulane Stadium. Dempsey was available to discuss the upcoming 40th anniversary of the kick, which is still tied for the longest field goal of all-time in NFL history on Thursday at the Saints facility. Below is a transcript of the press conference:

How has the significance of your kick gotten bigger over the years or has it diminished?

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"I learned from some great coaches to never worry about the past because you'll wind up in doo doo. 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."

Is there any part of you that is surprised it has lasted this long?

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"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. It's a situation type kick."

Is there a day that goes by where someone doesn't ask about the kick?

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"Every now and then they do. Most of the people in New Orleans say they were there out of 5 million. There was not a full stadium because we were not having a great year. There was no question about that. They said there was like 60,000 I think. The stadium held a lot more people than that."

You only had time for one play and the coach said for you to kick a 63-yard field goal. What was your reaction?

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"I didn't know it was 63 yards. Things I remember most was Al Dodd running back the kickoff and then the pass from furnace face (Billy Kilmer) to Al Dodd to move it up. Don Heinrich our offensive coordinator got on the headset and said tell stumpy we're going to kick a long one. He used to call me stumpy. I don't think we ever planned on it being 63 yards. I didn't know because I had one of the great holders in pro football in Joe Scarpati and I never picked my spot. He did. He told me he was going to move it back a yard, because we used to kick it seven yards, two feet, because that made the laces come up and he moved it back an extra yard, because I want you to be able to get it up past the line."

If it wasn't for Joe Scarpati, Jason Elam would have the record all to himself?

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"He would have. I tell Jason all the time. He's a nice guy. I respect the effort, but I tell him I'm still better below sea level."

Did you try 63-yard kicks in practice?

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"I did it in the seventies in practice, but practice and a game are two separate things."

What's the longest you ever kicked in practice?

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"About 75 yards."

If a kicker has a couple of bad kicks, he can find himself out of a job. What was it like when you were kicking?

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"No security. You're only as good as your last kick."

It was the same back then?

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"I was very lucky. Coach (Tom) Fears is really the guy that gave me my chance. He called me the days after the kick telling me, "I know you could do it." So that was nice. I think kickers nowadays have a better situation, because we didn't have too many coaches who knew anything about kicking. I always used to tell people when I was going well, all the coaches were standing back and telling the press I've been helping this guy. He's doing well. And they never talked to me. If it was going bad, there were no coaches out there to help you. You were on your own."

When a guy like Garrett Hartley or any kicker for that matter goes through struggling times, do you still empathize with these guys and still feel what they're going through after all these years?

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"Yes, I do. I went through some rough times too, no question about that. You have to get tough. Mental toughness is more important than physical toughness in football."

Garrett says he knows you through some group autograph signings. Have you given him any advice?

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"No. If he wanted me to, he knows how to call me. We talk. A lot of times there's more to a kicker's success than just the kicker. The hold can be off. The snap can be off and I saw some things. I respect and like coach (Sean) Payton so much, I'll keep my big mouth shut."

When you saw Garrett's kick in the NFC Championship game to bring the Saints to the Super Bowl, did you think maybe this just moved my kick to second place in club memories of kicks?

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"That was a great kick. The kicks that he had getting into the Super Bowl and in the Super Bowl were great. I can't think of another kicker. In fact, I think it was a record of three kicks (of 40-or-more yards). It was a great effort."

Do you have any mementos from that kick?

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"I have some pictures of it. The shoe that I wore and the football is in the Saints Hall of Fame. I figured that's where it belonged."

Was there any attempt to send it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

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"They called me up and they wanted me to send it right away. I told those guys that I still have seven games to play and that I need this shoe. They called Pete Rozelle. Pete was probably the last commissioner in football that loved the players and loved the fans and he called me up and said, "Tom why won't you give them your shoe?" I said I'll give it to them after the season because I still have games to play. He said, "That makes sense. You tell them to go to hell Tom," so I did. I called him back and said I really didn't mean it. He was just a plain nice guy."

Why do you say Joe Scarpati was such a good holder?

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"He was just really good at it."

Isn't it routine?

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"It's not. It's very tough. Not everybody can do it. In my days, I didn't want a punter close to me. If I had a choice it probably would have been a safety, because they're tough. They're in there. They're not afraid of getting hit. Although I did have Jaws (Ron Jaworski) when I was with the Rams and he was a tough guy holder. There's a lot more to getting the ball down right. Every kicker likes his ball differently. I used to like mine straight up and down. Modern day kickers like them tilted back. You have to catch it. You have to get it down quick. You only have 1.2 seconds to get the ball kicked from when it's snapped. You don't have time to sit there and look at it and if it's off inside or outside you're going to miss the kick."

What do you think the transition from quarterbacks and other position players to exclusively serving as holders to now where you have for the most part you have punters or backup quarterbacks, more often than not being the punter?

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"Some of them do a good job. I used to tease my punters. I used to say they were psychos. You don't have it tough. You have it easy. Times when I played were different. You got hit. Nowadays you don't touch the kickers. The first game I played for the Saints was against the Redskins. After an extra point, Sam Huff ran by me and hit me in the throat. I didn't say anything. I kept my mouth shut. The next kick he ran by and he hit me again. I hit him this time and he's yelling and screaming at Tony Bell, one of the great officials in the NFL and he looked at Sam and said you're even Sam. Sam walked up to me, patted me on the head and said, "You're alright. I like you." "But they used to test kickers, whether it be on a kickoff, an extra point or a field goal. They would smack you, wondering if you were going to go wild or were you going to play."

A lot of former quarterback still throw the ball. Have you not kicked in a while?

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"Yes. It's been a while. My knees and back are not real good. That's one of the reasons I quit playing when I was in Buffalo, other than the fact that I didn't like Buffalo. But, it got where they were giving me the pills to play and it was still hurting, so it was time to quit. I was lucky enough to have a good coach. I told him "Coach I can't do it anymore." He said, "You can play three more games. I'll take care of you. You can get another year on your pension." How many coaches would do that? That was Chuck Knox."

How has the NFL retirement fund dealt with you?

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"It's not great. I still get some money. I took early (benefits) because I started reading about what would happen if I did before 55 and my wife would have gotten 1100 dollars a month for three years. That was a great thing they did for us. I took an early (option) because if something happened to me with all my wife put up with, I needed to make sure she was taken care of and I took an early (benefit option) and a little less because then she would have the money."

Where did you watch the Super Bowl and what was your reaction?

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"My favorite bar in the world."

Where was that?

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"The old Absinthe House. That was a hangout of the old players. My wife decided that. She suggested we go to the Old Absinthe House because we both liked to and still like to go there a lot. So, we watched it there and we were upstairs."

You got to witness Bourbon Street after the win?

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

Did anybody recognize you?

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"A few, yes. My 11-year grandson, we took him in there too. I figure 11's about the time to go in there if you're going to live in New Orleans. But he sat underneath the bar and he had a ball."

If someone were to tell you someone this year were to kick a 64-yard field goal, who would you predict it would be?

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"I won't predict anybody, but I'll be one of the first to call him and congratulate him. 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. I said guys don't worry where it is; you respect the effort that it took. I do feel that way. If I had my choice of who kicks it, it would be Garrett Hartley to keep the record in New Orleans."

Who held the record last?

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"I forget the name. It was 56 yards. He was an old Colt."

When you were playing, who coached you? Did you have a mentor on any team?

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"It started when I was with the Chargers. Sid Gillman is the one who had my shoe designed. We had a coach there named Joe Madro, who was the offensive line coach, but who knew how to kick. He taught me more about kicking than anybody ever did in the NFL."

How did they design your shoe?

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"They took pictures. I was kicking barefoot then and they took pictures of me kicking and where I hit the ball. They built the shoe that looked more like my foot. Sid Gillman was a very brilliant coach."

Did you have a number of shoes made for you or did you continue to kick throughout your career with the same shoe?

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"No, I got two new shoes every year. I wore them until I was happy with one of them. It was made by an orthopedic company in San Diego and we used to fight about weight all the time. I wanted it light. They wanted it heavier. I said, lighter. He sent me one shoe that was a little heavier than the other one and that one never got into the game. I wanted it light. It's the speedier foot. When you impact the ball, it allows you to kick it longer. I gave all the shoes away. Most were given to children's hospitals around the country so they could auction them off. I had one left and my wife said you're not giving this one away. It's going to stay in the family."

What's the best thing coach Madro taught you about placekicking?

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"He switched my style around completely. I started with my right foot back deeper than my left foot. He switched me to putting it forward and learning about a step and a half. That's what we had to do. You're 1.2 seconds from snap to kick. You have to be doing it quick."

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Going back to Garrett Hartley's NFC Championship kick, he said he didn't even look at it, that he knew he hit it through. Do you remember any details on your kick? Did you see the flight? Did you keep your head down like a golfer?

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"I used to tell myself when I would walk on the field to kick a ball to always keep your head down stupid and follow through. I let my holders take care of everything else because all I wanted to think about is what I had to do. When I hit that ball, I knew I hit it. It's like playing golf. I shouldn't say that because I'm not a good golfer. They say hit a good drive. I don't hit a good drive. The kick, I knew the second I hit it was going to go a long way. The only thing I was worried about was would it stay straight that long. If I had known it was 63 yards, I probably would have missed it, but I just knew it was a long way. I didn't look at the markers to find out how long it was."

Was there any wind that day?

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"Very little. It was a humid day, like when it gets this time of year. That's when I first got in trouble with J.D. Roberts. They asked me why did they carry Coach Roberts off the field. I said he was a new coach, he didn't know his way to the locker room. He didn't take that too well."

Are you going to go the Old Absinthe House for the anniversary or do you have anything special planned?

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"Not really because it's on a Monday night. I wouldn't mind going to the Old Absinthe House. I like it. It's one of my favorites. That and Johnny Whites. I like dives. I don't like nice places. It drives my poor wife nuts."

Can you re-tell the story of Alex Karras surrounding the kick?

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"Alex is just a great guy to be with. He'll always come up with something to say he didn't rush. He did rush. The pictures show it. My favorite picture is Wild Bill Cody blocked down like the wings do, then he reached up with his right foot and he kicked Alex Karras right in the (groin). That's my favorite picture of the kick. Wild Bill was nuts if you were around in that era. He was crazy. Alex Karras and I became friends through the years. I remember one time we were in New Orleans and some guy was ragging my kick and he got into a fight. He's a good guy. He just told me I hope you make more money off it than I did. He's a really good guy. In fact in high school I wore 71, because it was his jersey and that's the one I wanted."

What was it like for you after the game?

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"If you're going to set a record, there's only one town in America to set it, right here in New Orleans. 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 (beer). 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."

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