The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
They called him Stumpy. Born without a right hand or toes on his right foot, Tom Dempsey had seemingly no future in the NFL. Yet on November 8, 1970, Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal—setting an NFL record that endured for 43 years—not in spite of his clubbed foot, but rather because of it.
Dempsey began his kicking career barefoot, simply wrapping athletic tape around the end of his right foot. Sid Gillman signed Dempsey to his Chargers taxi squad in 1968, and the coach helped develop a better tool for kicking. Dempsey’s new shoe was a $200 custom leather boot that featured a 1 ¾-inch leather block at the toe; it resembled (and struck like) a sledgehammer. Fast-forward two years and one team later, to Week 8 in 1970, as Dempsey and the 1-5-1 New Orleans Saints hosted the heavily favored Lions at Tulane Stadium. With the Saints down 17–16 and two seconds remaining, Dempsey took the field for what was considered an impossible attempt. Not quite. His 63-yard bullet snuck over the crossbar, winning the game and upping the ante for kickers—the previous record was 56 yards, set in 1953.
Stumpy became an enchanting folk hero for the four-year-old Saints. As for the boot: Though never proven, the NFL believed it created an advantage. In 1977 the “Tom Dempsey Rule” required players with artificial limbs to have footwear that conforms to the shape of a normal kicking shoe.
Photograph courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.