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THE NFL / BILL PLASCHKE : Dempsey's 63-Yarder Might as Well Be 100 Today

November 04, 1995|BILL PLASCHKE

Twenty-five years ago this week in New Orleans, Coach Joe Schmidt of the Detroit Lions stood wide-eyed on the sidelines, wiping his lips.

The Saints' Tom Dempsey was lining up to try a game-winning field goal. It would be a 63-yarder, seven yards longer than the longest field goal in NFL history. It was a joke.

Schmidt turned to an assistant and said, "If he makes this, I will kiss his butt in front of Hudson's department store in downtown Detroit and give him 15 minutes to draw a crowd."

Of course, Dempsey made it. The 6-foot-1, 260-pounder with a deformed foot walked happily off the field. The Lions dropped to the ground in disbelief.

The assistant turned to Schmidt.

"That's a lot of butt to kiss," Chuck Knox said.

And Dempsey is still being lauded today.

Now a New Orleans businessman, Dempsey remains the kicking champion of the world while able-footed kickers everywhere are celebrating this 25th anniversary by being passed around like old baby clothes.

Of the 27 teams that play this weekend--not counting expansion Carolina--only 17 will use the same kickers who started with them last season.

This week, Chip Lohmiller was replaced by Doug Brien in New Orleans and Steve McLaughlin was replaced by Dean Biasucci in St. Louis.

This comes after Biasucci was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lohmiller was cut by the Washington Redskins, Brien was cut by the San Francisco 49ers and third-round pick McLaughlin reminded the football world of an important adage:

Draft a guy who dries footballs before you draft a kicker.

Complicated rush packages and the added pressure of being cut because of the salary cap have contributed to kickers making only 77.5% of their kicks, down 2% from last season.

Rules against doctoring the balls are being enforced. Teammates whose jobs are more in jeopardy are becoming more exclusionary. Coaches under great pressure have lost their patience.

Dempsey, who saved no mementos from his kick, laughs like a man who knows his record is safe. Only one kick in the last 25 years has come within three yards of his record.

"I don't think any coaches will even try a 60-yarder now unless it is at the end of the half or a game," he said. "And parity means coaches are getting too excited, doing things too fast. The great kickers are the guys who have been with their teams a long time, who are allowed to survive the ups and downs."

And who knows? Maybe the next great kicker will be a straight-on type of guy like Dempsey. He is coaching one on a youth team.

The only reason Dempsey never kicked soccer style was, well, "because I don't have toes, and you need toes."

And no, that special shoe wasn't weighted, although Dempsey is asked about it frequently.

"It was made of leather, that was it," he said. "I didn't want any weight in there."

He carried a big enough burden simply being Tom Dempsey.

"My father once told me I could do anything I wanted to do," Dempsey said. "He said I might have to do it differently but that I could do it."

LOCATION, LOCATION

A battle is shaping up between Peter O'Malley and the two Mikes--Eisner and Ovitz--for the right to play host to and own the next NFL team in Los Angeles.

Eisner and Ovitz, on Disney's behalf, are reportedly pushing the league to grant them exclusivity for the next team in town. O'Malley, meanwhile, is quietly shaping plans for his new stadium. Both will probably get teams, but only one will get one by 1998. It's hard to bet against either powerhouse.

The only objection to O'Malley comes from Dodger Stadium neighbors who are worried about the traffic generated by the additional 10 dates a year. At the same time, no local owner is more community minded than O'Malley, who has his fingers in such things as the Hollenbeck Youth Center, Solano and Belmont High Adopt-A-School Program and the CaliforniaKids program that provides health care to low-income families.

The problem with Disney is its apparent desire to make nice with Anaheim officials and build its stadium in Orange County instead of Los Angeles, where the league prefers.

Don't be surprised if Seattle Seahawk owner Ken Behring stands up at the league meetings in Dallas next week and announces that he wants to come to Los Angeles. He has been holding discussions with Disney, which would help move the team to Orange County and then quietly purchase a minority share.

But also don't be surprised if the league tells him to take a hike. It needs the Seahawks in the Northwest. It will allow only an eastern time zone team such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals to move--and only if it seems that expansion would not work by 1998.

As many as four potential sites in Los Angeles probably will be announced by the league at next week's meetings. The Coliseum and Rose Bowl will not be among them.

Dodger Stadium, downtown near the Convention Center, El Segundo and Hollywood Park could be the four.

But ignore all of that. It's O'Malley against the Mouse.

STORMY NIGHT?

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