RICK CLEVELAND: Dempsey’s kick towers over all

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

JACKSON

So my task – should I choose to accept it, and I have – is to choose the top three amazing football kicks I have ever seen in person.

Now you may wonder why I would choose to do that at this point. Two reasons: One, why not? Two, Tom Dempsey’s 43-year-old record for longest field goal in NFL history officially was broken recently. I use the word “officially” because it will never be surpassed in my memory. I was there on Nov. 8, 1970 when Dempsey, with a huge beer gut and half a right foot, boomed the 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions 20-19.

I was not in Denver when Bronco Matt Prater recently kicked a field goal, officially measured at one yard longer than Dempsey’s. So many mitigating circumstances exist:

• Dempsey kicked straight on, Prater soccer style.

• Prater kicked a mile above sea level, Dempsey at sea level or below. Huge difference.

• Dempsey’s kick won a game, Prater’s did not.

• Dempsey used half a foot, which is all he had.

So, without further adieu, my list, and you may already have guessed how it begins:

No. 1: Dempsey’s kick, a miracle, if there ever was one. It seemed preposterous when the Saints lined up for the kick at their own 43-yard line. Dempsey, far widest at his equator, looked as if he would run out of breath trotting out to kick the ball. Indeed, Alex Karras, the great Lion defensive lineman-later-turned-Hollywood-actor, said he was laughing too hard at the very idea of a fat guy with half a foot kicking a 63-yarder to even rush the kick.

It was a gray, humid day, no wind. I would have bet all I had or ever expected to have against Dempsey. And then, he made it with a one-day-old whisker to spare. Said Dempsey, years later, “I never had to buy another drink in New Orleans.” Nor should he have.

No. 2: Mother Nature’s block of Artie Cosby’s field goal in 1983. Thirty years have passed, and I still don’t believe it. Cosby’s kick, which would have beaten Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, was a chip shot. Cosby, a fine kicker, hit it perfectly. It was right down the middle and then a huge gust of wind out of the south blew the ball straight up into the air and then backward. First State celebrated because the kick looked like a winner; then the Bulldogs fell to the the ground and Ole Miss celebrated a bowl-clinching victory.

So afterward, I had the dubious duty of interviewing Emory Bellard, who appeared a perfect candidate to act in a hemorrhoid commercial. Said Bellard, “Podnuh, you just tell ‘em God just decided that Mississippi State was not going to win this game.”

No. 3: Ray Guy’s 93-yard punt against Ole Miss, which actually travelled more than 110 yards from his foot to a restraining fence beyond the opposite end zone. I saw Guy perform so many logic-defying athletic feats, I’ll just include one in this list. He was kicking out of his own end zone from north to south. This was in 1972, his senior season, not 1970 when USM stunned the Rebels 30-14, as most errantly recall. Guy didn’t punt the ball so much as he launched it, high above the press box at then-Hemingway Stadium. It was as if the ball had its own engine. It kept going and going and going. It would have rolled a few feet further had it not rolled into the chain link fence.

I could have included Guy kicking a 61-yarder in a snowstorm, Guy hitting the gondola at the Superdome, Guy making a one-handed, leaping grab of a center snap that would have gone out of the end zone and launching a 50-yard punt in the Super Bowl. Today, the 117-yard punt, officially measured at 93, will have to do.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.