I became conscious of professional football sometime around 1962. The following tells the tale of the single most chilling football moment I've seen in those fifty years.
On Sunday, November 8, 1970 the Dallas Cowboys lost on a last second 54-yard field goal by Pete Gogolak of the New York Giants, the NFL's very first "soccer style" kicker, known then as sidewinders. 54 yards was long, but still two yards shorter than the record of 56 yards set in 1953 by Bert Rechichar of the Baltimore Colts.
With our game over, CBS switched us to the Detroit Lions versus the New Orleans Saints. The poor Saints couldn't catch a break. They had just fired their head coach Tom Fears and hired J. D. Roberts. Their record stood at a dismal 1-5-1.
This was Robert's first game.
CBS cut in just before Errol Mann connected on an 18-yard field goal to give the Lions the lead. Back then the goal posts stood on the goal line rather than the back of the end zone as they do today.
Eleven seconds left.
Detroit led 17-16.
The Saints returned the kickoff to their twenty-eight yard line with 8 seconds left. Quarterback Billy Kilmer passed to Al Dodd for seventeen yards to the Saints 45 yard line.
Two seconds remained.
The Saints could try a desperation pass, or a long field goal that would smash Rechichar's seventeen-year-old record by an amazing 7 yards if good.
A 63-yard field goal?
Unheard of. Unimaginable.
The Saints' kicker was Tom Dempsey, a man born with half a right foot and a withered right arm. The kicking shoe he wore didn't extend more than a couple of inches from his shin.
Sadly, he'd experienced as dreadful a year as his team. He'd only hit 5 of 15 field goal attempts, a figure that would cost him his job today. Still, he had hit 3 of 4 in the game.
Roberts and his staff desperately searched for a play, an idea, anything. Dempsey stood beside them and said, "I can kick it."
Could he? Really?
The Saints sent Dempsey in to try. The holder Joe Scarpati would put the ball down on the Saint 37 yard line.
Don Criqui had the call.
Watch what happens in the minute and thirty second clip.
After watching it, do you believe as I do that Don Criqui didn't think Dempsey had a snowball's chance in hell of making it?
In the last forty-two years Dempsey's record has been tied twice, but not broken.