Tom Dempsey and Bobby Mitchell each overcame bias and discrimination to achieve greatness on the gridiron
| April 5, 2020
| New Orleans – Former NFL kicker Tom Dempsey, who played in the NFL despite being born without toes on his kicking foot and made a record 63-yard field goal, died late Saturday while struggling with complications from the coronavirus, his daughter said. He was 73.
Ashley Dempsey said Sunday that her father, who has resided in an assisted living home for several years after being diagnosed with dementia, tested positive for the coronavirus a little more than a week ago.
Dempsey’s game-winning field goal against Detroit on Nov. 8, 1970, stood as an NFL record for 43 years until the Broncos’ Matt Prater broke it with a 64-yarder in Denver in 2013.
Dempsey spent 11 seasons in the NFL: His first two seasons were with New Orleans (1969-70), the next four with Philadelphia, then two with the Los Angeles Rams, one with the Houston Oilers and the final two with Buffalo. He retired after the 1979 season.
Saints owner Gayle Benson said in a statement:
“Tom’s life spoke directly to the power of the human spirit and exemplified his resolute determination to not allow setbacks to impede following his dreams and aspirations. He exemplified the same fight and fortitude in recent years as he battled valiantly against illnesses but never wavered and kept his trademark sense of humor.”
Dempsey was born in Milwaukee without four fingers on his right hand and without toes on his right foot. He kicked straight on with a flat-front shoe that drew protests from some who saw the specially made kicking shoe as an unfair advantage …
About seven years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia and later moved to an assisted living home, where he contracted the coronavirus in March during the pandemic that has hit the city — and nursing home — particularly hard. He is survived by wife Carlene, three children, a sister and grandchildren.
His kick has remained part of Saints lore and for a long time stood as one of the greatest moments in the history of a franchise that didn’t make the playoffs until its 21st season in 1987, and didn’t win a playoff game until the 2000 season … Read more.
NFL Films – Tom Dempsey:
Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who helped integrate Redskins, dies at 84
April 5, 2020
ESPN – Bobby Mitchell, who was the first African American player to sign with the Washington Redskins, died Sunday at 84, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced. [Mitchell’s cause of death has not been disclosed.]
Team owner Daniel Snyder said in a statement:
“I was extremely saddened to hear the news about the passing of the great Bobby Mitchell. Bobby was a Hall of Fame player and executive and represented the Washington Redskins organization with integrity for over 50 years. His passion for the game of football was unmatched by anyone I have ever met. Not only was he one of the most influential individuals in franchise history, but he was also one of the greatest men I have ever known. He was a true class act and will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Gwen and the entire Mitchell family during this time.”
Mitchell began his pro career as a halfback for the Cleveland Browns in 1958. A running and receiving threat, he shared the backfield with Jim Brown, giving Cleveland one of the strongest offensive attacks in the league. During his four seasons in Cleveland, Mitchell accounted for 3,759 yards from scrimmage.
In 1962, the Browns traded Mitchell to the Washington Redskins, who moved him from halfback to a flanker. That season, he led the league in receptions (72) and receiving yards (1,384). The following season, Mitchell caught 69 passes for a league-leading 1,436 yards. He also tied an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown reception against his former team.
During his first six seasons with the Redskins, he never caught fewer than 58 passes. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection — once as a running back and three times as a wide receiver.
Mitchell, a seventh-round draft pick in 1958, retired in 1969, finishing his 11-year NFL career with 14,078 total yards. He had 91 career touchdowns, including 65 receiving and 18 rushing. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
David Baker, the Hall of Fame’s president and CEO, said in a statement:
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Bobby Mitchell. The Game lost a true legend today. Bobby was an incredible player, a talented executive and a real gentleman to everyone with whom he worked or competed against. His wife Gwen and their entire family remain in our thoughts and prayers. The Hall of Fame will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations.”
It was his time with the Redskins that Mitchell once called “life-altering.” Mitchell was traded from Cleveland to Washington in December 1961 in exchange for Ernie Davis after Davis said he would not play for the Redskins… Read more.