Saints Hall of Fame teammates remember Tom Dempsey
It is sobering to consider that many of the teammates Tom Dempsey had in New Orleans are no longer with us.
Fortunately, there are still some alive and well who befriended Dempsey and are saddened about his passing away late Saturday night but were willing to share their stories about Dempsey.
Danny Abramowicz, who played for the Saints from 1967-73 and was with Dempsey in 1969 and 1970 in New Orleans and was an inaugural inductee into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1988, remembers his former friend and teammate fondly.
“We should all learn from Tom,” Abramowicz said. “Even though he had a handicap, he never looked at it that way. I learned we signed a kicker with no toes. I thought we were crazy. Then, I met him. He was a tough guy. He played defensive end in college. He was so strong, so competitive. He was a very good kicker.”
There was another characteristic Dempsey had which endeared him to Abramowicz.
“He had a great sense of humor,” Abramowicz said. “We joked around in the locker room in a loving, caring way. We’d give it back to one another, not like today when everyone takes everything so seriously. Tom was a funny guy. He could jab you but he could take a jab, too!”
Abramowicz became very fond of the Dempsey family.
“Tom married up with Carlene,” Abramowicz said. “When he went through this time, they went through it together. They made this possible for him to survive. There was so much strength and love. They were there for him. They took a responsibility to give him a comforting feeling until the Lord called him away. That, to me, was tremendous. Tom was a friend and a great teammate. He’s in a better place. The Lord called him home.”
Bill Kilmer was a starting quarterback for the Saints from 1967-70 and another of Dempsey’s teammates in New Orleans. Kilmer was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1990.
“I respected Tom so much,” Kilmer said. “We had our first exhibition game in Denver and I knew he could kick because we were in San Diego at sea level and we knew he could kick long ones. He was hitting 70-yarders there and they were like extra points. They weren’t just falling over the bar. They were going into the stands. If he would have kicked in Denver, they would have never broken his record, never. That was my first impression of him.”
Forty years ago Monday, my mother was sick. It was just a 24-hour bug as I recall, but she was definitely sick on Nov. 8, 1970.
Kilmer illustrated how Dempsey never backed down from a challenge.
“Tom was a tough guy with all of his handicaps,” Kilmer said. “We were playing the Steelers. He kicked off. The team got in a big brawl, slugging it out in the middle of the field and he Tom went after a big defensive tackle for them. Tom kicked him right in the back side. He then got right in the middle of the scuffle. He didn’t back down from anyone. I really liked Tom. We drank a few beers together. He was fun.”
Kilmer recalled a story which illustrated the joking nature of life in 1970.
“The night after the record field goal, we were at Jimmy Moran’s Restaurant, including Abramowicz, Steve Stonebreaker, Jerry Sturm. The place was packed. Tom walked into the front door. The whole restaurant got up and started clapping for him. We were in the back. There was a phone by us.
Then, Abramowicz got an idea.
Danny grabbed the phone,” Kilmer said. “There was a girl up front. He told her to go tell Tom that the President (Richard Nixon) wanted to talk to him. Tom excitedly grabbed the phone and said ‘yes, Mr. President?’ Abramowicz told him in harsh words that I cannot repeat that no one wanted to talk to him and to take a hike. We got him good. Tom just laughed.”
Jake Kupp was an original Saint, playing for New Orleans from 1967-75 and was Dempsey’s teammate. Kupp was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 1992.
“When Tom first came to the Saints, it was amazing when he first came to the Saints, a man that had the physical challenges that he had and never seemed to bother him,” Kupp said. “He never focused on them. He was himself. He was strictly a field goal kicker but he played defensive end in college. He had half a foot. How could he do that? He never focused on his disabilities but focused on himself as a human being to do anything that anyone else could do.”
Kupp said Dempsey was accepted quickly by teammates, despite those who were skeptical.
“He became part of our team,” Kupp said. “There were jokes like ‘Tom couldn’t handle a two-fisted burger.” That never bothered him. He laughed. We could never make those kind of jokes today. Tom was confident in his ability. He was an amazing individual. When you think of Tom, you immediately have to go to the 63-yard field goal. That was the highlight of the early Saints.”
Kupp, like everyone else, was shocked but overjoyed with the field goal.
“None of us will ever forget that,” Kupp said. “He was able to stand on our own 37-yard line and kick it to win the game against Detroit. I have never known such joy in my competitive life than when that ball went through the uprights. It brought our team together. Because of what we had been through, it brought us close together as a team.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…