FSD History Flashback: November 8, 1970

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FSD History Flashback:  November 8, 1970

Hello, I'm David Funk, and welcome to today's edition of FSD History Flashback for November 8. Today's FSD History Flashback goes back to 1970 when an NFL record was shattered, but the circumstances of it would later lead to a controversial rule change which indirectly led to many debates of athletes having unfair advantages in sports.

On November 8, 1970, the Detroit Lions came into New Orleans to take on the Saints at old Tulane Stadium. The Lions had come into the game with a 5-2 record while the Saints only had one win going into the contest. But the only record that mattered was the one that was set at the game's conclusion.

The Saints got out to a 3-0 lead when kicker Tom Dempsey converted a 29-yard field goal in the opening quarter. The Lions came back in the second quarter as Mel Farr 10-yard touchdown run put Detroit in the lead. Dempsey kicked another field goal before the half as Detroit held a 7-6 lead.

Charlie Sanders caught a 2-yard pass from quarterback Bill Munson as the Lions increased their lead to eight points. Dempsey kicked yet another field goal to cut the Lions lead to 14-9.

Finally, the Saints scored a touchdown in this game on a Tom Barrington 4-yard run as New Orleans jumped back ahead 16-14. Detroit put together a drive that concluded when kicker Errol Mann made an 18-yard field goal as the Lions took a 17-16. The Saints got the ball back, but didn't have much time to work with.

Dempsey, who made only 18 of 34 field goals on the season, came onto the field with two seconds left to try and set the record for the longest field goal ever of 63 yards. His kicking approach was straight compared to the traditional "soccer style" approach that many kickers use now.

Also, he was born without toes on his right foot. Because of this, Dempsey wore a shoe that had an enlarged and flattened toe surface which had been modified to fit his foot.

Dempsey lined up for the kick, and shattered the previous mark of Colts kicker Bert Rechichar's 56-yard field goal in 1953 by making the 63-yard attempt. The holder was Joe Scarpati, who spotted the ball at the 37-yard line of the Saints. In those days, goal posts were goal lines instead of the end zone lines. The goal posts were moved to the end zone lines beginning in 1974.

The Saints won the game 19-17, and they would not win another one the rest of the year. The Lions still made the playoffs with a 10-4 mark, but lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the opening round as a Wild Card team.

Dempsey ended up with the Philadelphia Eagles by the following season, and would play with them for the next four seasons. Then he played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1975, where he made 21 of 26 field goals on the season. After two seasons, he played for the Houston Oilers in 1977 and his final two years were spent with the Buffalo Bills. But it was in 1977 where a controversial rule change had been made because of him.

Many thought that Dempsey had an unfair advantage because of the shoe he wore on his right foot. This led to the NFL adding a rule in 1977 as a result which stated, "Any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe."

Eventually, Dempsey's record was tied by Denver's Jason Elam in 1998 at Mile High Stadium. In the 2002 preseason, Ola Kimrin made a 65-yard field goal that would have broken Dempsey's record had it taken place in the regular season. Coincidentally enough, Kimrin made that field goal for the Denver Broncos, but was released in favor of the veteran Elam.

Over the years, debates and controversy has dominated many headlines as to athletes gaining unfair advantages in sports. Steroid use, doping, prosthetics, and other body modifications have been discussed.

In 1974, baseball pitcher Tommy John underwent surgery that would eventually be named after him. After undergoing rehabilitation, John returned to Major League Baseball where he pitched until 1989 when he retired at age 46. Since that time, many pitchers such as Kerry Wood, Eric Gagne, and John Smoltz have underwent Tommy John surgery. All pitchers are still actively playing. Many have said that the surgery has led to pitchers throwing harder than before. But Frank Jobe, the doctor who performed the surgery on Tommy John, believes it's a perception rather than reality.

In the 1980s, steroid use in the NFL became a hot topic for the sport. The league passed a rule that disciplined players for violating the substance abuse policy. Since 1989, the same rule has been in place.

In Major League Baseball, talk of performance-enhancing drugs have dominated the headlines. In 2005, MLB put in stiff penalties for violating their substance abuse policy. The first offense is a 50-game suspension, the second is for 100 games, and the third is a lifetime ban from the league.

The Olympics as well as cyclists have been linked to this, too. In particular, the Olympics have seen athletes stripped of medals after positive steroid tests. The subject of prosthetic limbs have been a constantly discussed issue in recent years as well.

Probably the most notable athlete in recent years that has been surrounded with controversy of prosthesis is South African runner Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius has two artificial legs which are Cheetah Flex-Foot limbs that were created by Ossur. In January 2008, Pistorius was ruled ineligible by the International Association of Athletic Federations(IAAF). The Court of Arbitration for Sport later reversed the decision based on the lack of evidence of him having an unfair advantage over others.

I'm not here to debate the issue on athletes gaining unfair advantages or not. Nor am I here to take away the accomplishments of athletes like Tom Dempsey. This also wasn't the first time athletes were seen as possibly having an unfair advantage either. But what I do know is that this has been by far the most talked about issue in sports, and many procedures has raised questions and concerns about them. The NFL recognizes Dempsey as the record holder for the longest field goal ever made, and I have no problem with it. But the NFL's Tom Dempsey Rule served as one of the first forerunners of those issues.

Dempsey made history on his record-breaking day, and also helped fuel a controversy that has escalated over time. So with that, I still take nothing away from the record that belongs to him.

Video theme is of ESPN's SportsCentury.

Photos courtesy of New York Times and Wikipedia

Thanks for viewing, and I hope you enjoyed today's FSD History Flashback!

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