Tom Dempsey Tells New York Times He Was a Pro Wrestler and a Kamikaze on NFL Return Coverage. Times Buys It. Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?

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January 28, 2013
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In 1970 Tom Dempsey of the New Orleans Saints, who was born with a deformed right foot, kicked a 63-yard field goal — shattering the National Football League record by seven yards. That mark has been tied several times but never surpassed. In the run-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, The New York Times yesterday published a story about Dempsey, now 66 and suffering from dementia, in which he rather dubiously describes aspects of his athletic career to freelance writer Brett Michael Dykes. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/28/sports/football/super-bowl-tom-dempsey-former-nfl-kicker-is-dealing-with-dementia.html?pagewanted=1.

I have nothing against Dempsey and I am sorry he’s in a bad way. But almost certainly, The Times done been had. At least two aspects of the piece are about as plausible as a Manti Te’o girlfriend.

* “[H]is eyes twinkled with glee when he talked about how the coaches he played for over the course of his 10-year N.F.L. career with the Saints, the Eagles, the Rams, the Oilers and the Bills would sometimes call on him to be the wedge buster — football’s version of a kamikaze pilot — on kickoffs.”

I have no memory of Dempsey’s having played such a role. Nor do any contemporaries with whom I’ve checked. And when you think about it for at least a second and a half, you realize that no professional coach in the Super Bowl era would have lasted long if he called on a player with a club foot to be the first man down the field on kickoff return coverage.

* “… Dempsey typically spent his off-seasons at home in Southern California working as a bricklayer and as wrestler on the local professional wrestling circuit. (‘I was one of the good guys,’ he said.)”

I asked Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, if there is any record of Dempsey in pro wrestling. Meltzer said, “I don’t recall it. And given the time frame, it’s very hard to believe we wouldn’t have all known.” In his online update yesterday, Meltzer asked readers to submit any information they had.

On Twitter, writer Dykes told me, “Tom and his wife both told me he wrestled for a brief time in SoCal in the offseason in the early 70s. I have no reason not to believe them.” (Notice the backslide from “typically” in the published story to “for a brief time” in the explanation.)

Times editors have not responded to my query.

 
Irv Muchnick

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