Why was Dempsey's feat my favorite record? Because it was the exact opposite of the modern era's Ivan Drago-style scientific athletic accomplishments.
The only reason the Saints' coach sent in the field goal unit with 2 seconds left and down by one was because he thought the Saints were on the Lions' 44-yard-line, not their own 44.
Back then, the goal posts in the NFL were on the goal line, not the back of the end zone like today, so the coach thought he was calling for a 51-yarder. The NFL record at the time was 56 yards, so 63 yards was unthinkable.
Dempsey was famously violent for a kicker. Since he couldn't break any fingers on his stump, he was notorious for using it as a club on kick returners.
The endurance of Dempsey's record was odd because placekickers improved so much in the 1970s alone. The longest NCAA kicks were largely accomplished in 1976-77 in the old Southwestern Conference when I was at Rice:
FBS: 67 – Russell Erxleben, Texas vs. Rice, Oct. 1, 1977; Steve Little, Arkansas vs. Texas, Oct. 15, 1977; Joe Williams, Wichita State vs. Southern Illinois, Oct. 21, 1978
FBS: 65 - Tony Franklin, Texas A&M vs. Baylor, Oct. 16. 1976; Martin Gramatica, Kansas State vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 12, 1998. Longest without a kicking tee which was banned in 1989.
Most of these guys were soccer players, but Erxleben kicked his 67 yarder against Rice in the old straight-ahead style. (By the way, Texas beat Rice 72-15. Texas had Heisman winner Earl Campbell, so a 67-yard field goal on top of getting flattened all day by the greatest running back in the history of the state of Texas seemed a little like overkill. I see that Erxleben is currently in jail on his latest charge of running a Ponzi scheme, so maybe he inflated the ball with anti-gravity gas?)
But that wasn't the longest Texas college field goal of that brief golden era. In 1976 Ove Johannson of Abilene Christian in the NAIA kicked a 69-yarder.
It was widely assumed at the time in Texas 35 years ago that a 70-yarder was just around the corner, but that hasn't happened yet. I don't know exactly why. One reason is that NFL coaches rarely call for very long field goals.
Perhaps coaches dread more than anything a 109-yard return of a short field goal, such as Auburn's last week that cost Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide a berth in the national championship game. NFL coaches dislike not winning, but they hate being personally responsible for a loss the way Saban was last week. The coaches actually have good reason to fear 109-yard returns besides their egos: the guys who block for field goal attempts are chosen for their immobility, not their ability to cover returns. Thus, the very large and slow white guys Saban sent out on the field with 1 second left to keep Auburn from blocking the attempt at a game winning 59-yard field goal didn't come close to tackling Auburn's speedy returner.
In the comments, Reg Cæsar said:
Well, soccer-style wasn't an option in his case, was it?
I always wondered if Dempsey's clubfoot was a feature rather than a bug. A similar deformity of the left hand sure was for the 1920s songwriter Harry M Woods. He could just barely bang out chords on the piano, but his club gave him a monster advantage in his favorite sport-- barfighting.
The story is told that after a workday in Manhattan, he and a fellow songwriter stepped into a bar where a fight was already in progress. Woods joined right in and, Adam West Batman-style, immediately established himself as alpha dog. (These were total strangers, by the way.)
An onlooker asked Woods's buddy "Who is that guy?"
"Why, don't you recognize him? He's the man who wrote "Try a Little Tenderness!"