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THE NFL / BILL PLASCHKE : Dempsey’s 63-Yarder Might as Well Be 100 Today

Twenty-five years ago this week in New Orleans, Coach Joe Schmidt of the Detroit Lions stood wide-eyed on the sidelines, wiping his lips.

The Saints’ Tom Dempsey was lining up to try a game-winning field goal. It would be a 63-yarder, seven yards longer than the longest field goal in NFL history. It was a joke.

Schmidt turned to an assistant and said, “If he makes this, I will kiss his butt in front of Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit and give him 15 minutes to draw a crowd.”

Of course, Dempsey made it. The 6-foot-1, 260-pounder with a deformed foot walked happily off the field. The Lions dropped to the ground in disbelief.

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The assistant turned to Schmidt.

“That’s a lot of butt to kiss,” Chuck Knox said.

And Dempsey is still being lauded today.

Now a New Orleans businessman, Dempsey remains the kicking champion of the world while able-footed kickers everywhere are celebrating this 25th anniversary by being passed around like old baby clothes.

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Of the 27 teams that play this weekend--not counting expansion Carolina--only 17 will use the same kickers who started with them last season.

This week, Chip Lohmiller was replaced by Doug Brien in New Orleans and Steve McLaughlin was replaced by Dean Biasucci in St. Louis.

This comes after Biasucci was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Lohmiller was cut by the Washington Redskins, Brien was cut by the San Francisco 49ers and third-round pick McLaughlin reminded the football world of an important adage:

Draft a guy who dries footballs before you draft a kicker.

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Complicated rush packages and the added pressure of being cut because of the salary cap have contributed to kickers making only 77.5% of their kicks, down 2% from last season.

Rules against doctoring the balls are being enforced. Teammates whose jobs are more in jeopardy are becoming more exclusionary. Coaches under great pressure have lost their patience.

Dempsey, who saved no mementos from his kick, laughs like a man who knows his record is safe. Only one kick in the last 25 years has come within three yards of his record.

“I don’t think any coaches will even try a 60-yarder now unless it is at the end of the half or a game,” he said. “And parity means coaches are getting too excited, doing things too fast. The great kickers are the guys who have been with their teams a long time, who are allowed to survive the ups and downs.”

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And who knows? Maybe the next great kicker will be a straight-on type of guy like Dempsey. He is coaching one on a youth team.

The only reason Dempsey never kicked soccer style was, well, “because I don’t have toes, and you need toes.”

And no, that special shoe wasn’t weighted, although Dempsey is asked about it frequently.

“It was made of leather, that was it,” he said. “I didn’t want any weight in there.”

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He carried a big enough burden simply being Tom Dempsey.

“My father once told me I could do anything I wanted to do,” Dempsey said. “He said I might have to do it differently but that I could do it.”

LOCATION, LOCATION

A battle is shaping up between Peter O’Malley and the two Mikes--Eisner and Ovitz--for the right to play host to and own the next NFL team in Los Angeles.

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Eisner and Ovitz, on Disney’s behalf, are reportedly pushing the league to grant them exclusivity for the next team in town. O’Malley, meanwhile, is quietly shaping plans for his new stadium. Both will probably get teams, but only one will get one by 1998. It’s hard to bet against either powerhouse.

The only objection to O’Malley comes from Dodger Stadium neighbors who are worried about the traffic generated by the additional 10 dates a year. At the same time, no local owner is more community minded than O’Malley, who has his fingers in such things as the Hollenbeck Youth Center, Solano and Belmont High Adopt-A-School Program and the CaliforniaKids program that provides health care to low-income families.

The problem with Disney is its apparent desire to make nice with Anaheim officials and build its stadium in Orange County instead of Los Angeles, where the league prefers.

Don’t be surprised if Seattle Seahawk owner Ken Behring stands up at the league meetings in Dallas next week and announces that he wants to come to Los Angeles. He has been holding discussions with Disney, which would help move the team to Orange County and then quietly purchase a minority share.

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But also don’t be surprised if the league tells him to take a hike. It needs the Seahawks in the Northwest. It will allow only an eastern time zone team such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals to move--and only if it seems that expansion would not work by 1998.

As many as four potential sites in Los Angeles probably will be announced by the league at next week’s meetings. The Coliseum and Rose Bowl will not be among them.

Dodger Stadium, downtown near the Convention Center, El Segundo and Hollywood Park could be the four.

But ignore all of that. It’s O’Malley against the Mouse.

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STORMY NIGHT?

Can’t wait for that Sunday night game in San Diego between the Chargers and Miami Dolphins. Don Shula will be staring down one of the few men unafraid of his power, Charger General Manager Bobby Beathard.

Remember last year’s playoff game, when the Chargers tried to keep the Dolphins from using the field for a Saturday practice because of weeklong rains? Shula persuaded NFL officials to remove the tarp and allow his team to stomp all over the muddy ground. Beathard hollered at Jerry Seeman, league director of officials, claiming "[Shula] owns the league. He gets to anything he wants.”

Then the Chargers got even. As the Dolphins, leading 21-6, went to their locker room at halftime, the lights went out, totally ruining their halftime preparations and perhaps leading to a 22-21 defeat.

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The Chargers said a player swung his helmet in anger at a fuse box, causing the brownout. Shula wasn’t buying. “Whatever happened was inexcusable,” Shula said. “It’s the first time I’ve experienced it, and I’ve never known it to happen in a game in the NFL.” After the game, Beathard and Shula did not shake hands. Stay tuned.

EMPTYING THE POCKETS

The last time San Francisco’s Steve Young and Carolina’s Kerry Collins were together, in January in Miami, Collins was sitting in the back seat of a limousine transporting Young from the Super Bowl game to a party at the team hotel. Agent Leigh Steinberg had invited Collins in hopes that the Penn State senior could receive a taste of life in the NFL fast lane. Midway through the trip, Young--dehydrated after his MVP performance--vomited on Collins’ shoes. Steinberg turned to Collins. “Welcome to the NFL,” he said. . . .

Did you hear what Raider running back Harvey Williams told ESPN? He said the Denver Broncos whipped his team earlier this year because the Broncos watered down the field and put Vaseline on the balls. Responded Mike Flaherty, facilities director at Mile High Stadium: “We have not manipulated the field. As far as the Vaseline, I think it might have come from Al Davis’ hair.” . . .

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SHORT STUFF

In only three of 17 games this season has a New York quarterback (Jet or Giant) thrown for more than 200 yards. In only one of 17 games has a New York running back rushed for more than 100 yards. . . . Maybe the Broncos also mixed in sleeping pills: After averaging 18 carries a game in his first six games, gaining 524 yards with six touchdowns during that time, the Raiders’ Williams has seemingly worn down. He has totaled 14 carries for 24 yards in the last two games, with with no touchdowns.

That touchdown pass he caught Sunday against the St. Louis Rams was Calvin Williams’ first in more than a year for Philadelphia, a span of 22 games. Before that, he had averaged one touchdown catch every two games. The sudden decline of Williams and Fred Barnett can be tied to the changing in the Eagles’ offensive styles, from run-and-gun to stop-and-think. . . . But how about that Eagles’ defense, ranked second in the league and traveling to Dallas on Monday night? William Fuller? Kurt Gouveia? William Thomas? Andy Harmon? “You look at us on paper, we aren’t that good,” linebacker coach Joe Vitt said. “We’re too small. Too slow. But these guys hustle as well as any team I’ve had in 17 years.”

Former first-round pick Trent Dilfer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in five weeks, since that little seven-yard toss to Alvin Harper that got Harper so excited he was thrown out of the game. Now we know why.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

QUICK KICKS

* NOW STARTING, AT LEFT BAIL BONDSMAN . . . : On their flight to Seattle last week, the San Diego Chargers were informed that police were waiting to serve a warrant on linebacker Lewis Bush for an alleged driving offense four years ago when he played at Washington State.

His scheduled bail was $3,000, and suddenly the team was faced with losing its inside linebacker for the weekend.

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Not to worry. He simply passed a hat through the back of the plane, collected the money and handed it to the police upon arrival.

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* BOO HOO: On Halloween night, Pittsburgh safety Darren Perry stubbed his toe climbing into bed, causing a wound that required four stitches and one missed practice.

*

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* QUOTE OF THE WEEK: When backup quarterback Randall Cunningham took off his jacket in the third quarter last week after Philadelphia Eagle starter Rodney Peete was momentarily knocked down, a fan in the 400 level at Veterans Stadium yelled:

“Sit down, Randall. You’re making me nervous.”

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* LIGHTLY BUTTERED LINEMAN: Eric Swann, the Arizona Cardinals’ all-world defensive tackle and potential free agent, said he would like to play in his former home of Denver for one major reason.

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“It’s one of the few places in the United States where you can basically wake up in the morning and have a milkman deliver milk, eggs, toast or whatever you’d want to order,” he said.

Toast?

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* SAY WHAT? When asked why he tried to return to the NFL after being cut from the Carolina Panthers, running back Barry Foster said, “I thought I wanted to hear the cheers from a crowded stadium.”

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So he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals?

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* MURDERERS’ ROW: Here’s the San Francisco 49er fullback lineup now that William Floyd is out for the season:

Jamal Willis, a rookie with no fullback experience.

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Adam Walker, wearing a cast to protect a broken thumb.

Brian O’Neal, no carries in the NFL.

Who says the salary cap doesn’t promote parity?

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* THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW: In his first appearance with the Green Bay Packers, tight end Keith Jackson fell without being tackled after his first catch, then dropped a pass in the end zone.

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* NICE AWARD: Earlier this week, Denver Bronco receiver Mike Pritchard was arrested for investigation of vehicular assault and driving while impaired after an auto accident that caused injuries to two 20-year-old women.

Just over 24 hours later, Pritchard was a candidate for Denver’s nominee as NFL “Man of the Year,” which eventually went to defensive end Simon Fletcher.

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This is the same contest that named Warren Moon as its 1989 NFL winner.


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