Death waits for us all, and in an age of pandemic it’s nearer than ever. This weekend we’ve seen it take Tom Dempsey, NFL placekicker, Bobby Mitchell, NFL halfback and wide receiver, and Al Kaline, rightfielder extraordinaire for 22 years with the Detroit Tigers.
Dempsey set the record for longest field goal in NFL history at 63 yards in 1970 when he hit it in the closing seconds of a game against the Lions to give the Saints the win. It held up until Jason Elam of the U of Hawai’i and the Denver Broncos matched it in 1998. It has since been extended to 64 yards by the Broncos’ Matt Prater in 2013. He died from COVID-19.
Dempsey had been battling Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. He was a resident at the Lambeth House senior living center in New Orleans, which has been hit hard by the virus. More than 50 residents have been affected, according to NOLA.com.
Bobby Mitchell, along with Leroy Jackson and John Nisby, were the first black players for the Washington Redskins when they started the 1962 season with the team. George Marshall, the team’s owner, had made it clear he didn’t want black players on his team, but then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle and the Kennedy Administration made it known that he should integrate.
During his first six seasons with the Redskins, he never caught fewer than 58 passes. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection — once as a running back and three times as a wide receiver.
Mitchell, a seventh-round draft pick in 1958, retired in 1969, finishing his 11-year NFL career with 14,078 total yards. He had 91 career touchdowns, including 65 receiving and 18 rushing. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Kaline joined the Tigers directly from high school in 1953. In 1955 he won an AL batting title and finished second to Yogi Berra in the MVP voting. He won the Roberto Clemente Award for sportsmanship, community involvement and contribution to his team in 1973.
Kaline made his lone appearance in a World Series in 1968, on the Tigers team led by pitchers Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Kaline had been sidelined for part of the season with a broken arm, and when he returned he was used mostly as a pinch hitter or first baseman because the outfield trio of Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup was playing well.
When the Tigers clinched the pennant, Kaline went to manager Mayo Smith and told him that he didn’t deserve to start in the World Series. Smith ignored him and played Kaline, who batted .379, hit two home runs and drove in eight as the Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
Kaline was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980, his first year of eligibility.