The Denver Broncos called Matt Prater’s number with three seconds left before halftime and he was the last to notice.
He raced onto the field, just in time to notice that he was going to be given the chance to kick his way into NFL history, with a 64-yard field-goal attempt in the game against the Tennessee Titans in Denver.
“I was clueless,” Prater told the Denver Post. “I didn’t know he [Coach John Fox] was going to call for the field goal. I didn’t know the kick would be from where it was. I think it helped me to get out there late. Because I had to rush out there, I didn’t have much time to think about it.”
Prater’s kick was true — and it broke one of the NFL’s most stubbornly enduring records, one held by Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski and David Akers.
Dempsey, who was born with only part of his right foot, was the first with his 63-yarder in 1970, using a square-toed shoe. Until Sunday, no one could break that mark.
Dempsey, 66, is now battling dementia, like so many other football players. Over his career, he and his wife told the New York Times in January that he had several concussions because “he liked to hit people,” his wife said. For 43 years, the record he set stood, a magical figure that, Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers told Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated, “has been out there for so long, it almost defines strategy. Like coaches are thinking, ‘Someone made a 63, so that’s about as far as we should try.’”
It became increasingly inevitable that it would fall.
“It’s like the four-minute mile—it’s just been sitting out there,” Jason Hanson told Layden. “A few guys have gotten to it; nobody has gone beyond. But it’s not insurmountable. That 63 is going to fall.”