Living with 63 yards -- and beyond

Jason Elam played 17 seasons in the NFL, 15 with the Denver Broncos.

Besides playing for two Super Bowl-winning teams and assembling a Hall of Fame-worthy résumé he's a successful novelist ("Inside Threat," his fourth book, will be released in April). These days Elam, his wife and five kids live in Alaska. When he's not hunting, he pilots planeloads of sightseers into the wilderness.

On Oct. 25, 1998 in Denver's old Mile High Stadium, Elam entered the NFL record books alongside Tom Dempsey, the New Orleans Saints kicker who was the first to connect on a 63-yard field goal. Dempsey's kick beat the visiting Detroit Lions 19-17 as the final gun sounded, and for that reason Elam regards Dempsey with a special respect.

"That's a pretty incredible thing that he did, at that time of the game," said Elam, who recalls meeting Dempsey twice at card show appearances. "Mine was at kind of a fun time, his was for the game."

In 1970, the Saints were a fledgling team desperate for a win by any means necessary. Dempsey's kick 40 years ago made New Orleans 2-5-1 at the time; the Saints finished that season 2-11-1.

Elam's record-tying kick came with four seconds left in the first half of a game against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars. Denver led 24-10 at the time and then-coach Mike Shanahan, eager to see whether a week's worth of goading Elam to hit long field goals in practice would pay dividends, offered his kicker a chance to end the half in memorable fashion.

As he did often during his career, Elam delivered.

"I hit that about as good as I could hit the ball. I guess that was my prime, though they never really told me when my prime was," said Elam, chuckling. He retired in March 2010 ranked fifth in NFL history in both field goals made (436) and points scored (1,983).

As extraordinary as his kick was, Elam believes there are several booters capable of eclipsing the 63-yard mark.

"Well, I think the biggest thing is getting the opportunity," Elam said. "I've always maintained, especially today, that there are lots of talented guys capable. But you're only going to get a chance to do it right before the half or maybe the end of the game. Those opportunities don't come along that often."

In today's NFL, Elam believes Sebastian Janikowski, Matt Prater, Neil Rackers and Olindo Mare are prime candidates to eclipse 63 yards. He believes kickers who perform mainly in cold weather climates might be capable but probably will not get the chance because of conditions. Elam's kick came on a mild day in October.

Elam was on the Invesco Field sidelines in August 2002 when Broncos rookie Ola Kimrin -- Elam's competition for the starting job -- hit a 65-yarder field goal in the first half of a preseason game against the visiting Seattle Seahawks. Kimrin was celebrated then -- "some friends were in Bulgaria and they called me to tell me that CNN was showing it as the 'Play Of The Day.'" But because his kick happened in the preseason, the NFL does not recognize it as a record. On top of that snub, Denver waived Kimrin shortly afterward and kept Elam -- to no one's shock.

Remarkably, Kimrin's 65-yard boot was his first NFL field-goal attempt, official or otherwise. The former NFL Europe booter wonders why the official records won't give him his due.

"It's not like I'm bitter or anything," said Kimrin, who now lives in his native Sweden after his NFL career ended when he was waived by the Miami Dolphins in 2006. "It's a real game to me. There are 22 guys on the field, 70,000 people in the stands, and being the guy who's trying to make the team, there's more pressure in preseason than in the real season."

Converting from 75 yards, just for fun

Elam and Kimrin each claim to have hit field goals from as far away as 75 yards in practices. Still, Elam believes that when the current NFL record falls, it might be by a relative whisker.

"There's a big, big difference between 63 and 70 yards," Elam said. "I would have to say, if somebody was able to hit 64, 65, 66 yards, that would stand probably for many years. I'd be shocked if somebody hit it from 70.

"There's only so much a human body can do propelling a piece of leather through the air with your leg."

Just as some speculated that Dempsey had some sort of an advantage by virtue of wearing a special shoe to accommodate his toe-free right foot, skeptics have wondered whether Elam, Kimrin and any other kicker benefits from kicking a mile above sea level in Denver.

Kimrin answered that when he was challenged during a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys.

A special teams coach smirked at Kimrin's achievement, given the supposed beneficial aspects of kicking in Denver's thin air.

"Sixty-five yards? It's Denver. It's like 55 yards here," the coach sniffed.

Kimrin proceeded to make multiple practice kicks of more than 60 yards each on the Cowboys' practice field.

After Kimrin converted from 68 yards, he told the coach, "'That's enough about kicking in Denver.' He never brought it up again."

Despite having a powerful leg, Kimrin -- who longs for another tryout -- had a short official NFL career. He was an emergency replacement kicker for the Washington Redskins in 2004.

Making the big kick, regardless of distance, is the hallmark of a successful NFL specialist. Dempsey only converted about 62 percent of his career field-goal attempts, but he had multiple gamewinners. He also once accounted for all the of Philadelphia Eagles' points in an 18-17 victory over the Houston Oilers. He parlayed his unique right foot into a 10-year career and eternal fame.

Likewise, Elam made the most of his knack for clutch kicking.

"I wanted to be the guy who makes the 33-yard field goal with 2 seconds to go. I didn't want to hit the 70-yarder [but] missed the 25-yarder," said Elam, who connected on 81 percent of his career field-goal attempts.

Dempsey and Elam are happy to share the notoriety.

Elam does not care to debate whether Dempsey had some sort of advantage with the stub-toed shoe for the Saints kicker's unique right foot.

Elam An advantage? I don't know, I've never walked in his shoes. It could have easily been a disadvantage. … More power to him.

-- Jason Elam on Tom Dempsey, who kicked with a special shoe that the NFL eventually banned

"An advantage? I don't know, I've never walked in his shoes. It could have easily been a disadvantage," said Elam, who owns the NFL record for most seasons scoring 100 or more points (16). "He had a gift and talent for kicking the ball. More power to him."

Dempsey told ESPN's Seth Wickersham how he felt about Elam tying his record in 1998. If and when the 63-yarder is eclipsed in an NFL regular-season game, Dempsey will embrace the moment.

"The part that I think that aggravated me the most is when Jason Elam tied the record. I had 50 sportswriters in America call me and every one of them wanted me to bad mouth Jason Elam because he kicked it in Denver," Dempsey recalled.

"And I told them, I said, 'Guys, it's not where, it's the effort it took to do it, that is what you respect.' He made a hell of a kick, so I respect what he did and records are made to be broken. I had to break someone's record, Bert Rechichar [56 yards, 1953, for the Baltimore Colts]. I broke his record and he came down to New Orleans to congratulate me.

"So that is what you should do. You respect whatever it took to do it."

Sheldon Spencer is an NFL editor at ESPN.com.