Just picture it. The movie opens like this:
You hear the thumps of a foot hitting the pigskin a few times. But then, as the movie fades in, you don’t see some hot shot kid on campus, but rather a 45-year old veteran practicing at a local park. He’s 20-months removed from his NFL career, and refuses to let go.
As the little leaguers arrive to that same park, the kicker is met with strange looks by both the young players and their parents. Whether it was simply because of his age or his mis-matched uniform, there was noticeable scrutiny in their eyes. He is forced to defer the field to the local baseball team. While he waits for another opportunity on the field, he pleads with the grounds crew, asking if they can cut the grass a little shorter.
He patiently waits through the baseball game for another opportunity to get in more practice. The echo of discouraging comments from NFL teams, analysts, and even some of his own friends, play in the background as he gets back on the field after the hiatus.
Cue the title shot.
Life of a Saint: Morten Andersen
When Morten Andersen retired, the list of records he held was longer than his money-making left leg. A combination of raw talent, a relentless pursuit of greatness, and inconceivable longevity erased a lot of others’ names from the record books, replacing them with his own. And while he enjoyed all the awards, accolades and special moments, he would be the first to tell you, “They don’t hand you those big moments. You have to earn those. That makes it even more special.”
Act 1: Foreign Exchange
Morten Andersen was born in Denmark in 1960 and spent the first 17 years of his life there, and he grew up like many other kids of yesteryear. “You were out playing the whole day. You’d come in when it’s dark or when you got hungry. Just being with friends and if there was a ball involved, we were good”, Andersen recalled. He then jested, “Of course, later on, when we got interested in the girls, that changed a little bit and time was used differently. Ball was still important, but less.”
As the son of Hanne (a teacher/librarian) and Erik (psychologist) Andersen, academics were always important to both Morten and his twin brother, Jakob. Andersen’s parents stressed scholastics, but also focused on exposing their boys to foreign languages, cultures and food. Andersen shared, “Once a week, we would have an exotic food night. We would have to try something. Could be snails; could be anything. ‘What is this? I don’t want to eat this.’”
The exposure to foreign living took an even more practical turn as Morten Andersen approached his 17th birthday. Andersen, a promising team handball and soccer player in Denmark, was headed to the United States for what he thought was a relatively brief time. “It was important to go and try something else for 10 months. That was the intent – go to the U.S. for 10 months, learn the language, immerse yourself in the American culture and live with an American family.”
While his parents encouraged him to make the round trip, fate would keep him in the States. “I don’t think what any of us had accounted for was the fact that I fell in love with the country and the American Dream”, Andersen said. He continued, “At the end of the day, if you have talent and will and you want to work for it, this is the country to be in. You can go for your dreams and make it happen. I’m a living, breathing example of that.”
Act 2: Michigan State
Andersen arrived in Indianapolis and settled in with his exchange family, the Bakers. Now settled under the roof of a high school vice principal and an elementary school teacher, and living among kids with a focus on sports, Andersen felt right at home. Football, however, was something new to the Denmark native.
“The high school team needed a kicker and they didn’t have a soccer program, which is really what I wanted to play. They didn’t have one so that eliminated that possibility. The next thing was, ‘Well, try this.’ So, I tried that, and it worked out pretty well.” After an obligatory probationary amount of practices that was standard to all foreign exchange students, Andersen had earned himself a roster spot as the kicker of the Ben Davis High School Giants.
“I had to get used to the new shape of the ball since it wasn’t round. I also had to get used to 11 guys coming at me, snorting, screaming and spitting. I had to get used to the equipment”, Andersen stated. He put his efforts into mastering his new role as quickly as possible. “One thing I knew, I had the discipline from my sports back home. I knew that part. I knew how to practice. Once I made up my mind, that was it. I was focused on that. The studying was secondary because I had already graduated high school in Denmark. It was like an extra year.” With the tutelage of his new coach, Bob Wilbur, it didn’t take long for Andersen to gain national attention.
While the physical nature of the game came to Anderson quickly, the mental side was a little tougher. “I think the toughest part about kicking, for me, was all the down time, the sideline time, the free time that you had. Putting that sideline routine into a disciplined kind of approach where your mind didn’t wander and you were like, ‘Oh S**t. Now I’ve got to go perform.’”
Andersen obviously figured it all out and eventually accepted an offer to go to become a Michigan State Spartan. Danish kicker and current Spartan, Hans Nielson, played a big part in the recruiting process. Andersen explained, “He had grown up in a Danish town about an hour and a half from my Danish town. I didn’t know him from back home, but when I found out there was a Danish college kicker coming to recruit me, I got very excited because we could speak the language. When I went on my official visit to Michigan State, he hosted me. I mean, they weren’t dumb.”
Aside from enjoying the “college experience” in East Lansing, Andersen was able to leave college with an incredible career and some lasting memories. Whether it was sharing the field with the likes of Eddie Smith and Kirk Gibson, being a Big Ten leading scorer or setting the active record for the longest field goal in Big Ten history (63 yards), Andersen cherishes his time at Michigan State. But if he had to pick his favorite moment, “Beating Michigan, in Ann Arbor, 24-15, and I had an important field goal.”
Spoken like a true Spartan.
Act 3: Heading to the NFL
As the best kicker in the nation, Andersen expected to get drafted, but had no idea where he would go in the then 12-round draft. “I just didn’t know I was gonna get drafted by the Saints. That was a surprise. I never had any conversation with them. I had a lot of conversations with Gil Brandt in Dallas. I had a lot of conversations with the Midwest teams like the Bears and Detroit. But a lot of conversations with Dallas.”
Andersen, on getting drafted by the Saints then laughed as he said, “But New Orleans, I had to look on a map and say, ‘Where the hell is New Orleans?’ I had heard of Louis Armstrong and jazz, but it almost seemed like a foreign country to me.”
He now knew where the next city he would call home was. He also knew the team to which he was headed. Andersen honestly shared, “The Saints were terrible. I think the year before I got there, they were wearing paper bags on their heads when they were 1-15. And the fans were calling themselves the ‘Aints’. I wasn’t really thrilled about that part.”
Thankfully, Andersen walked into a situation where he was playing for a coaching staff who believed in him and stuck with him, not unlike his days with Coach Wilbur back in Ben Davis High School. “Bum Phillips was great. And my coach, Harold Richardson, there were a lot of guys that took me under their wing. They told me what to do, what to expect, and what they expected from me. Bum was great that way. He made it very comfortable. It wasn’t a very good first year for me. I got hurt on the opening kickoff and I had a bad pre-season. I have to credit Bum for sticking with me. He could have easily given up on me.”
With a less-than-stellar recent history of poor-performing place kickers in New Orleans, Andersen stated that they could have just moved on from him and looked for the next guy, but didn’t: “I thought I might be gone before I had a chance to show them that I could do anything. But ’83 was a breakout year for me. I had three game-winners that year. I think they realized, ‘That’s why we drafted the guy.’ Then we were off and running.”
Act 4: Wholesale Changes in New Orleans
When asked what it was like transitioning from a head coach like Bum Phillips to the new arrival in Jim Mora, Andersen offered, “That’s like eating a cupcake and now you have to eat liverwurst.” He followed that with his infectious Morten Andersen laugh.
“We went from a country club to boot camp. It was absolutely brutal because the ownership changed too. And John Mecom was fantastic. He spent money on the players. We had a really good training camp down in Vero Beach, great food, seafood. We worked, but it was relaxed; it was fun. That changed with Jim Mora. It was not fun with Jim Mora because we hadn’t had the results.” The changes weren’t easy for Andersen and his teammates, but with those changes came a change in culture that brought success the franchise had never seen before. Mora, along with new owner Tom Benson and new GM Jim Finks turned the franchise upside down and expectations were higher than ever before.
Andersen, and the Saints, were achieving new levels of success. Andersen would go on to be a Pro Bowler in four consecutive seasons (1985-88). Meanwhile, the Saints front office had put together a formidable team.
“I think the Saints won more games over a 5-year stretch than any other team in the NFL. We just didn’t win in the playoffs. That’s what was the shame of it, because we were really good. We had four great linebackers in Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson and Vaughan Johnson. They called them the ‘Dome Patrol.’ They were bad asses. They were great. Bobby Hebert was our quarterback for a long time. We were great on defense. We ball-controlled. We possessed the ball on offense. We didn’t turn the ball over. And we kicked a lot of field goals. We had a very good kicking game and very good return game. You can’t knock the way Jim did it”, Andersen said. He continued, “I was glad to be part of it. They used me as a weapon. I was used a lot. I was showcased, in many ways. It was unusual for a kicker to get that much action, but they trusted me for the long balls and the big kicks. That was my heyday for sure.”
Like many other players, Andersen’s fondest memories of his time in New Orleans revolve around the time with his teammates. Whether it was horsing around with Bobby Hebert in the locker room (who happened to have been born on the same exact day as Andersen), going out to dinner in the stretch Lincoln Continental, or going to see jazz with the guys, the group was more than just a “bunch of guys that worked together.”
One specific memory came to mind for Andersen: “New Year’s Eve when we beat the Rams was cool. We won on a field goal. The game was over around 10 or 11:00 and we rushed down to the French Quarter and made it just in time to see midnight.”
Act 5: Making Memories with a Rival
“[The Saints] released me for cap reasons. They wanted to cut my salary 40%. I was making a million dollars and they had a guy named Chet Franklin, who was their salary cap guy. He felt that kickers can’t make a million dollars.”
And just like that, Andersen was gone following the 1994 season after 13 years of service in the Big Easy. Just as painful as that fact, he signed the next day with the rival Atlanta Falcons. “It’s not the way the exit strategy was planned, but my hand was kind of forced.”
It goes without saying that Andersen was eager to prove that the Saints had made a mistake in letting him go. “It was said that I was a declining player and I couldn’t hit the long ball anymore in ’94 and ’95. And I hadn’t had a great year in ’94, but I was still under contract. I certainly was not a declining player, which I proved in ’95 when I became an All-Pro again and hit 8 over 50. I also hit three in a game against the Saints.”
Andersen continued his career with six years in Atlanta (1995-00), one year in New York with the Giants (2001), two years in Kansas City (2002-03) and one year in Minnesota (2004). He would go on to inch within 76 points of the NFL’s all-time scoring record. But as Andersen approached the 2005 season, he sat without a team as he celebrated his 45th birthday that August.
Act 6: The Defining Moment
During the 20 months that Andersen waited for the phone to ring, looking for an opportunity to finish his quest to become the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, he was unwilling to listen to anyone who doubted his destiny. While his family was completely behind him, he did have people in his life that thought he should let go.
“There were friends that absolutely thought I was a lunatic and that it was over. Imagine almost two years and the phone doesn’t ring. You go through a full season. You’re ready and the phone doesn’t ring. Nothing happens. Then you go into the second season. Now you haven’t played since ’04. You’re now in ’06 and three games in.”
But in retrospect, Andersen summed up his uncompromising choice like this: “There are defining moment in your life. It’s all about how you handle them. That’s God’s cruel joke on us. When we’re young, we don’t have the perspective and wisdom to know what the hell to do with them. We just blaze right through them. We may even miss them. We may be standing at the train station and the train goes right by us and we don’t get on. That’s the cruel joke of being young and immature and impulsive. With age comes levity and wisdom. I didn’t know it would be 20 months at the time. I thought it would be a few months and the phone would ring. That’s when your character and will is tested. I’m not a spring chicken. I’m 45 years old. That’s ancient. Basically, guys have been retired for a while in the NFL. But I’m 77 points away from the NFL scoring record. There were incentives. There were carrots out there. There were things out to go get. There were reasons why I should continue. The most important is finishing on my terms. Most guys don’t get to do it on their terms. The motivator for me was, again, to prove to everyone that I wasn’t finished. I wasn’t too old to play at the highest level. And the legacy had to be that I wanted to be the leading scorer in the game. That was important to me. That was a motivator for those 20 months in that public park.”
Andersen has told the story of watching the Falcons game during week two of the 2006 season, seeing Michael Koenen have an 0-for-4 kicking performance and then stating, “I’m switching to water.”
Andersen did stay ready, and after 20 long months, got the call. “The phone finally does ring and you’re ready. But what if you had not been grinding for 20 months in a public park? Then that train leaves the station and you’re on the platform. That’s the lesson. That’s the takeaway for me. Whatever is worth chasing, you chase it 100% until it’s absolutely exhausted and empty.”
Finally, on December 16, 2006, against the Dallas Cowboys, Morten Andersen achieved his goal and became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer.
Act 7: Celebrating a Career
“They stopped the game. I get the ball. I gave my jersey to my kid who, at the time, was seven or eight years old. No front teeth. Sebastian gets my jersey and my wife was there and my father-in-law and everybody. Come on. It’s storybook s**t. But it’s not given to you. They don’t hand you those big moments. You have to earn those. That makes it even more special. Because of the grind. Because of the ‘suck’. I talk about the ‘world of suck’ a lot, when your back is against the wall. My back was against the wall for 20 months. I was immersed in the ‘world of suck.’ I was probably not real fun to live with for those 20 months. I was probably an a—hole, selfish, self-absorbed, needy and closed in a little bit, focused.”
Andersen finished out that 2006 season with the Falcons and called it a career.
On August 5, 2017, Andersen was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In true Morten Andersen fashion, his speech was willed with a great combination of laughs, reflection, gratitude and inspiration. Regarding his speech, Andersen was proud to offer, “I wrote it myself.”
While Andersen was thrilled to become just the second kicker in NFL history to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, he sees a need to have more specialists join him in Canton. Off the top of his head, Andersen mentioned names like Jason Hanson, Gary Anderson, Nick Lowery, Eddie Murray, Sean Landeta, Shane Lechler, Jeff Feagles, John Carney, Jason Elam and Steve Tasker as deserving. But if he had to pick one guy, he would choose Adam Vinatieri.
“It’s Adam, based on his big kicks in the Super Bowls, playing in New England in bad weather, making huge kicks in the snow, his longevity and consistency over a long period of time.” Andersen also mentioned that, despite Vinatieri ultimately breaking his scoring record, there will never be animosity toward him - only respect. “Adam Vinatieri breaks my scoring record and I had it for 14-15 years. There’s no shame in that game. He earned it. He went and got it. Whoever breaks Adam’s record will have earned it, big time. Because he will have to play 26 or 27 years.”
Act 8: A New Focus
Andersen has taken his magnetic personality and paired with Tommy “Freeze Pops” Carroll to put together a new podcast called the “Great Dane Nation” as part of his partnership with VegasInsider.com. The focus is on three main components:
In the first segment, Andersen interviews an NFL legend and gets some behind the scenes content, stories that you may have never heard before. Some of his guests this season include Archie Manning, Terrell Davis, Franco Harris, Jim Kelly, Trent Green, Cris Carter, and Dick Butkus. Plans are to have one NFL legend join the Podcast every week during the regular season. Andersen and Carroll are still working on a plan for the post-season.
In the second segment, Tommy Carroll speaks with a VegasInsider.com expert to go over the current NFL schedule, betting lines, and trends.
The final segment is the “Morten Andersen’s Game Winner” part of the podcast. “It’s basically a 3-minute riff: monologue on the guest, takeaways from the show.”
Andersen is really excited about the podcast and has bigger visions for the platform. “I’d like to branch out and have guys like Bill Murray on - different guests, but still with a sports angle. I’d just like to make it broader in scope. This year, we are staying with NFL legends. Then we’ll talk every year about how we branch it out and how we build it.”
Andersen, and his wife Jennifer, also continue to use their time to do charitable work through the Morten Andersen Family Foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to affect positive change among children and youth locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
“I created a separate event called, ‘Special Teams for Special Ops.’ It’s a dinner-auction with a golf component at my local country club every year. We raise about $200,000 for Special Ops guys. We have Special Ops guys there. We do a big blow out. 120 golfers, high end event with certified Angus beef, whom I have been an ambassador for several years now. We raise money for these guys, the SEALs, the Marines, the Rangers. It’s through an organization called, “Operation: One Voice’, which is a local Atlanta [nonprofit].”
While Andersen may not be suiting up in the New York Giants pants, Falcons jersey, Saints pants, Pro Bowl socks, and Ken Stabler shoulder pads of yesteryear, make no mistake about it: Andersen continues to plow through life with the same uncompromising desire to make the important things in his life great. He continues to battle through the “world of suck” and block out the negative noise.
And the next time Andersen is standing on the platform and a defining moment arrives, you can fully expect he’ll be on that train.
Roll end credits.
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