By In Stuff

Morten

Morten Andersen just became the second kicker inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Here’s the piece I wrote about him in The Kansas City Star 15 years ago. As far as I know, his son Sebastian did not actually become a kicker.

* * *

There’s another one. Can you believe that? Another Andersen. His name is Sebastian. He’s almost 3. And he kicks footballs. All day long. All over the parking lot. For a while he kicked left-footed. Then, he started kicking with his right foot. Now, his daddy’s trying to get him to kick left-footed again. Whatever, the little man kicks.

“Another Morten,” his mother, Jennifer, says shaking her head.

Do you know what this means? It means there will probably be an Andersen kicking in the NFL for the next 50 years. Maybe the next 100. There will be Andersens kicking field goals when first downs are measured by lasers and NFL teams play in Australia and the goalposts swing open and shut, like the clown’s mouth at the miniature golf course.

Heck, Morten Andersen himself probably will still be kicking then.

“Of course Sebastian’s kicking footballs,” Morten’s American father Dale Baker says. “With Morten as his daddy, what chance did he have?”

Right off, we should explain the whole American father thing. Morten Andersen grew up in Denmark. His mother, Hanne, taught school, his father Erik, worked with handicapped children, and his twin brother, Jakob, was the calm one. Morten was the wild child. Had to get into everything. He played soccer. He played team handball. He was into gymnastics. He played squash. He studied languages. He used to race the family car. He wanted to see the whole wide world.

He came to America at 17 as a foreign-exchange student. He lived in Indianapolis with the people he calls his American parents, Dale and Jean Baker. He sends Jean flowers every Mother’s Day. They changed his life. They took him to see his very first American football game. That was 25 years ago.

And that game led to one of the most extraordinary careers in pro football history, a 20-year NFL odyssey through the South, in and out of Metropolis, and finally into the American heartland. He has been honored and cut and named one of New Orleans’ 10 most eligible bachelors. He released a song, kicked his team to a Super Bowl, owned restaurants and kicked three long field goals in a game against the team that claimed he was washed up.

He has made 481 field goals, one less than Gary Anderson for the most ever.

Since 1990, he has missed twice from inside 30 yards.

And now, at age 42, he’s having perhaps his best year ever. He has made 17 of 18 kicks this year – that despite a painful pulled hamstring. He made a 50-yarder, his 40th from 50 and beyond, an NFL record. He connected on his 30th game-winning kick. That’s another NFL record. Pointless, actually to mention Morten Andersen’s records. Before he’s done, he’ll have every one of them.

If he ever finishes.

“I want to kick until I’m 50,” he says, as he has said before. “Why not? I think that’s a realistic goal. I know myself.”

He smiles.

“I think I know how to do this kicking thing,” he says.

* * *

In memory, Morten Andersen kicked a 50-yard field goal the very first time he tried. Well, not Morten’s memory. He doesn’t really remember the specifics. But everybody else does. When Morten came to America, he had put on his information card that he loved football. So, on the day he arrived – Morten’s 17th birthday – Dale Baker took Morten to a high school football jamboree.

And Morten had absolutely no idea what was going on.

“I didn’t realize that when he wrote football, he meant soccer,” Dale says. “We didn’t know much about soccer back then.”

“All I really remember from watching that football game,” Morten says, “is looking at the center and thinking, ‘I really don’t want to be him.’ “

The next day, Dale – who was the school’s assistant principal – took Morten to football practice, just to introduce him around. Next thing anybody knew, Morten was kicking field goals. And that day is legendary in Indianapolis.

“He was kicking 50-yarders right away,” Dale says. “Absolutely. I remember that like it was yesterday. The other kids were in awe.”

“I don’t quite remember that,” Morten says. “Maybe. I know I made some kicks. That was a long time ago.”

However it happened, he became the kicker at Ben Davis High. Within weeks, he was getting letters from colleges. What a whirlwind. One minute, he’s a kid from Denmark trying to figure out what’s going on in this big, new country. The next, he’s visiting Michigan State.

No matter how Morten tried to explain it, he could never quite convey to his parents back home that there were colleges offering to pay his way if he just kicked an oblong-shaped ball through these goalposts.

He could never even explain to his parents what goalposts were.

“That was hard,” he says. “They were asking me, ‘What do you mean you’re not coming home?’ But … “

But he had to explore. That’s just what Morten Andersen’s about. His recruiting essentially came down to two schools – Michigan State and Purdue. He chose Michigan State, but on the evening before signing day, near midnight, a Purdue coach called and told Dale that he had heard Michigan State was going to sign another top high school kicker. Dale knocked on Morten’s door and told him that.

Morten shrugged and turned over in bed.

“OK,” Morten said. “I’ll just beat him out.”

“That’s our Morten,” Dale says.

* * *

Morten Andersen waited by the phone. He knew he was going to get taken pretty high in the NFL draft. He was a phenomenon at Michigan State. He kicked a 63-yard field goal in a game. He kicked a 73-yarder in practice. He knew someone was going to call. But there was no way for him to know just what words would kick off his remarkable NFL career.

“Morten Andersen?” New Orleans Saints coach Bum Phillips said on the phone.

“Yes.”

“I hope you like country music and Budweiser.”

And Morten Andersen smiled big. “Yes I do, Coach,” he says.

What a ride. How about going to New Orleans when you’re 22 years old, rich, handsome and ready to live? Andersen never figured it would last. That first preseason, he missed nine of 12 field goals. Then, his first kickoff was a touchback, but a St. Louis Cardinals player named Randy Love – “His name was Love,” Andersen says shaking his head – charged him, Andersen tried to get away, twisted his ankle, was out for two months.

That was his first kick in the NFL.

And right then, the NFL strike hit.

“I thought, ‘Wow, all this voodoo stuff they talk about down here is real,’ ” Andersen says.

What a way to begin. Before long, though, he would become a New Orleans treasure, the most beloved sports star in town. He made eight of his first 11 kicks from 50 yards and beyond. Unprecedented. He was the best player on the lousy teams at first, and then he was the guy making game-winning field goals all the time when the Saints started to win.

But it was more that that. He showed up at every charity function in town. He dated tennis star Anne White, perhaps best known for the all-white bodysuit she wore at Wimbledon one year. He posed for a poster wearing short shorts.

Every night was a party.

“I was single,” he says sheepishly. “And we did some crazy stuff. I wanted to enjoy all of it. And I did.”

When New Orleans dumped him one day before training camp in 1995, the whole town was in an uproar. The Saints said he couldn’t kick the long ball anymore. Later that year, as member of the Atlanta Falcons, he banged three field goals from longer than 50 yards against the New Orleans Saints. And in New Orleans, fans cheered. It’s not often that a man can have a moment like that.

“That,” Andersen says, even now, “was sweet.”

He has seen the best side of pro football. He kicked the field goal that sent Atlanta to the Super Bowl. And he has seen the lousy side, too. In 2001, he received a package from Atlanta owner Rankin Smith with the new Falcons media guide. In it, he saw a picture of himself kicking that Super Bowl-launching field goal.

Underneath it were these words: “Thanks for the memories, Morten.”

And that’s how he found out he was cut.

“No calls,” he says. “No nothing.”

In there was a note from Smith saying, “I promise I won’t lose your phone number.”

“What does that mean anyway?” Andersen says.

He knows exactly what that means. It means “Sayonara.” This is a tough business. Andersen went to New York, beat out two other kickers in a kick-off, and then had a good year, including a game-winner at Giants Stadium. Another thrill. Then, the Giants people told him they didn’t have the money to keep him. Some life. At least they told him face to face.

“I can understand that,” he says. “I’m a big boy.”

That’s when he came to Kansas City. His first game was part of one of the wildest finishes in NFL history. He kicked a 30-yard field goal with no time on the clock, clinching the 40-39 victory over Cleveland. And, with that, Morten Andersen was home.

“This is a great team to be a part of,” he says. “I’ve really grown to love it here.”

OK, let’s give you a few Morten Andersen numbers. His NFL field goals have traveled more than 10 miles. He has kicked game-winning field goals in 13 different cities. He is one for two from 60 yards out.

Twice, he has made 25 field goals in a row. He has made 672 of 681 extra points in his career, which translates to an astounding 99 percent. That means his extra points are about the surest thing in pro sports. He has scored in 294 straight games, which isn’t just the all-time record, it’s more than one hundred games better than Jim Breech, who is second on the list.

Ask him about all that, he shrugs. That’s what happens when you play 20 years. Andersen doesn’t like to complicate matters. It’s one kick at a time. His motto: “When the kick leaves the foot, it leaves the mind.”

That means no worrying, no fussing. It all comes down to a good snap (“Kendall Gammon is automatic,” he says), a good hold (punter Dan Stryzinski was Andersen’s holder in Atlanta, too), good protection (“Those guys on the other side want to turn me into a Danish Pastry”) and a good kick. That’s all. When he was at Michigan State, his old coach Muddy Watters used to tell him, “Way to boot that one. You had your foot in just the right place.”

Muddy didn’t know a darned thing about kicking.

But he was right.

“Don’t think about too much,” Andersen says. “Just kick the ball.”

* * *

His routine is as polished as a Broadway Show. He waits for the Chiefs to get to the 50-yard line. Then he begins. Breathing exercises. Visualization. A few kicks into the net.

And when he walks on the field, he comes in behind the football so he can see everything. Take it all in. When he gets to the ball, he steps off his steps, sets up and just swings his leg through, exactly as he has 10,000 times before. There’s a calmness – that’s the interesting part. He doesn’t get nervous. He knows he’s going to make the kick. It’s like a plumber who knows he’s going to fix the garbage disposal, or a doctor who knows she’s going to remove the appendix.

It’s bigger than confidence. He just knows. He’s made so many before.

“Teams always seem interested in getting young kickers with huge legs,” Andersen says. “But in kicking, there’s no substitute for experience.”

Even when he misses, he knows. Earlier this year, he missed a 41-yard field goal that might have put away Denver. It was his only miss of the season. After that, people tried to get him to discuss the kick: “Did you catch it solid?” “Were you surprised it didn’t go in?” “Did the injury affect you?”

And he gave the exact reply you would expect from a 42-year-old kicker who was making field goals when the Police was still a band, and E.T. was phoning home.

“C’est la vie,” he said. “We go on.”

You ask Morten Andersen why he wants to kick until he’s 50. Lots of people think he can. The guy’s a marvel. Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil says, “The guy will probably make field goals when he’s my age.”

But why? Andersen will tell you “Why not?” It’s a good point. He’s making good money. He’s playing a sport he loves. He loves being a part of a team. And, what the heck, he’s still darned good at it. Why not?

“Age is relative,” he says. “If Michael Jordan scores 50, nobody talks about his age anymore, do they? It doesn’t matter how old you are. All that matters is, ‘Can you do it?’ I believe I can still perform at a high level.”

But you know there’s something more to it. Andersen is, at heart, an adventurer. He loves new challenges. He loves new experiences. He has played golf at Augusta National and tennis at Wimbledon. He has traveled all over. He still thinks about moving back to Europe someday. Maybe Denmark. Maybe somewhere else. “I really consider myself a citizen of the world,” he says.

So, we go back to the question: Why kick?

Then, he starts to talk about his son. Sebastian.

“He knows,” Andersen says. “He knows what his daddy does. He comes to the games, and he understands a little bit.”

With that, Morten’s face lights up. He’s done everything in football, sure. He’s kicked in Pro Bowls and Super Bowls, in half-filled Domes and a packed Rose Bowl, in two feet of snow and in mind-melting heat, through six presidential elections and 11 different Olympics, through the rise and fall and rise and fall of John Travolta.

But now, it’s different. He married Jennifer five years ago. They have a 3-year-old son who loves to kick a football. He’s happier than he’s ever been in his life. It all feels new again.

“I would like my child to know what his dad has been doing for a living all these years,” he says. “I want him to know what I do when I go to work. I’ve been able to live a very unique life. I want him to a part of that.”

So, you bet he’s still kicking. And you know what, Morten Andersen may go past 50. Way past 50. There’s no telling how long a man can keep kicking with his son cheering in the stands.

 

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13 Responses to Morten

  1. MikeN says:

    So is this the one that missed and kept the Vikings from the Super Bowl(giving Elway a win), or the one that missed and let the Jaguars in the playoffs, denying Elway a Super Bowl?

    • Josh says:

      It’s not that Anderson (for the Vikings). That was Gary Anderson.

      • Mark Garbowski says:

        Josh is correct, but for maximum confusion Morten was playing for the Falcons that day against Gary and the Vikings, and Morten kicked the winning FG in overtime.

        • MikeN says:

          I always get them confused. Morten did miss a 30 yard field goal that put Jacksonville in the playoffs, who then went on to beat Denver. I don’t think anyone expected NE to beat Denver that year.

  2. Robert Witmer says:

    Morten Andersen is the third kicker to make the Hall of Fame, though he is the second place kicker. First, there was Jan Stenerud; and then, Ray Guy. Who’s next? I’d guess Shane Lechler or Adam Vinatieri. It depends on who retires first.

  3. Dr. Diamond says:

    Jan Stenerud WAS the best kicker in football in his day. And Morten Andersen WAS the best in his day.

    But today, EVERY kicker in the NFL is great. In fact, EVERY kicker in the league is a lot better than Andersen and was way better than Stenerud. And yet, that probably works against any current kicker reaching the Hall of Fame. When everyone is brilliant, nobody stands out. Justin Tucker may be the greatest kicker of all time, but he doesn’t stand out from the crowd as Stenerud once did.

    As for punters, well, we have can odd situation: Ray Guy is the only punter in the Hall of Fame, but he definitely is not the best punter of all time. And really, he wasn’t head and shoulders above the other leading punters of the Seventies or Eighties. His numbers weren’t notably better than those of Chiefs punter Jerrel Wilson, and MANY punters (from Rich Camarillo to Shane Lechler) have put up better numbers since Guy retired.

    It’s arguable whether any punter belongs in Canton, and doubtful whether Ray Guy is the worthiness.

    • Patrick says:

      Morten Andersen, Hall of Famer: 79.69% success rate on FGs
      Blair Walsh, recently cut by the Vikings: 84.2% success rate on FGs

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Adam Vinitiari will make it, largely because of his two Super Bowl winning field goals. I think you make a good point otherwise. A kicker would really need to something like Vinitiari did to stand out. Maybe kick a 65 yarder to win the Super Bowl or something like that. It’s amazing that kickers are expected to routinely make 50+ yard field goals. When I was growing up, a 40 yarder was considered pretty good. Oddly enough, though, moving the extra point back seems to have created some issue for these kickers.

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