|Copenhagen native and 22 year veteran Morten Andersen is still kicking
after all these years.
by David Zingler
Photos by Tom Dahlin & Bryan Singer
anuary 17, 1999 is a day that lives forever in infamy with Vikings fans. With just over five minutes remaining in overtime of the
NFC Championship Game, Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen stepped onto the Metrodome turf and nailed a 38 yard field goal
that ended the Vikings 15-1 dream season with a resounding thud. To this day, neither the team, nor its fans, has fully recovered.
"It was exciting because it put us in the Super Bowl," Andersen, now a Viking, said of the kick nearly six years later.
"From that standpoint it was probably the biggest one, but it certainly wasn’t the toughest kick I’ve ever made.
It was the one that had the biggest impact on a single team that I’ve been a part of."
Andersen points to that
moment as the highlight of his long, decorated career, but says that none of his new teammates have mentioned it to him as
of yet. "It’s not something we need to rehash," he pointed out.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark
in 1960, Andersen grew up in nearby Stuer. Unlike in the United States, neither Andersen, nor his childhood playmates, had
dreams of NFL glory. "Nothing. I didn’t know a thing," the veteran kicker responded when asked how aware he was of the
NFL growing up. "I played soccer and team handball, was involved in gymnastics, but I knew nothing of the National Football
Andersen came to the United States in 1977 as an exchange student. While attending Ben Davis High School
in Indianapolis as a senior, he began his kicking career almost by accident. "The high school football team needed a kicker
and asked me to try out and I did," he explained. "I really enjoyed doing it; became pretty proficient fairly quickly, so
they kept me around."
After just one high school season, the exchange student received several scholarship offers before eventually deciding on
Michigan State University. While at East Lansing, Andersen continued to hone his skills, culminating in a 1st team All-American
selection as a senior.
A 4th round selection by the Saints in 1982, Andersen spent 13 years in New Orleans earning
Pro Bowl honors six times. In 1995, the veteran signed a free agent contract with Atlanta, where in six seasons, he appeared
in a Pro Bowl and helped the Falcons win a conference title.
From there, the Danish native signed with the New York
Giants in 2001 and, after one season, caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. He would spend the next two campaigns in Kansas
City before losing his job to the younger Lawrence Tynes in training camp this past summer. The Vikings, in desperate need
of some consistency in the kicking game, quickly snapped the seven-time Pro Bowler off the waiver wire.
learning of his release, Andersen said retirement never entered his mind. "I wouldn’t have had to necessarily retire,
I could always try again next year," he commented. "My goal is to play some more years. (Retirement) was never really an option
that I seriously considered. I thought I had enough game to be able to go with another team right away, and that turned out
to be true."
While he is roughly two decades older than many of his current teammates, Andersen says the generational
gap isn’t an issue. "I don’t think I’ve had a problem bridging it and I certainly don’t think my teammates
feel that as well," the 44-year-old said. "When I come into a locker room, I just try to fit in and I try to make a difference
in a positive way, try to lead, and try to keep the locker room nice and relaxed so that we can go out and have fun on Sunday
Because each began their career in 1982, have enjoyed remarkable longevity, played
pivotal roles in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, rank first and second on the NFL’s all time scoring list, and have
similar surnames; Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen will forever be linked in NFL history.
"I’ve known him throughout
my years of playing, obviously, and we have a professional relationship," Andersen said of Gary Anderson. "We don’t
socialize much, but it’s been very friendly and cordial."
As all Vikings fans are painfully aware of, it was
Gary Anderson that missed a 38 yard field goal that would have given the Vikings a 10 point lead in the closing minutes of
the 1998 NFC title game. While Morten Andersen ended up being the hero in overtime, he also understood what his counterpart
was going through. "I felt terrible for Gary because I’ve been on that side, not in a situation like that, but I’ve
been in a situation where I haven’t come through at the end of a game," Andersen explained. "It’s a nasty feeling.
I thought Gary handled it with class."
Gary Anderson, now with the Tennessee Titans, is currently the NFL’s
all time leading scorer, while Morten Andersen ranks a close second. "(The record) is not something I think about very much,"
Andersen commented. "I’m sure Gary is like I am—more concerned about doing what he can to help the team win."
A MISUNDERSTOOD SCIENCE
Throughout football history, the kicking position has been at best misunderstood and at
worst, degraded. Some so-called experts do not consider kickers to be "real" football players. John Madden, for instance,
has never named a kicker to his annual "All Madden" team.
Andersen however, takes a diplomatic approach to the subject,
"I think (kicking) has sometimes been taken for granted a little bit because guys are getting very good, very proficient at
it," he commented. "The kicking position can be the difference in a game. You’ve got to have someone that’s solid
in there and I’m glad I’m one of them."
In fact, the position may be the most unique in all of sports,
but Andersen offered an interesting comparison. "Kicking is a little bit like a golf swing," the veteran explained. "Of course,
you’re not dealing with the grip or the club or things like that, but I think the swing rhythm and having to keep your
head still, compare a little bit to golf."
Currently there is just one full-time kicker in the Pro Football Hall of
Fame, Jan Stenerud. While Andersen will warrant consideration when he does finally decide to retire, don’t expect to
see him openly campaigning for induction. "That’s not for me to judge," the NFL’s all time leader in games played
said. "I just try to put a consistent career together, I try to play at a high level and then I’ll let people who judge
those things make their judgment one day, and we’ll see."
Expect Andersen, who hopes to kick until age 50, to
take a low key approach to life when his playing days end, "I don’t specifically have anything that I am going to jump
right into," he said when asked about his post career plans. "I am a father and husband, so I will be spending some time with
my family. I am going to take a little time off, and I am sure there will be opportunities for me."