Looking back: Morten Andersen loyal to Falcons and Saints

Former Falcons kicker Morten Andersen is introduced during a game against the Cardinals on Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
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Former Falcons kicker Morten Andersen is introduced during a game against the Cardinals on Nov. 30, 2014, in Atlanta. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

What he did: Morten Andersen, who will always have a place in the heart of Atlanta Falcons fans despite being a legendary New Orleans Saints player, was in Canton, Ohio, last weekend for the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies. A finalist for the second year to get a bronze bust, the league's all-time leading scorer was there for former Chiefs teammate Will Shields. Andersen will have to wait at least another year for enshrinement.

“There’s a cue at the door,’’ said Andersen on his chances of getting in. “Do I deserve it? You look at my numbers and draw a conclusion.’’

Though there are only three field-goal kickers in the Hall (George Blanda, Lou Groza and Jan Stenerud), with Stenerud being the only full-time kicker, Andersen most certainly will get the call some day. In 25 years, he played in more games than any (382) in the history of the game and scored 2,544 points and just so happens to be 110 points in front of another Anderson, who spells his name differently and goes by the name of Gary. Eerily, the two have a lot in common, but more on that later.

Andersen was raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, graduated high school there as a soccer, track and gymnastic star but was sent to the U.S. on an exchange program, where he got an extra year of high school in Indianapolis. Ben Davis High School didn’t have a soccer team, so he went out for football and quickly became the team’s kicker. Suddenly, colleges began approaching him, including Michigan State’s then graduating senior kicker Hans Nielsen, who came to visit him.

He signed with the Spartans and kicked in 44 games, scoring 261 points, including kicking what is still a Big Ten-record 63-yard field goal against Ohio State. He was named All-American his senior season after making 15 of 20 field-goal attempts and all but one of 29 extra-point chances.

The Saints took him in the fourth round in the 1982 NFL draft, and he played for coach Bum Phillips. But on his first kickoff during the strike-shortened season, he was running away from a blocker and tore ligaments in his foot. He missed eight weeks, but it would not be long before the kicker they called “The Great Dane’’ would become one of the league’s best. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection in New Orleans and played 13 seasons there. He finished having made 309 of 389 field goals.

But after the 1994 season, the salary cap came into play in the NFL, and Andersen, then making $1 million, was asked to take a $400,000 pay cut. He refused and signed with the Falcons, who were in a similar situation at the time with the very accurate Norm Johnson, who was one of the best kickers the Falcons ever had, but left for Pittsburgh.

Andersen made the Pro Bowl his first year in Atlanta, in ’95, making 31 of 37 field-goal attempts. Then during the ’98 season, he made the most memorable kick in Falcons history when he nailed a 39-yarder in overtime to defeat the Vikings in the NFC Championship game in Minnesota.

He stayed with the Falcons until after the 2000 season, going to the Giants for one season, the Chiefs for two and the Vikings for one before finishing his career with the Falcons. In a 2006 game with the Falcons against Dallas, he became the all-time leading NFL scorer when he passed Gary Anderson with his 2,435th point as well as passing him to become the all-time leader in field goals made (539 at the time).

Andersen and Anderson actually had a lot of similarities. Gary also was born outside the United States, in South Africa, and their careers are almost identical. Morten made 565 of 709 field goals while Gary made 538 of 672. Morten missed only 10 extra points (859 attempts) while Gary missed seven (827 attempts).

Their careers collided head-on in that memorable NFC Championship game, when Morten was the hero and Gary the goat, missing a 38-yard field-goal attempt with barely two minutes remaining which would have put the game away for Minnesota.

Andersen thought about trying to beat Blanda’s record for being the oldest player to play in the NFL. Blanda retired when he was 48 but after the 2007 season, Andersen, then 47, did not receive any offers and retired. In his last NFL season, he made 25 of 28 field goals, which was the most accurate season of his career.

He is the only player to hold statistical franchise records for two NFL teams, the Falcons and the Saints. With the Falcons he made 184 of 224 field attempts and 254 of 256 extra points.

He also played in an NFL-record 248 consecutive games for kickers and also one of six kickers who made three 50-yard field goals in one game, which he did in Atlanta against the Saints in 1995. One last interesting note came in the season opener in the 2006 season. He traveled with the Falcons to play the Saints for the first time after the Superdome had been shut down for a season because of Hurricane Katrina. He scored the Falcons’ only points with a first-quarter field goal.

This season, Andersen will be inducted into the Saints’ Ring of Honor.

Where he lives: He turns 55 on Wednesday and lives on Lake Lanier with his family. He has been married to Jennifer for 18 years and they have two sons, Sebastian, who is a linebacker at Lanier High School, and Aiden.

What he does now: He started Morten Andersen Global in 2008, a business-to-business consulting company, is a band ambassador and does a lot of public speaking. But he is most proud of his family foundation, out of which was born Special Teams for Special Ops. They raise money to support critically wounded Special Operations Soldiers and the families of the fallen.

On coming to the U.S. as an exchange student: "It's funny, but because I was coming here, my mom and dad felt they should take an exchange student from the States. So they had a kid from Denver. I had a great time and really had no interest in playing football, but my high school didn't have a soccer team. We had a big school, around 3,000 students and had a good team. I went Michigan State because Hans Nielsen, who was from Denmark, came down and visited me and felt if he could kick at State then I could. He was going into graduate school and was very confident about me being able to be successful there. He was right.''

On playing in East Lansing: "We won the Big Ten my freshman year, and I learned how to kick in front of 76,000 fans. I took full advantage of my college experience. I went back to school a few years later after I left and graduated, majoring in German and communications. I also minored in French and marketing. I still have a lot of deep connections there and are going to take my two boys to the Oregon State game this season.''

On his first season in New Orleans: "It was tough. We were playing the Chiefs, and I kicked the ball off and it went through the end zone. But I don't think their man up front, Randy Love, realized that the whistle had blown and he came chasing after me. I was trying to survive and went running and my ankle snapped and tore some ligaments. But the next year I had a couple of big kicks and things really got going for me. I also spent a lot of time writing down all my kicks and where they were from and how they finished. That helped throughout my career as I could always go back and look and see how I did from different yardages and in different stadiums.''

On leaving the Saints: "That was at the beginning of the salary cap, and no one really understood how to handle it. They didn't want to pay me a million dollars and really thought that no one else would pick me up. They were wrong and I went to the Falcons, which really had the same situation that New Orleans did. Norm Johnson was making like 90 percent of his kicks. But I knew (Falcons offensive coordinator) Frank Gansz, and he liked my mental toughness and pushed it through. I really liked Atlanta. I had a great time. I really had a ball.''

On breaking the NFL scoring record in Atlanta: "The game was on in Denmark and it was morning, and I know they were celebrating. We lost the game to Dallas, which bothered me because winning the game was always the first goal, but looking back it was something I never thought I would do. Gary had the record, and he had set an incredible bar.''

On Gary Anderson: "I don't know him very well. I used to see him at some kicker reunions. I have tremendous respect for Gary and his career. He did it the right way. When I was at Michigan State, he was at Syracuse, and I have a photo taken with him in 2004 when I was with the Vikings and he was with the Titans. A photo of two old farts.''

On the rivalry between the Saints and Falcons: "It has always been one of the best, and it was interesting playing in both uniforms. I love both towns. I like going back to New Orleans and my home is here.''

On his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame: "I was just up there and when you play in the league 25 years you either played with them, against them or they coached you. I have been a finalist for the last two years, and it would be a huge honor. There are a lot of deserving players, and at the end of the day I hope I get in that room.''