- What shape is that ball?
The first time the blonde-haired kid from Denmark saw a football he was 17 and just two days removed from flying to Indianapolis, Indiana for what was intended to be a 10-month stint as an exchange student. He paused, and took a second look. “Ah, man, the ball is not round,” he remembers thinking at his tryout. He looked around for help. Ben Davis head football coach Bob Wilbur came up to the newcomer and whispered, “Just kick the shit out of it, and if you don’t, I’m sending you back on the boat.”
Andersen sent his first kick through the uprights, or, “those white things,” and immediately gained a roster’s worth of new friends. Not to mention an inside track on a hobby that would send him to Michigan State and a 25-year career in the NFL.
- The Big Easy
Andersen bonded with the city of New Orleans more than any during his time in the pros. Drafted No. 86 overall in the fourth round in 1982, he spent his first 13 seasons with the Saints and appreciates the lessons shared by his first head coach, “Bum” Phillips. “Bum cared about his players,” Andersen says. “In meetings, he’d talk about life, how to be a good guy, how to help others. He taught me the value of giving back to the community.” As expected, he called New Orleans Saints fans the most loyal and passionate of all NFL fans, and acknowledged he’d always be a Saint.
- Call me, maybe?
Andersen finished his 23rd season 76 points shy of the NFL’s all-time scoring mark, at the time held by fellow place-kicker Gary Anderson—with an “o” not an “e.” But 20 months passed without an opportunity to beat that record. He still trained, dawning New York Giants practice pants, an Atlanta Falcons practice jersey, and a New Orleans Saints helmet at a park with his trainer where he kicked four times each week as long as Little League teams didn’t need the space. Andersen says friends questioned his sanity, but during the 2006 NFL season, a bad game by a Falcons’ kicker led to a try out for Andersen. “There I was,” he remembers, “46 years old in Flowery Branch facing four flat bellies half my age.” He aimed for the orange stripe in the middle of the net behind the goal posts and got the job. He later broke Anderson’s record.
- A lefty and a righty
There are just two true place-kickers in the Hall of Fame—Andersen and Norway-born Jan Stenerud. Andersen made sure to recognize Stenerud just before acknowledging his family. “Jan, you set the standard, and it was high,” Andersen said. “All specialists owe you a debt of gratitude for your unselfish trailblazing.”
Europeans sure know how to kick.
- Love and all
Andersen recognized the impact his family had on him. He thanked his parents for raising him as they did, highlighted his wife for her love and support, and challenged his kids to persevere while giving to others as he did. But while recognizing his wife, he thanked her in a way only kickers could. “I know I out-kicked the coverage when I met you.”
Read a transcript of his full speech here.