MSU alumnus Morten Andersen received a knock on the door that would lead to a moment the former MSU football kicker would never forget.
The former Spartan football and NFL player received the news he had waited so long for. After numerous attempts, Andersen got the word he would finally be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2017.
“I’m extremely honored and excited to go in with six other men — great at what they did and legendary — and just honored and looking forward to using this tremendous platform to do good work and to celebrate, honor the legends of the game and promote its history, and celebrate excellence,” Andersen said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
Andersen said being able to join a Hall of Fame class highlighted by the likes of Kurt Warner and LaDainian Tomlinson is extremely humbling.
“Yeah, it’s very humbling," he said. "And I chose to look at players and not really positions. I think excellence comes in many forms and different positions. And so, if you’re very good at what you do it should be recognized and acknowledged, and I think that’s what happened in Houston. Regardless of position, they picked seven guys that they felt were worthy of induction, and I’m very fortunate to be one of them.”
As an exchange student, Anderson first arrived to the United States from Denmark when he was 17 years old.
“It was challenging because I didn’t speak the language, really,” Andersen said. “I knew a little bit of English when I came to the states in ‘77. I was only 17 years old, so I didn’t know much about American culture other than what (I’d) seen on film — in the Westerns really, with John Wayne Westerns and spaghetti Westerns and things like that.
“But I think it happened pretty quickly for me. Sports has a beautiful way of allowing you into a group of guys and just being accepted because that’s the common denominator that we’re doing something together here, we’re a part of a team. I think football really helped me that way, and kicking helped me that way. And I was in gymnastics in high school and track, so I was always a part of a group of people who kind of had common interests and that really helped, I think.”
Andersen said what got him started with kicking occurred purely out of coincidence.
“They asked me if I wanted to try out for the high school team,” he said. “They didn’t have a soccer team. I really wanted to play soccer, but they didn’t have a team. So I was like, ‘Well, let me try this. This is the next best thing.’ And they needed a kicker, so I fulfilled the need for the team. I was pretty good at it from the start, and it was fun. It was fun to compete. It was a whole different sport than I’ve ever played, so it was challenging, and it was a new learning experience. I really kind of enjoyed it and immersed myself in it to try to be as good as I could be.”
Life as a Spartan
Andersen’s exceptional and impressive kicking ability in high school led to him to joining the Spartan football team in 1978.
“I loved my time up there as a Spartan — beautiful campus,” Andersen said. “It was just a great university. I still have many ties to the university. I still support them through the Spartan Fund and go back for games. I know the head coach and the athletic director and know the president of the university, and all those things help connect you back to where you graduated from. But it was four great years, informative years, got my degrees there and made lasting friendships.”
Former MSU offensive lineman Mike Densmore, who also blocked for Andersen for several years, said Andersen left him a positive and abiding impression the first day he stepped foot onto the practice field as a Spartan.
“His guide in life was Hans Nielsen,” Densmore said. “And to tell you the truth, when I showed up at Michigan State ... and I thought these guys, there could be nobody any better until I saw Morten Andersen step onto the field at Michigan State. And to tell you the truth, the first practice at Michigan State we went for the field goal unit, and obviously during practice nobody kicked any better than Morten, so the job was his from day one. And he lined up at practice and kicked through a 65-yard field goal at practice the first day.”
This was the day Densmore said he knew the Spartans’ concerns surrounding the kicking position would be resolved.
“That’s one of the key components we were worried about,” Densmore said. “And when I saw, like I said, he showed up, first day when he hit one through from 65 yards, we knew we weren’t going to have problems. And to tell you the truth, I thought right then, there cannot be any guys that kick the ball in this United States any better than Morten Andersen. I really believed that from day one. It was incredible.”
Former MSU quarterback and holder for Andersen John Leister said his role as a kicker didn’t make him more or less important than anyone else.
“He was awesome,” Leister said. “Kickers get portrayed as being different or odd or on the outsides looking in, and he wasn’t. He was just as great as the rest of us, and he wasn’t afraid to mix it up. If anybody had issues, Morten had their back and everybody had his. When we did our evening activities and stuff, he was right there with us. He was a football player. He wasn’t a kicker. He was just Morten, and he was a little crazy, but he was from Denmark and he spoke seven languages, so he’s probably smarter than the rest of us.”
One day in September
On Sept. 19, 1981, the Spartans faced the Ohio State University Buckeyes and it was a day Andersen became etched in the record books.
“He came into the Ohio State game right before the half to kick a 60 some-odd field goal,” Leister said. “Now, I saw him trotting on the field and I thought, ‘What the heck are we doing?’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Can you make this?’ and his response was, ‘Spot it and we’ll see.’ I put it down and he crushed it, made it, and I turned around to give him a hug and he was already running down their sideline with the number one finger up. I’m like, ‘Seriously, Morten? I’m going to pay for that, not you.’ But that’s just the way he was. He thought he could do anything.”
The 63-yard kick is still the longest field in Spartan history, besting Ralf Mojsiejenko’s 61-yard kick.
Despite Andersen’s teammates sensing he would likely have a lengthy and successful career as a kicker, he said he didn’t think he had a chance at playing in the NFL until his junior year at MSU.
“I think my junior year, I had an idea that I might get a shot and make it — at least getting a try, a tryout with a NFL team,” Andersen said. “I didn’t realize I was going to get drafted or anything like that probably until my senior year, which probably happened to be my best year, which was fortunate — fortuitous, if you will. So I really didn’t have great ambitions that I was going to be a pro football player, but as time went and my junior year became my senior year, I started to realize that this may be a real viable possibility for me.”
Andersen concluded his career in East Lansing with 45 field goals and 129 extra points, which rank No. 8 and No. 5, respectively, among MSU’s all-time leaders.
In the 1982 NFL Draft, Andersen was drafted in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints.
“I was ecstatic,” Andersen said. “I lived on a house down Evergreen Street with six other guys. Five of the guys, we had a big party all day and we’d been waiting, and I think the call came around late afternoon. The fourth round for a kicker was really high. I was the very first kicker taken in the draft, so I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to get to work in New Orleans.”
In the NFL
Andersen kicked for five teams during his 25-year NFL career. He spent 13 seasons with the Saints, eight with the Atlanta Falcons, two with the Kansas City Chiefs and one year with both the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.
But Morten’s NFL career got off to a rocky start.
“It didn’t start very well,” he said. “I mean, I got hurt on my very first kickoff. I tore my ligaments in my ankle, and I was injured for eight weeks. We had a player’s strike and that allowed me to get back healthy, so it was a very auspicious start, to say the least. I think really the year that really helped me was ‘82, having the strike and getting healthy again after the injury. And then 1983, I started really playing well and had some game winners, started gaining confidence and momentum. I knew I was going to, at that point I was starting to solidify my position on the team. It’s never a sure thing. You have to prove yourself every year, but when you start making kicks and game winners it’s a good thing. So I knew I had a chance if I kept working, and I was going to have a long career.”
A highlight moment of his NFL career was after the conclusion of the 1998 regular season.
Andersen was kicking for the Falcons when the team advanced to the NFC Championship Game. Facing the Vikings, Andersen sent the Falcons to their first-ever Super Bowl after an attempt at a game-winning kick went through the uprights in overtime.
“It was very gratifying because the team had played well the whole game, and we were actually losing most of the game and were able to come back at the end of the fourth quarter and tie the game and make some huge plays that allowed me to win the game in overtime,” Andersen said. “So many other plays were made during the game. First, that’s just the beauty of a team sport — that everybody had to contribute to the win and everybody did. It was obviously a huge kick and a huge moment for the Falcons, a huge moment for the city and the team.”
The Falcons fell to the Broncos in the Super Bowl, and Andersen said failing to win a Super Bowl during his career is something he regretted he wasn’t able to accomplish.
“That’s the ultimate as a team player, it’s hoisting the Lombardi and calling yourself the best in the business,” Andersen said. “But I don’t have many regrets, I really tried to become as good as I could. I think I fulfilled my potential as best as I could. Could I have done it differently sometimes? Sure. Could I have maybe trained harder sometimes? Maybe, but I feel pretty good about the kind of work that I left out there, and I really don’t have many regrets at all.”
After retiring in 2008, Andersen finished his NFL career as the NFL’s all-time leader in points with 2,544. He also finished with 565 field goals and played in 382 games, which earned him Pro Bowl selection seven times.
When it was announced before Super Bowl LI that Morten Andersen would become a Hall of Famer, it just proved what his teammates at MSU thought all along.
“It’s just awesome that he’s finally recognized for what he is and who he is and what a great guy he is,” Leister said. “We’ve known it all along. It just took folks at the hall a little bit longer to figure out than we did.”
Densmore said it was special to know his first impression of Morten was accurate.
“It feels great to know that what I thought back then was the truth, that I was playing with great players and that we were on a great team, and I did have great teammates and we were champions,” he said. “That part makes me feel whole.”
After multiple years away from competitive football, Andersen said he has been enjoying life away from the gridiron.
“It’s a lot of fun, new challenges and new experiences,” Andersen said. “Trying to do good work out there and try to mentor younger kids and try to raise two young boys to be great men. So it’s a lot of fun. My wife and I started a family foundation. We’re raising money for our Special Ops soldiers and their families, and also for quality of life programs for children’s youth. We’re having a lot of fun with the nonprofit side, and also my event planning business and my public appearances and keynote speeches — lot of fun on the business side of it, so writing books, blogs. So it’s been a busy life, it’s been a very fulfilling life so far.”
As a past student within the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at MSU, Andersen’s desire to become a public figure in the community stemmed from his time in East Lansing.
“Well, I was a communication major at Michigan State, so that’s where I learned the skills from,” he said. “I was in communications and marketing, and also in languages, so spoken word to me has always been very important. I like to write as well, so it’s just a natural extension of all my studies at Michigan State. I’m kind of an outgoing person, so it’s just natural for me. And I feel like I have — you know like most people in life, they have a unique journey, a unique story — and mine is worth telling, I think. So there’s a lot of life lessons within the story I want to share with people.”
Despite enjoying time away from football, Andersen admitted he does reflect on his kicking career frequently.
“I’m probably listening to some tunes when I’m mowing the lawn, but I certainly reflect back on my career once in awhile in quiet moments and feel pretty good about it,” Andersen said. “I’m very grateful for all the people that helped me along the way, and there were thousands of them.”