Morten Andersen loves football. It’s hard to dispute that after the Copenhagen native spent over two decades in the NFL (including a single-season with the New York Giants in 2001), a tenure that ended with Andersen becoming only the second placekicker elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Speaking with ESM via Zoom, Andersen looked back on an illustrious NFL career, fondly recalling how the love of football has gone international. The Michigan State alum became a source of Danish pride at the turn of the century when his 38-yard overtime field goal at the end of the 1999 NFC Championship Game in Minnesota sent the Atlanta Falcons to their first Super Bowl. When Andersen returned home sometime later, his fellow countrymen were more than happy to express their appreciation of a mini-Danish invasion of American football.
That kick not only earned Andersen a trip to the Super Bowl but also free drinks upon visiting a local cafe/bar in the city of Horsens after a speaking engagement. The Crown Prince of Denmark later invited Andersen to Amalienborg Palace after his induction into Canton.
“People knew there was a guy from Denmark playing football, but it was like ‘eh, that’s cute, that’s quirky, that’s a sport we don’t know (anything) about,” Andersen said. “But when I made that kick, the national pride swelled. ‘That’s one of ours, that’s our guy, that’s our Morten, red and white rocks, Danish dynamite!'”
The game certainly looks different than it did when Andersen, who reached the NFL’s all-decade teams twice (1980s/1990s), was in his prime. Changes go far beyond his familiar kicking territory of adjusting the positions of both kickoffs and extra points.
Each of those relatively recent updates has already become an essential part of the gridiron lexicon. Andersen is now interested where football goes on its continued path of change, one that has seen the NFL insert itself into national conversations about systemic racism and injustice.
“The overarching statement from me would be that kindness, love, and tolerance wins the day all the time,” Andersen said when discussing the NFL’s decision to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, commonly referred to as the “Black national anthem” prior to games this season. “I think this is a matter of everyone in the world taking a good, transparent look at themselves and where they are as human beings.”
Promoting such a message prompted Andersen to think of The Beatles, one of his favorite rock bands. A noted music fan, Andersen feels like the concepts could be flow if one saw the world through an artist’s eyes. He has some experience in the pop genre, briefly exchanging his kicking tee for a microphone in 1985 when he and fellow New Orleans Saints specialist Brian Hansen wrote and performed the single “Take It To The Top“.
“Music, to me, it’s something that crosses all races. You just don’t feel the divide, to me anyway, in the music business,” Andersen explained. “There’s no much going on across all genres, all races, all beliefs. The common denominator here is the love of music, the call of music.”
“I’m not trying to make light of what’s going on the world, I’m just talking philosophically. If you take a page from the world of music, and music-making, there’s a tremendous amount of collaboration going on. Keith Richards, for example, he had his roots in blues and jazz. He was a big fan of reggae. He lived in Jamaica for a long time, he was part of that culture. So you get your influences in music from lots of different people. People who are successful had to start somewhere. That collaboration, I think, is a really great motivator for the world right now.”
Andersen is also looking forward to what the new collective bargaining agreement has to offer. Set to turn 60 in August, Andersen admitted he was most focused on the new pension benefits for retired players. Other new innovations include a higher share of league revenue for active participants and an expanded playoff field.
Now, the question becomes whether we will actually see the 2020 season come to fruition. Andersen commented on the current health crisis by remarking that he “can’t see” fans in the stands “in the beginning” But he’s hopeful that international developments, such as European soccer, can serve as a blueprint and inspiration to carve a path to football in the fall.
Even as a kicker, a position that probably hears the most toxicity from fans no matter how little his time on the field may be, Andersen would prefer to see stands filled…on a safe, healthy basis, of course.
“I feed off that energy. I think all guys would like a full stadium. Nobody likes to play in front of an empty stadium, that’s not ideal, that’s not we’re looking for,” he said. “But that would be the sensitive thing to do initially.”
“Let’s play ball in a safe manner if we can. When the curve says we can bring people back, let’s bring people back.”
Andersen, the former leading scorer in the NFL, spoke with ESM about his specialist exploits and the role sports can play upon its return.
Morten Andersen achieved a lot over a football that lasted nearly 30 years. He was denied a Super Bowl ring, but his ledger features nearly everything else a kicker can accomplish at the professional level.
Among the accolades are a pair of All-Decade Team nominations, six All-Pro invites, seven more to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, and two All-American nods during his early 1980s college days at Michigan State. To date, no player has appeared in more NFL games than Andersen. He formerly held the record for the most points in NFL history, though Adam Vinatieri stole that one away in October 2018. Andersen nonetheless beat Vinatieri to the Hall of Fame. His Hall call made him the second placekicker to enter Canton’s hallowed gates.
Even in retirement, Andersen, who spent the 2001 season with the New York Giants, is still updating his resume. He was recently informed by friends and family that he emerged as an answer on the game show Jeopardy!. The Copenhagen native was told he was part of a category labeled “Great Danes”.
“I was one of the answers…it was cool,” the Hall-of-Famer says with a laugh. “My phone blew up about a month ago. I don’t watch Jeopardy! on the regular, but my friends apparently do. They took screenshots and told me, ‘dude, you’re on Jeopardy! right now.”
Newfound syndicated glory was just one of the many topics Andersen covered in an exclusive sit-down with ESM…
Q: What do you recall about your time with the 2001 New York Giants, who played their games in the midst of September 11’s aftermath?
A: It was a weird time with 9/11. I had literally just won the job from Brad Daluiso at the very beginning of the season. I had one preseason game against Baltimore. The following week, we opened the season in Denver on Monday Night Football September 10. Of course, the next day, all hell broke loose and we all know what happened then. So it was a weird time. My wife and two-year son Sebastian was supposed to come down on that Tuesday to look for a house. I was just staying in a hotel at the time and everything got locked down.
It was a very powerful time to be a Giant, to understand how sports really, eventually, galvanizes people, really pulls people together. I think New Yorkers, people were searching some sense of normalcy. I think, in some way, that fell on us to provide that peace after so much devastation.
That was great to be a part of. We had some great characters like Michael Strahan, Tiki Barber, Kerry Collins. We had a good football team. It was the year after the Giants lost to Baltimore in the Super Bowl. I enjoyed (head coach) Jim Fassel, I really enjoyed the big stage. I think that’s one thing I take away from the New York Football Giants, besides really great ownership with (Wellington) Mara and (Steve) Tisch, was the fact that it was the biggest stage in the world. We were practicing in East Rutherford, looking over at Manhattan going ‘holy crap…this is a big as it gets’.
Q: On the theme of sports being a great normalizer, do you think they can play a similar role when this current crisis ends?
A: Yes, I think there are a lot of parallels. Right now, it seems like there’s a lot of doom and gloom. It feels like an entertainment cemetery, where it’s a desert. There’s nothing out there to engage us in a normal fashion. We actually have to think about what to do every day now. It can become a bit of a Groundhog Day situation.
I think sports will bring everybody together and signal to us that things are back to normal. We can follow our favorite teams again. We can now make a friendly wager with our buddies, we can get out there and engage again, get to social media and start bantering, restart your fantasy football leagues, all those things that signal that we’re back to business as usual.
That’s what I hope happens. I think (sports) are going to come back more strong than they were before. I think people now, in these months where this void has been hemming, I think we’re all realizing, if you’re a sports fan anyway, how much you miss it, how much you miss that daily interaction. Not only with your buddies, but with your favorite team, following your favorite players, and engaging not only on social media, but just watching the games. Interacting with families, with the barbecues, with all the getting together.
All of these things are Americana we’re missing right now. It hurts. We’re suffering, I feel. (But) I feel that we’ll be back to it.
Q: With the lack of live sports, have you partaken in the airing of classic games…like the 1999 NFC title game?
A: That was a huge game! The Falcons recently streamed it through their social media services. I think it was well-viewed. I’m not sure how many, but it was a significant number. That was a huge moment for me and for the team, because it was the first time we were able to go to the Super Bowl.
I also saw the Saints-Falcons game after (Hurricane) Katrina a couple of weeks ago. That was my first game in a public park after 20 months unemployed. I had been out of football for 20 months and that was my game back with the Falcons against my old team, the Saints.
If there’s one thing that’s interesting through this coronavirus time, it’s that we get to see these historic games, these old games, some of which I was a part of. It kind of dates me! But we get to see other great players, some of the Niners games, the Giants games, it’s been fun to watch some of the games from the 80s, from the 90s. Some of the games you forgot who played. You can sit back and, if you want to TiVo it, you can fast forward through the slow time. It’s cool, it’s a good idea. They’re doing it in all the sports. I’ve been watching replays of the Rio Olympics, which is fun to watch. I love the Olympics. Old Masters highlights. I’ve always watched a three-hour Seve Ballesteros documentary. His whole story is fascinating to me.
Q: As a European native, how can the NFL continue to increase its footprint in the continent in a constructive way?
A: They’re doing it right now with GamePass and their partners. GamePass is significant because of the way the younger generation engages and watches sports. I’m 59, so I’m a linear media guy. I like to watch television. Give me a big screen, high-def with surround sound all day long. My kids, on the other hand, are 15 and 20 years old. They don’t engage that way. They’re on their platforms. They’re on their phones, their iPads, and that’s how they get their news, entertainment, and sports, which is not the way I grew up.
Having a team in, say, London would be a huge step forward. Getting a European team somewhere where you can still play games in the US would be a challenge, but having a viable NFL franchise in London would be a huge step.
When you travel from New York to San Diego, it’s a six-hour flight. London’s also a shorter flight than, say, Miami to Seattle. So, you have the time zone, it’s a five-hour difference. The NFL’s smart, so there’s a way to stage games where you two away games, two home games, where the (London) team wouldn’t fly back-and-forth, but ‘stay’.
I would love to see it. I loved NFL Europe. I actually did some games for Fox for about a month. I stayed in Amsterdam, following the Admirals. I also did a Hamburg game, a Cologne game. I thought that league was great. A lot of great players, Kurt Warner, Adam Vinatieri, James Harrison, came out of it. You can go on, and on, and on about the talent that was given the opportunity that they otherwise would’ve never had.
Q: Could the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas move to Las Vegas help, particularly be attracting British tourists?
A: I think it’s going to be great and sold out every single game. The Raiders were stuck in Oakland and the deal with the city could not be worked out for the stadium. Every stadium now needs luxury suites, large LED screens, amenities, parking and a general positive feeling about playing or spectating – and I don’t think you had that in Oakland.
“It was authentic for the fans and the Raiders are an iconic franchise with an iconic logo. But the truth is it was a small stadium in a bad neighborhood. Half of the pitch was dirt, half of grass. You could only put 50,000 people in there and it wasn’t sold out at all when I played there.
Vegas is going to be much more dynamic, they already had a huge store in the airport when I went through there in October. You’re going to a global city now from a commercial standpoint so it’ll be an amazing opportunity for the Raiders to grow their fanbase with all the Brits and Europeans coming in.
Q: In current NFL affairs, how the Patriots go about replacing Tom Brady?
A: I didn’t see Tampa coming at all, it’s a head-scratcher I think he has a place in Florida, but it really surprised me. I thought it was going to be the Chargers in their new stadium or the Raiders, although I knew Tom didn’t deep down want to go to Vegas. It’s too flashy for him.
“While he’s not the player he once was, this whole thing shows that the sport is a business. That you can be the greatest quarterback of all time, without question, and you still don’t get to finish the team you won all those Super Bowls with – it is mind-boggling to me. It’s not about the money, he doesn’t need the $30m that’s for sure!
“Belichick and Kraft must have told him that they wanted to go younger and cheaper in the QB position. And Tom knows his skills have diminished, he is 42 and time stops for no one. Maybe he thought change is good, even at the end of his career.
Maybe Tua Tagovailoa falls to them in the draft, but there are 32 teams, with many needing a good quarterback. I don’t think Cam Newton or Jameis Winston is fitting in with Belichick. Joe Flacco got cut and is out there so he may be a good option and he might get a look if they go for the experience they are known for. But there may just not be enough free agent quality so they will have to start over and hope Belichick continues his knack for developing young guys.
The Patriots will still be good, but they won’t be the same old Pats any more. While they’re in a bad division with the mediocre Dolphins and the terrible Jets, I think the Bills may win the division this year. But every team has to rebuild at some point and the Pats have been at the top for so long.
Q: How Brady can rejuvenate the Buccaneers and be a mentor to some great young players?
A: I think this move can rejuvenate Brady…not that he needs it, he is in good shape. But it’s just that different environment. Remember, Tampa has some really good receivers which Brady can unlock.
You also have the notion that Jameis Winston, who is still really young, could improve if Brady came in. He could really impart some wisdom on how to be a good pro if he wanted to, as long as they don’t ship Winston off to New England!
Same goes for Mike Evans. He and Winston still need to mature especially with some off-the-field stuff, and Brady could help them to do that as a father figure and bring an air of professionalism to the whole franchise.
I’m not sure Brady makes the Bucs contenders, given the Saints are in their division, and they are better than Tampa even with Brady there. A lot of people think Brady is washed up and doesn’t have the mobility anymore. He also has to learn with a totally new team. But for me, he can only be a positive influence.
Q: What were your thoughts on the DeAndre Hopkins trade?
A: I am lost for words. The Texans have just wholesaled their squad and, in trading DeAndre Hopkins, must have done one of the stupidest pieces of business in NFL history, it’s crazy.
Take the Stefan Diggs trade from the Vikings to the Bills. The Vikings got way more for their player who is nowhere near as good as Hopkins compared to what the Texans got. It’s ludicrous.
This could get Bill O’Brien fired down there. Everybody is going ‘what is this guy thinking?’ They’ve traded away their best player for a second-round pick. It defies all logic, unless it was a personality issue…although I’ve never heard a bad word said about DeAndre Hopkins who is meant to be a great team player.
Of the big free agent moves recently, including Brady and Rivers, for me, Hopkins will make the biggest impact by his absence in Houston. He is easily one of the top three receivers in the league and he will be a difference-maker.