Morten Andersen was one of the greatest kickers in National Football League history.
Who would’ve thought a 17-year-old from Denmark would embark on a historic 25-year run in the NFL?
Andersen, who earned the nickname “The Great Dane,” quickly made a name for himself in the United States.
The left-footed kicker nailed several historic field goals during his illustrious gridiron career.
Who could ever forget his record-breaking 63-yarder against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the fall of 1981?
Andersen’s game-winning field goal in the 1998 NFC title game propelled the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII almost eighteen years later.
When 47-year-old Morten Andersen hung up his cleats in 2007, he racked up 2,544 career points – the most in league history until the Indianapolis Colts’ Adam Vinatieri surpassed him in October 2018.
Little wonder “The Great Dane” became just the second kicker enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Morten Andersen was born to parents Erik and Hanne in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 19, 1960. He has a twin brother Jakob.
According to NOLA.com’s Jeff Duncan, Andersen spent most of his childhood in the fishing village of Struer.
Both of Andersen’s parents worked in the education sector. His father Erik was a psychologist and educational supervisor.
On the other hand, his mother Hanne was a Danish language and culture teacher and librarian.
Morten became fascinated with soccer at the age of five. He displayed his competitive drive at an early age. According to Sports Illustrated’s Jill Lieber, Andersen regularly raced against the family Peugeot when he was growing up in Denmark.
Andersen tried his hand at track, gymnastics, and handball as he grew older.
Andersen became so good at handball that he was part of Denmark’s championship-winning national team when he was sixteen.
His father Erik, who had never been outside of Denmark when he was younger, encouraged him to explore other cultures.
Consequently, Morten Andersen excelled in various languages: he spoke English, French, German, Latin, Norwegian, and Swedish when he was still in his teens.
Little wonder Andersen told Sports Illustrated’s Stephen Thomas in December 1995 that he would have been a translator had he not become a football player.
Andersen traveled to the United States as a cultural exchange student after he graduated tenth grade in Denmark.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) August 5, 2017
The Youth for Understanding program assigned him to Ben Davis High School in Indiana. He lived with Dale and Jean Baker and their family in Indianapolis.
The Bakers taught Andersen about the American way of life – Disney World, peanut butter, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, among other things, per Lieber.
Andersen set foot on American soil on his seventeenth birthday – August 19, 1977.
The Baker family took him to a local high school football scrimmage that same evening.
The sight of a quarterback licking his fingers and barking commands to his teammates before taking the snap made Morten Andersen cringe.
He told his adopted family he didn’t want to play quarterback.
Andersen tagged along with Dale and his son Roger to football practice the following morning.
Ben Davis Giants head football coach Bob Wilbur implored Andersen to kick the football between the two uprights.
“Coach Wilbur came over and whispered to me, ‘Just kick the s–t out of it,'” Andersen said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech some 40 years later. “And if you don’t, I’m sending you back on the boat.”
Andersen, who wore his soccer cleats, kicked extra points from distances between 25 and 50 yards.
To Wilbur’s astonishment, Andersen nailed most of them.
A future Pro Football Hall of Fame placekicker was officially born in America’s heartland.
“Having grown up playing soccer, handball, and doing gymnastics, American football was not on my radar screen,” Andersen said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 2017. “I knew nothing about the sport, but that would change.”
Gridiron football drastically changed Morten Andersen’s life forever.
Andersen eventually made the Giants roster and made five of seven field goals during their state semifinal run in 1977.
Andersen told Duncan that the sight of 10,000 people screaming in the stands floored him – it was a far cry from 20 fans watching a soccer game or 100 people watching a handball game in Denmark.
Andersen’s exceptional performance on the gridiron earned rave reviews from the Purdue Boilermakers and Michigan State Spartans – both programs dangled a scholarship to him.
Andersen chose Michigan State because another Danish player, senior kicker Hans Nielsen, was on the squad.
The Michigan State coaching staff treated Andersen for pizza the day before National Signing Day.
Happy 60th birthday to my great friend, Morten Andersen. At the end of his remarkable career in 2007, @GreatDane2544 held 20 individual NFL records. Not bad for the former soccer player from Denmark who took up kicking in high school on a whim. pic.twitter.com/MR56bvCKDp
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 19, 2020
The turning point in Morten Andersen’s gridiron career didn’t come easy for his mother Hanne.
He called her up and told her he was staying in the United States for another four years – it eventually became much longer than that.
“The plan initially was so stay here ten months, then go back home, finish college, continue with sports and live in Denmark,” Andersen told NOLA.com in 2017. “But fate had a whole different idea for me, and I embraced it.”
Morten Andersen spent the next four years of his life in Lansing, MI where he embarked on a memorable college football career with the Michigan State Spartans.
College Football Days With The Michigan State Spartans
Morten Andersen attended Michigan State University from 1978 to 1981. He was a double major in communications and German.
Kirk Gibson – a future Major League Baseball star known for his walk-off home run against Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series – was one of Andersen’s Spartans teammates.
When Morten Andersen and Hans Nielsen – the two Spartans kickers from Denmark – weren’t on the football field, they went bar-hopping drinking Carlsberg beer, per Sports Illustrated.
Nielsen told Lieber in 1987 that he considered his compatriot Andersen a brother.
Andersen started his college football career on a strong note. He scored a team-high 73 points to help the Spartans win eight of eleven games in 1978.
Despite Michigan State’s impressive 8-3 win-loss record, the Spartans didn’t play in a bowl game for the thirteenth straight season.
Andersen earned consecutive Second-Team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore and junior after scoring a combined 115 points in two seasons.
Andersen cherished the Spartans’ 24-15 win over their in-state and conference rivals, the Michigan Wolverines, before a crowd of 103,152 fans at Michigan Stadium in his junior campaign.
Andersen nailed a 57-yard field goal to help the Spartans beat the Wolverines.
Andersen grew close to Howard and Janice Cummings toward the end of his sophomore campaign with the Spartans.
Janice Cummings worked as a receptionist in his dorm. She helped him write his German term papers. He borrowed their family car whenever he went to football practice.
Whenever Andersen took the field and kicked, fans waved a huge Danish flag.
Unfortunately, Spartans fans had little to cheer about in Andersen’s final three years at Michigan State.
The Spartans averaged four wins per season from 1979 to 1981 and continued their bowl drought.
It was a theme Morten Andersen experienced during his first few years with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Nevertheless, Andersen set a Big Ten record by nailing a 63-yard field goal against the Ohio State Buckeyes in blustery field conditions on September 19, 1981.
He broke the Wisconsin Badgers’ Pat O’Dea’s previous record of 62 yards against the Northwestern Wildcats in 1899, per the Spartans’ official athletics website.
Andersen also duplicated his 73-point production from his freshman campaign as a senior.
He earned First-Team All-Big Ten and First-Team All-American honors in 1981.
Andersen finished his four-year stint at Michigan State with 261 points on 45 field goals and 126 PATs.
The legend of ageless Morten Andersen – who became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer at one point – had just begun.
Pro Football Career
The New Orleans Saints made Morten Andersen the 86th overall selection of the 1982 NFL Draft.
Andersen was the first kicker plucked from the draft pool that year.
His pro football career got off to a rough start when he twisted his ankle in his first career kickoff. Andersen had to sit out the next eight weeks of the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season.
Andersen returned with a vengeance – he made 69 of 86 field-goal attempts over the next three seasons. He made 41 of 44 field-goal attempts measuring between 20 and 39 yards from 1983 to 1985.
The Saints were just an average football team in Andersen’s first four pro seasons – they averaged six wins per year with legendary Bum Phillips as their head coach from 1982 to 1985.
— Morten Andersen (@GreatDane2544) April 29, 2017
Andersen gave credit to Phillips for his patience early in his NFL career. He spoke highly of Phillips in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in August 2017.
Andersen said Phillips’ concern for his players and sense of humor stood out during their time together in New Orleans from 1982 to 1985.
Phillips inspired him to launch Kicks for Kids, a charitable organization that raised almost $1 million for pediatric care.
“Without the wisdom of Bum Phillips, I’m not sure that would have happened,” Andersen told the crowd at his Canton enshrinement in 2017.
During one of Andersen’s hospital visits, a doctor told him about a boy who lost his desire to live. Andersen went to the intensive care unit and urged the boy to continue fighting.
He received a thank-you letter from the physician saying the boy eventually recovered, per Lieber.
Several years later, Andersen lay on a gurney beside 17-year-old Devet Frye, who sustained partial paralysis because of a severely injured pelvis.
Andersen held her hand and also gave her a pep talk. She eventually regained sensation in her lower extremities and walked with a cane.
Andersen also gave a signed Saints football to 11-year-old Ronnie Lair, who was recuperating from a leg operation on his wheelchair.
New Orleans’ horrendous 18-year postseason drought continued until Andersen’s fourth year in the pro football ranks.
Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for Morten Andersen’s popularity to soar in the Big Easy.
The 23-year-old Danish kicker’s poster featured him wearing tight shorts and a mesh cut-off hit newsstands, it sold more than 16,000 copies in several months, per NOLA.com.
— The '60s at 60 (@the_60s_at_60) September 15, 2016
Andersen and Saints punter Brian Hansen released a song entitled “Take It To The Top” that sold 5,000 copies in 1985.
“New Orleans” magazine proclaimed Andersen one of the Big Easy’s ten most eligible bachelors.
According to Lieber, women regularly called up the Saints offices so they could get his phone number.
Andersen continued learning the nuances of American life when he played for the Saints.
He organized a Fourth of July party at his Harahan, LA residence in 1987, spending approximately $4,000 in catering, hiring a band, and displaying American and Danish flags for his 120 guests to see.
Andersen dated tennis star Anne White back then, per Sports Illustrated.
“I was living the life,” Andersen told NOLA.com some thirty-four years later.
When special teams coordinator Joe Marciano joined the Saints in 1986, Andersen’s insane leg strength and work ethic impressed him to no end.
“He was so strong,” Marciano told Duncan in 2017. “Every kickoff would go out of the end zone. And he was such a perfectionist. He would go weeks, a month or two, without ever missing in practice or games.”
For his part, Saints head coach Jim Mora (who coached Andersen from 1986 to 1994) considered Andersen a weapon who consistently won games for the Saints in crunch time.
Andersen was a game changer who helped turn the Saints’ fortunes around – New Orleans won 108 of 200 (54 percent) games in his twelve seasons in Louisiana.
That represented a difference of 26 percentage points when the team won just 59 of its previous 281 games since its inception in 1967.
Better yet, the Saints went to the postseason four times during Andersen’s 12-year tenure in New Orleans. However, they never made it past the NFC Wild Card Game each time.
During Morten Andersen’s time in New Orleans, he earned six Pro Bowl selections, four First-Team All-Pro honors, and one Second-Team All-Pro selection. He also won the first of his two Golden Two Awards in 1986.
The Saints released Andersen following the 1994 NFL season due to salary cap reasons. His kicking accuracy declined from 85 percent in 1992 to just 72 percent in 1994.
However, Morten Andersen was far from washed up – in fact, he would play for twelve more seasons for four different teams.
Andersen signed a three-year, $2.4 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons following his release from New Orleans in 1995. He nailed an NFL record eight field goals from at least 50 yards that year.
Ironically, he made three of those long-distance field goals in a victory over his former team, the New Orleans Saints.
° 1998 NFC CHAMPIONSHIP °
Vikings' Gary Anderson misses his first FG all year, which would've iced the game w/ 2:07 left.
11-pt dog #Falcons score w/ :49 left to tie it (Chandler to Mathis). Morten Andersen's 38-yd FG deep into OT wins it, 30-27.
• ATL's 1st NFC title pic.twitter.com/8osYER8REE
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 18, 2019
Andersen also entrenched himself in Falcons franchise history when he made the game-winning 38-yard field goal against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1998 NFC title game.
Unfortunately, the Falcons lost to John Elway’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34-19.
According to SI.com’s Dave Holcomb, the popularity of NFL football in Denmark soared to unprecedented heights following that season.
It all began with Morten Andersen’s game-winning kick in the NFC title game.
Andersen suited up for the Falcons for six seasons. He split his next four pro football seasons with the New York Giants (2001), Kansas City Chiefs (2002-03), and Minnesota Vikings (2004).
Andersen spent the 2005 NFL season as an unrestricted free agent. He worked as an NFL Europe analyst during his one-year hiatus.
He thought he’d get another call from another team back then – he went to a local park in an Atlanta suburb and kicked three or four times weekly.
That went on for 20 months. His friends told him he had a good run in the National Football League. However, he felt his time on the gridiron wasn’t up just yet.
A disgruntled Andersen watched football in his basement in the fall of 2006 – he witnessed the Falcons’ kicker have a bad game.
Falcons management called him after the game’s final whistle. They asked him if he’d like to try out for a spot on special teams the following afternoon.
Andersen happily obliged. He signed a one-year deal with the Falcons shortly afterward to make his second tour of duty in Atlanta official.
Morten Andersen became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer several months later.
“The lesson is simple,” he said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech. “Bring your will and perseverance to everything worth doing.”
Andersen played two more seasons for the Falcons before hanging up his cleats at age 47 following the 2007 NFL season.
Morten Andersen's records in NFL history include:
– Career GP (382)
– Consecutive GP by a K (248)
– Consecutive GP with 1+ PT (360)
– Most GP with 1+ PT (379)
– T-Most seasons with 90 PTS (22)
– T-Most 50+ YD FGM in 1 GP (3) pic.twitter.com/mpedtfSAlo
— Best of Pro Sports (@pro_sports_best) August 19, 2021
His 2,544 career points are the second-most in NFL history behind Adam Vinatieri. Andersen also has the most field goals (565), field goals measuring at least 50 yards (40), and game appearances (382) in league history.
Andersen’s 30 game-winning kicks are also the most by a kicker. He also scored in 360 consecutive games – the longest streak in the NFL.
Andersen had seven Pro Bowl appearances, five First-Team All-Pro selections, one Second Team All-Pro selection, and two Golden Toe Awards during his illustrious twenty-four-year NFL career.
Andersen is a member of the NFL 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams – just the fifth player after Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and Reggie White, per NOLA.com.
Legendary head coach Bill Parcells sang Morten Andersen’s praises the week the latter earned his gold jacket and bust in Canton in the summer of 2017.
“Morten Andersen was one of the few kickers I ever feared,” Parcells told Duncan that year. “I thought he was going to make it every time he lined up to kick. That’s a bad feeling on the other side of the field.”
One of the secrets to Morten Andersen’s success on the gridiron was creative visualization – he always envisioned himself making field goals in certain kicking situations at practice, per SI.com.
He also put in the work off the gridiron – Anderson lifted weights in the gym five times weekly during the offseason, per Lieber.
Andersen also did plenty of cross-training. When he wasn’t pumping iron or practicing his kicks, he played tennis and did swimming, skiing, aerobics, cycling, and running.
Morten Andersen, his wife Jennifer, and their two sons Aiden and Sebastian currently reside in Buford, GA, per NOLA.com.
Andersen is a public speaker who splits his time between his business consulting and event planning firm Morten Andersen Global and his Morten Andersen Family Foundation.
The New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame inducted Morten Andersen in 2009.
Andersen became a member of the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame two years later.
Andersen joined the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. He became a member of the New Orleans Saints Ring of Honor in 2015.
Five-time All-Pro kicker Morten Andersen has been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/hScLY92x4P
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 5, 2017
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Morten Andersen in the summer of 2017. He and legendary Kansas City Chiefs player Jan Stenerud are the only kickers currently enshrined in Canton.
“Will comes to the forefront when your back is against the wall,” Andersen said in his induction speech.
Anderson’s induction into Canton also made headlines in his native Denmark. Thousands of Danish fans celebrated the news while watching Super Bowl LI in downtown Copenhagen, per Duncan.
The Politiken, a Danish newspaper, ran a headline entitled “A Pick Six For Denmark! Morten Andersen Finally Gets NFL Hall of Fame Nod.”
Andersen has returned the favor to his native country by serving as an unofficial ambassador of NFL football. He has hosted several Super Bowl parties in Denmark during his retirement years, per Holcomb.
Morten Andersen currently hosts the “Great Dane Nation” podcast.