Sept. 21, 2011
Michigan State will induct five new members into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Sept. 22. In the fourth of a five-part series this week on msuspartans.com, online columnist Steve Grinczel profiles former football player Morten Andersen.
Cumulatively speaking, Morten Andersen was arguably the most visible Spartan on earth from 1982-2007. During that span, tens of thousands of fans watched him perform in massive NFL stadiums across the country along with millions tuned in on television. Then, Andersen's important kicks were replayed over and over on the postgame highlight shows until it was time to kick off the next game.
Some will be recalled as long as there's football.
Nevertheless, there was a disconnect between the former MSU All-American from Denmark and the Spartan Nation during those 26 seasons. The left-footed, soccer-style kicker was so busy playing pro ball for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons (twice), Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, the ties that bound him to his beloved Spartans were maintained primarily by what he was able to read and catch on TV.
"When I was playing in the NFL, I was so engulfed in my own career, you tend to lose a little bit of contact with the university," said Andersen. "I lost touch with the school for quite awhile."
That all changed when Mark Dantonio took over as the MSU head coach in 2007 and made tapping into the program's rich tradition, by reaching out to the vast extended family of past players, a priority.
"It's always good to reconnect with your formative years," Andersen said. "I have great memories from Michigan State and the time I spent in East Lansing prepared me for playing at the next level.
"I credit Mark Dantonio with reconnecting me to the university. He really made it clear he wants to bridge the gap with a lot of the alums who had been missing. He's really done a good job of bringing guys back into the fold and honoring the legacy of Spartan football."
Andersen returned to the Spartan Stadium turf as an honorary captain in 2008.
"Being an honorary captain and a part of the game again, I think, was important because it's not really necessary," Andersen said. "And yet, it was much-needed. It's a great step in the right direction."
Always a fan-favorite even from a distance thanks to his Tom Sawyer hairstyle and smile, Andersen's place in the pantheon of Spartans greats was always secure.
"The things I think of most of all from back then are the relationships, the training camps, the Saturday nights after the games, the locker room - those kinds of bonding experiences that are hard to describe. It's a very private, intense kind of feeling. That's what I took away from Michigan State."
Hans Nielsen, a fellow Dane who kicked for the Spartans from 1974-77, was instrumental in recruiting Andersen to MSU. Andersen played just one season of American football for Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Ind., but reasoned, "If Hans can do it, so can I."
As freshman in '78, his team-high 73 points, on 52-for-54 point-after-touchdown and 7-for-16 field-goal accuracy, were instrumental in MSU's run to an 8-3 record. More importantly, he led the Big Ten in kick scoring with 56 points as the Spartans tied Michigan for the Big Ten Championship with a 7-1 mark.
Andersen earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after scoring 58 points as a sophomore and again as junior with 57, including three that came on a 57-yard field goal against U-M in front of 105,132 fans in Michigan Stadium. Having a hand - make that a foot - in defeating the Wolverines ranks right at the top of Andersen's fondest memories.
"It became eminently clear after I arrived that there was one team on the schedule that we wanted to beat more than any other," he said. "We won 24-15 and kicking a field goal to be part of it is still special."
In his final season as a Spartan, Andersen tied his career-high with 73 points while earning first-team all-conference and All-America distinction. He converted all but one of 29 extra-point attempts and was good on 15-of-20 field goals. Andersen led the league in kick scoring with 68 points in conference games and was second overall.
And, Andersen distinguished himself from every kicker who played before him in the Big Ten, and those who would come after.
On a blustery day in Columbus, Ohio ¬- Sept. 19, 1981 to be exact - Andersen kicked a 63-yard field goal that remains unmatched in the Big Ten record book. Andersen was the first conference kicker employing a holder and a ball that wasn't shaped like a pumpkin to crack the 60-yard barrier. His effort against Ohio State was the longest since Wisconsin's Pat O'Dea drop-kicked a 62-yarder against Northwestern 82 years earlier.
When Andersen completed his collegiate career he had 10 field goals of 49, or more, yards and he topped Michigan State's all-time lists for field goals with 45, extra points (129) and scoring (261 points). Twenty years later, he ranks sixth, fourth and fifth, respectively, in those categories.
"The 63-yarder against Ohio State was pretty cool," Andersen said. "The crazy thing about it was I had a pretty good wind behind me. It probably would have gone through from 73. I kicked it a long ways.
"But the things I think of most of all from back then are the relationships, the training camps, the Saturday nights after the games, the locker room - those kinds of bonding experiences that are hard to describe. It's a very private, intense kind of feeling. That's what I took away from Michigan State."
The momentum Andersen generated as a Spartan led to even more distinction after being selected by New Orleans in the fourth round of the '82 NFL Draft. He was a three-time All-Pro and played in seven Pro Bowls. In '99, the Walter Camp Football Foundation named him to the collegiate All-Century Team (1900-2000).
And when he retired in 2008, he left the game as the NFL's all-time leading scorer with 2,544 points, 600-plus more than Jason Hanson of the Detroit Lions, the closest active player on the list.
Being inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame is sort of like making a record-long field goal with a helping wind. After all, he said, he played on a team that featured Eddie Smith at quarterback, a wide receiver named Kirk Gibson and Mark Brammer at tight end. With 523.1 yards of production per game, that team remains the most prolific, in terms of total offense, in Big Ten history, which is pretty amazing considering the advancements in tactics and strategy since then.
"This is really more of a reflection of the team we had with Eddie Smith and Kirk Gibson and a high-powered offense," Andersen said of his Hall of Fame selection. "It seemed like every time I went on the field, it was for kicking extra points.
"This is not something I take lightly because of what the school meant to me. When I went there, I was just 10 months out of Denmark. I am just so grateful for the experience of them being a part of my life and me being a part of theirs."
Andersen, who resides in Atlanta, now applies his MSU experience to Morten Andersen Global Inc., which helps Danish companies enter the U.S. market. He also is a studio analyst for NFL games on Atlanta's CBS affiliate and wrote a book, "Life Is a Kick," which was a best-seller in Denmark and is being translated into English. Andersen is also working on a self-help volume entitled, "A Certain Kind of Stubborn," and is in demand as a motivational speaker.
Phil Hickey, a '77 graduate of Michigan State's School of Hospitality Business, met Andersen at an MSU Alumni Association golf tournament in Atlanta several years ago. A close friendship ensued and Hickey, the chairman of O'Charley's, Inc., an $800 million restaurant company, advises Andersen in his business dealings.
"Of the many qualities that make Morten such a worthy candidate for the MSU sports Hall of Fame, a number of these same qualities are also serving him well in his post-playing days," Hickey said. "As for his playing days at MSU, the numbers speak for themselves, and I won't delve into them other than to say he produced significant results for a number of years, often times under extreme pressure.
"What makes Morten a hall-of-famer in both sports and his life after football are his qualities of tenacity, perseverance, work ethic, team focus, relentless curiosity, core intellectual depth (as) one of the few athletes to graduate with two majors, adaptability and a genuine care for his fellow man.
"As Morten has gone about forging his life after football, these qualities frequently come into play in his role as CEO of Morten Andersen Global. Morten is becoming deeply involved in the broadcasting business, employing the same perfecting-skills-and-attitude approach that he used in kicking."
And just like he was on windy Saturdays in Spartan Stadium, Andersen remains unaffected.
"There are a lot of great athletes in the MSU Hall of Fame," Andersen said. "I never really thought of myself in this way when I was playing. To become a part of their legacy, and to be immortalized in this sort of way, is pretty humbling."