It wasn't the 37 yards between himself and the goalpost that worried Detroit Lion placekicker Jason Hanson as he tottered onto the field, his team tied 28-28 with the Atlanta Falcons in overtime on Sunday. It was the yard of gristle that was doing a fairly lame impersonation of his kicking leg. Just seconds before Hanson had been dispatched to the field by Detroit coach Wayne Fontes, he had tried kicking a ball the two or three feet into a practice net on the sideline and missed.
"I couldn't feel a thing," Hanson said later. "It was all a blur." He had developed a cramp in his leg shortly before the end of regulation play by performing that most unplacekickerlike act: tackling a runaway ballcarrier, Atlanta's Alton Montgomery, who was in the clear with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter when Hanson brought him down on the Falcons' 44-yard line. "We decided to squib the kick," said Hanson. "We didn't want to give them a chance to return it. But when he turned up field, I was there and I had to hit him. I locked up the whole leg. It was so bad, I couldn't walk."
Nobody at the Pontiac Silverdome—least of all Hanson's own teammates—much cared if he could walk as long as he could kick. And kick he did, with enough distance to give the Lions a 31-28 win.
The Falcons, under new coach June Jones and behind new quarterback Jeff George, scored on each second-half possession until kicker Norm Johnson's attempt from 52 yards with one second left went wide. George was 19 of 21 in the second half, extending his streak of passes with no interceptions to 239. He hit Andre Rison for four completions in a drive that concluded with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Terance Mathis and a 28-21 lead with 3:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
That left it to the Lions' new quarterback, Scott Mitchell, to engineer a drive, which he did splendidly, overcoming a fourth-and-one situation on the Falcons' 31-yard line with 54 seconds to play. Mitchell faked a handoff and hit tight end Rodney Holman for 16 yards and the first down. It was Holman's only catch of the day. Two plays later the Lions scored on a 15-yard pass from Mitchell to Anthony Carter, setting up Hanson's game-saving tackle and his winning kick.
What was pretty much overlooked in the Lions' euphoric locker room was that none of Hanson's heroics would have happened if Fontes had chosen mil to send him in when Detroit trailed 28-27 and had instead gone for a two-point conversion that could have settled matters one way or another right there. "It never entered my mind," Fontes said of the two-point option. Hanson made that kick and ultimately made Fontes's day.