KICKING is theessence of life. From our first fetal act ("The baby's kicking!") toour final earthly verb ("He kicked the bucket"), it is so synonymouswith vitality that we are said, between the cradle and the grave, to be aliveand kicking.
Nobody knows thisbetter than Morten Andersen, the second-leading scorer in NFL history, for whomalive and kicking is redundant. "It sounds geekish, I know," saysAndersen, 46, "but to me, there's nothing better than the sound of asolidly hit ball." Which is why, when his NFL kicking career seemed to end19 months ago—after 23 seasons and 2,358 points, with five teams—Andersencontinued to kick in George Pierce Park in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee, hometo the Georgia Force of the Georgia Football League, where, as Andersen putsit, "little kids in their bobblehead helmets learn to playfootball."
"There wereelements of comedy out there," Keith Elmore, Andersen's trainer, says oftheir kicking workouts. "I mean, he was on that field in his Pro Bowljersey. There were times when he'd stay an extra half hour to help little kidskick plastic footballs." Andersen looked like an eBay auction incarnate. Hewore his Vikings helmet, his Giants pants and a red-white-and-blue NFC jerseyfrom the '96 Pro Bowl, which he pulled over the same shoulder pads he wasissued in 1982, his rookie season with the Saints, when six-year-old PeytonManning would shag balls for him.
Park maintenanceworkers would invite Andersen to join them at a nearby fine-diningestablishment. "Listen, guys, I can't go to the Hog Trough," Andersenwould say, explaining that he was preparing to make the leap from the GFL tothe NFL. They'd nod politely, as one might while humoring the clinicallyinsane. The kicker's own father, Erik, thought he was mildly deluded. "He'sa psychologist, so he'd never come out and say it," says Morten, "but Ithink even he thought it was time for me to move on."
October 8, 2006
But Andersen isan unfailingly upbeat man who draws a smiley face in the loopy A of his surnamewhen signing autographs. Instead of moving on, he moved back, almost alwayskicking from beyond the 50 at George Pierce Park—"if you can trust themeasurements of guys who eat at the Hog Trough," cautions Elmore. He neverkicked inside the 40. "Anything inside the 40 would go over the net, andI'd have to climb down a ravine to get the ball," says Elmore. "Therewere snakes down there."
All of which madefor a charming little story until two weeks ago, when the Falcons—for whomAndersen played from 1995 to 2000—signed him for the remainder of this year,making him the second-oldest player in league history, after George Blanda, whoretired after the '75 season at age 48. Andersen's first game in two years was,fittingly, in New Orleans, where he had spent 13 sometimes sleep-deprivedseasons. "But this time," he says, "I didn't have to room next toKenny Stabler."
Yes, he playedwith Stabler, who played with Blanda, who played with Sid Luckman, who playedin America's first televised sporting event, a Columbia-Princeton baseball gamein 1939. You can return to the dawn of modern U.S. sports in three degrees ofMorten Andersen.
Who could haveimagined this in 1977, when Andersen came to America as a high school exchangestudent from Denmark? He was assigned to the Baker family of Indianapolis,where he first kicked an oblong football at Ben Davis High. He was so good inhis single season that Michigan State gave him a scholarship. "I came tothe U.S. for 10 months," he says. "Twenty-nine years later I reallyhave lived the American dream."
In his first NFLseason, striking players walked picket lines. "I remember getting hit witheggs and rotten apples," says Andersen. "People were yelling, 'Go backto work, you spoiled, rich brats!'" He laughs. "My salary was $42,500.We were striking for benefits."
Thirteen of hiscurrent Falcons teammates weren't alive when Andersen played his first game.But the kicker, who went 5 for 5 in field goal attempts in the Falcons' 32--10win over the Cardinals on Sunday, doesn't feel like an anachronism—"notyet," he cautions. "But I plan to bring the mullet back. I want tobring some great '80s music into the locker room: some ABBA, Men Without Hats,maybe a-ha."
Then he laughsagain, as he does often. Kick, as a plural noun, is a synonym for fun.(Andersen signs autographs, "Best kicks!") As a verb, it can meanrelaxation. (We kick back.) So when he does retire, Andersen plans to keepkicking, for fun and relaxation, in some suburban park. Look for him among thelittle kids in their bobblehead helmets: The Old Man and the Tee.
If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thirteen of Morten Andersen's teammates weren't aliveat the start of his rookie season, when six-year-old Peyton Manning would shagballs for him.