When you think of a trio of players from the same team in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you think of the Dallas triplets of the 1990’s, the Packers of Vince Lombardi, the Steelers of Chuck Noll or the Bill Walsh 49ers.
Somehow, the 1993 New Orleans Saints would not come to mind to NFL fans and observers around the country. That is unless, of course, you are an avid New Orleans Saints fan.
When you think of the best teams in New Orleans Saints history, you certainly think of 1987, 1991, 1992, 2000, 2006, 2011 and, of course, the 2009 edition.
With the election of Morten Andersen to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, the 1993 Saints, who were a modest 8-8 team, will now have three of its prominent members in the most prominent shrine in the sport, the best of the best.
“Morten is one of the greatest players in our team’s history and arguably the best kicker in NFL history,” said Saints Owner Tom Benson. “The reliability and excellence that he provided for us at the kicker position during his tenure with the Saints has been unmatched. Morten is a big part of the tradition and success of this organization and we would like to congratulate him.”
Andersen became extremely popular, even a heartthrob in New Orleans. He was a rock star. He and punter Brian Hansen forged a friendship and had a memorable poster made which sold many copies and was widely distributed, particularly with young ladies who fancied their appearance. It was tied into their memorable (or forgettable) song “Take It To The Top.”
Andersen became intimately and passionately involved with Children’s Hospital and his Kicks for Kids program. In fact, the portrait of Andersen hanging in the Saints Hall of Fame has an insert of one of the patients who was young when Andersen was with the Saints.
Upon seeing the portrait for the first time, Andersen was emotional in remembering the young man.
Andersen was invested in the community.
He opened Champions Restaurant at the Lakeside Mall, which became a popular spot for sports fans. I was fortunate to do a radio show at the location frequently, a perfect fit.
Andersen met his future wife, Jennifer Rich, here. She managed the restaurant for him.
The numbers are well known to all. Andersen’s NFL career spanned 25 seasons and five teams. The latter number is the one that smarts for Saints fans.
Andersen should have kicked the balance of his 25 years, if not his entire career, in New Orleans.
The fact that it took Andersen five years to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame parallels the reason he did not finish his career in New Orleans. In fact, he was cast aside in his prime by Jim Mora, who clearly did not value Andersen’s value to his team, at the time.
Then again, kickers (and punters) are clearly not appreciated to the degree that they should be.
It is clear that Thomas Morstead is greatly valued by Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis. Morstead has a sizeable contract and a substantial cap number which the current Saints are responsible for.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will now have a total of three kicking specialists among its inductees when August rolls around. Jan Stenerud, a role model for Andersen and a friend of his, is the only other kicker in the Hall. Ray Guy is the only punter ever inducted and it took him years to receive the honor.
The fact that the Falcons, for whom Andersen played eight seasons in two different stints, are in the Super Bowl did not hurt his cause. Rickey Jackson got in when the Saints were playing in Super Bowl XLIV.
In his 13 seasons with the Saints, Andersen made clutch kick after clutch kick, game-winner after game-winner. He converted 302-of-389 field goal attempts and 412-of-418 extra point attempts with the Saints.
Overall, he was 565-of-709 in the field goal department and made 849-of-859 extra points. His 2,544 points are tops in NFL history. He is the all-time leader in New Orleans Saints history with 1,318 points and in games played with 196.
Andersen appeared in 382 career games, the most in NFL history. He 565 field goals are tops in league history. Andersen’s 40 field goals of 50-plus yards were the most in NFL history at the time of his retirement.
Perhaps the most notable statistic of the many impressive ones posted by Andersen was 103 game-winning field goals, the most in NFL history. He kicked five field goals in a game at the age of 46 and booted four field goals in a game at the age of 47. His 25 seasons played trail only George Blanda (26) in NFL history.
Andersen was a fourth-round pick of Bum Phillips and the Saints in 1982. While critics will always question, if not pan the selection of kickers or punters in the draft, it turned out to be a tremendous investment by Phillips. The same can be said of the investment Payton and Loomis made with their fifth-round choice of Morstead in the 2009 NFL draft.
Of course, picking kickers in the draft is a slippery slope, particularly if you choose to take a leap of faith and choose one in the first round, as Dick Nolan and John Mecom would attest to regarding Russell Erxleben.
Andersen earned All-Pro honors six times and made seven Pro Bowls. He was named to the NFL All-Decade team in the 1980’s and in the 1990’s.
The Saints released him following the 1994 season for salary cap purposes. Mora felt he could save money and replace Andersen with a kicker that could get the job done.
Andersen would make Mora pay, hitting many huge field goals for the Falcons against New Orleans.
It started in his first year away from the Saints as Andersen killed the Saints in 1995 in two games.
On Sept. 17, 1995, Andersen returned to the Louisiana Superdome for the first time and drilled four field goals on as many attempts, including the game-winner in overtime in a 27-24 victory for Atlanta.
On December 10, 1995, Andersen became the first kicker in NFL history to make three field goals in excess of 50 yards in a game. He was 4-for-4 in the game as Atlanta won 19-14 at The Georgia Dome. It was painful to watch.
Andersen went on to a Super Bowl with the Falcons in the 1998 season, a crowning glory in his career.
In 2006, Andersen was inducted into the Danish American Sports Hall of Fame. In 2009, Andersen was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame unanimously in his first year of eligibility. In 2015, he became the fourth member of the New Orleans Saints Ring of Honor, joining Rickey Jackson, Archie Manning and Willie Roaf.
Mora, who had a strained relationship with Andersen for several years after releasing him, has since become friends with The Great Dane.
“It was probably the single biggest mistake I made as a head coach,” Mora told me a year ago. “The salary cap had just come into play in the league in 1994. We were looking at all options. We felt Morten was still very good but felt we could replace him. We were wrong. He is the best kicker in league history. He richly deserves the honor and I could not be happier for him.”
Ironically, it was a kick that Andersen missed in 1987 that helped the New Orleans Saints become a winner for the first time in their 21-year history.
In the first week back from a three week NFL player strike, Andersen missed a 52-yard field goal that would have given the Saints a huge win over San Francisco in a 24-22 loss at the Superdome on October 25 to drop the Saints to 3-3 overall.
Immediately following the game, Mora launched into his now famous “coulda’ ‘woulda, ‘shoulda” tirade, which got the attention of his players. The Saints went on to rip off nine consecutive wins for their first winning season and first playoff appearance in team history.
Among those wins was a 40-yard field goal with 1:48 to play to give the Saints a 26-24 victory at Candlestick Park on Nov. 16, 1987. It was Andersen’s fourth field goal of the game.
“We certainly heard what Coach Mora said and we wanted to prove that we were winners,” Andersen said. “I believe it challenged us to perform better, inspired us to play to our potential.”
Jackson played with Andersen for 12 of his 13 seasons in New Orleans.
“I thought he was the best kicker to ever kick a football,” Jackson said. “He should have gotten in when he became eligible. Anytime you play 25 years says it all. He won a whole lot of games for us. We depended on him. I have been waiting for him to get him. We talked yesterday and today. I could not be happier for him. He was simply the best.”
Manning was briefly a teammate of Andersen with the Saints but got to know him quite well.
“I was so happy for Morten. It is well deserved. I was there for his first training camp before I got traded. I was No. 7 and he was No. 8 and we would pass right by each other and had lockers next to him. I was on the second row last night. He saw me, we made eye context, we smiled. I shot him a text. I am very proud of him. He has to go down as one of the greatest kickers in league history for longevity and productivity.”
Manning feels one element of Andersen’s game has been ignored, given the evolution of the position with stronger legs taking over in today’s NFL.
“Not many kickers in those days kicked it deep into the end zone,” Manning said. “He did it regularly and it was rare then. That is what separated him. It was such a bonus for a team to kick touchbacks and prevent returns while making clutch field goals. He worked hard at it.”
Roaf was teammates with Andersen for two seasons.
“I saw him last night,” Roaf said. “He was waiting on the call. I was fortunate to play with him in New Orleans. He was a true pro, a great teammate in New Orleans and one of the leaders in the locker room. He always had a positive attitude. I remember when he went to Atlanta and beat us and I wondered why we let him go. That’s when I realized how important he was. He was the best.”
Unquestionably, Andersen took it to the top of his profession and became the greatest Dane of all time in the NFL, a true champion.
“It is numbing, amazing,” Andersen said. “Even though you know it is possible, it is unreal when you finally get the word. It is hard to put the honor into words. It is emotional. We shed a few tears. I hope this opens the door for kickers who deserve to be honored moving forward.”
Andersen will always be a Saint to many fans.
“I loved my time with the Saints, where I was drafted and where I played the longest,” Andersen said. “I would have loved to be in New Orleans my entire career. Things happen. It is a business. What else can you say? I am in the Saints Hall of Fame, the Saints Ring of Honor and now the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is mind blowing but it is a blast.”
The legacy of the 1993 Saints is etched in bronze in Canton, Ohio and in portraits at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“We’ve got three players in who played from the same team,” Roaf said. “That is pretty special for a team that was not a big winner. It tells you how good the players were. It is something I am very proud of.”
So are we, Willie.