By Lisa Zimmerman, Player Engagement Insider
2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Morten Andersen arrived in the United States in the fall of 1977 for what was supposed to be a 10-month stay. Forty years later, he’s still here. In the interim, the Denmark native became one of the elite members of the National Football League. The placekicker, who played for five teams over 25 years, with seven Pro Bowl selections, holds myriad records, including most games played and stands as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,544 points.
Andersen’s final season was 2007. For the past four years he was a finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame. Finalists are sequestered in a hotel during the Super Bowl to await the selection committee’s decision. Those not selected receive a phone call. Those who are selected receive a knock on their door. For three years, Andersen received a phone call. This year, finally, there was a knock on the door.
Andersen recounted each of those experiences with a laugh, “The phone calls, that was kind of distasteful. The knock was a hell of a lot better.”
It was a long way from his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints that he describes as “dismal.” 1982 was shortened by a strike and then he suffered an injury on his very first NFL play that sidelined him for eight games; Andersen waited to be cut. But then-head coach Bum Phillips saw something he liked and Andersen stayed the Saints for 13 years before going on to play the remaining 13 years for the Atlanta Falcons (twice), New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.
For a kid from Copenhagen, it’s been quite a ride.
Andersen knew little about American football when he arrived at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. A soccer player, gymnast, and star handball player back in Denmark, on a lark, he was asked to kick for the football team and his talent was apparent immediately. Michigan State offered him a scholarship, which led to his fourth-round NFL Draft selection by the Saints. It was truly a life-changing event.
“Football became a means to get a free education,” Andersen said. “That was the focus my freshman and sophomore year, then my junior year I was being told I was pretty good and realized I might have an opportunity to make a living at it.
“I studied languages, I wanted to be an interpreter at the United Nations. I had a Communications major and German major, and minor in French and a minor in Marketing. And I was a student-athlete on top of that. The plan was, if I finished four years of college, I would go back home and, perhaps, get a Masters and PhD and continue the journey in Denmark.”
Andersen who speaks English, Danish, German, and French fluently, and has working knowledge of Swedish and Norwegian, never imagined the journey would continue in the United States as long as it has.
“I fell in love with football in college,” he said. “The initial shock and awe of,’ What the hell am I doing in this weird sport?’ had worn off after my freshman year when we won the Big 10. I realized this is a really cool, legitimate, tactical game. Then I became obsessed with being the absolute best I could at it and trusting that everyone else would do their job so I wouldn’t get crushed.”
Having had a job that relied on others helping him, in his life after football, much of Andersen’s work now involves helping others. In addition to his business, Morten Andersen Global, he also runs the non-profit Morten Andersen Family Foundation, which focuses on helping children, as well as members of the military, especially those in Special Ops and their families. In September, close to the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, he will embark on a 400-mile honor bike ride with Special Ops team members. Part of Warrior Weekend, the group will ride 80 miles each day departing from Atlanta, with Destin, Florida as their final destination. They will then take part in celebrations and remembrances.
The business side of Morten Andersen Global, offers, among other things golf event planning, which Andersen designed after developing his own passion for golf.
Andersen and his wife, Jennifer, have two sons, Sebastian, 17, and Aiden, 13. His passion and talent for sports has been passed on to both and, although neither currently plays football, they participate and excel in everything from basketball to track. Sebastian is a member of his high school golf team.
While his fellow Danes may not totally understand the magnitude of his NFL accomplishments, he is certainly on their radar as someone who has made great achievements. In fact, Andersen, whose twin brother Jakob serves as Denmark’s Trade Commissioner and General Counsel based in Chicago, counts Frederik, the Crown Prince of Denmark among those he is “friendly” with. The two first met in the United States when the Prince was the honorary captain at a New York Jets game and Andersen was part of the host committee. They have stayed in touch ever since.
As Andersen looks back at his career and his life up to this point, he is acutely aware of all the pieces that have fallen into place, and the many achievements he has experienced, not the least of which is the Hall of Fame.
“It’s an honor to even be considered among the greatest and here we are,” he said. “One of 310 out of millions that have played the game, and foreign-born at that. My story is not only about my love of my country of Denmark, but my love affair with this country and how strongly I feel about what wonderful opportunities there are, and how much you can do in this country.”
Lisa Zimmerman is a long-time NFL writer and reporter. She was the Jets correspondent for CBSSports.com, SportsNet New York’s TheJetsBlog.com and Sirius NFL Radio. She has also written for NFL.com.