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Great Dane in Town
Jill Lieber
December 21, 1987
New Orleans has gone gaga over its go-go placekicker, top-ranked Morten Andersen
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December 21, 1987

Great Dane In Town

New Orleans has gone gaga over its go-go placekicker, top-ranked Morten Andersen

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"At Pittsburgh, fans were shouting obscenities at me, calling me all sorts of names," he says. "Some of the guys were bothered by it, really disgusted. They asked me after the game if I had heard the stuff. I hadn't heard a thing."

Sometimes, though, he hears a second voice coming from within. That voice is hard to ignore because it tugs on his heart. "I get extremely homesick," he says. "Waiting to try a crucial kick sets something off inside of me. I'll tell myself. My mother doesn't care about this field goal, my father doesn't care about this field goal, and my brother doesn't care about this field goal. Five million Danes don't care if I make this kick. Please. Let me go home."

Andersen and his twin brother, Jakob, were born in Copenhagen and grew up in the fishing village of Struer on the Jutland peninsula. Their father, Erik, is a psychologist who supervises the local county's educational programs for handicapped children. Their mother, Hanne, teaches Danish language and culture and is a school librarian.

These fraternal twins had little in common. Morten was loud and rambunctious, Jakob quiet and shy. Morten's energy exasperated his parents. When they went on drives, he would demand to race against the family Peugeot. "I can run 20 kilometers an hour!" he would brag. As soon as the car would pull away, Morten would crumble to the pavement in tears, until it came back to pick him up. On Sunday afternoon walks, Morten would zigzag through the woods, while Jakob lagged behind, picking flowers and collecting stones.

The boys started playing soccer at age five, and as a teenager Morten just missed making the Danish junior national team. In gymnastics he excelled in the floor exercise and was made an instructor at the local club. "He had such a good touch with everything," says Jakob, now a biology student at Denmark's �rhus University. "It still makes me mad." And let's not forget team handball. Morten and his teammates won the Danish national title when he was 16.

Hanne became concerned that Morten was too involved in sports and insisted he read history books and learn languages. By the time he finished high school, he had studied English, French, German and Latin. On his own, he picked up Norwegian and Swedish. Being multilingual came in handy on Andersen family weekend trips throughout Europe.

"I was born in Copenhagen just before World War II and couldn't leave the country," Erik says. "I believe it is important for Danes to look at other people. We are such a little country. We need to explore."

After Morten graduated from the 10th grade—the final year of high school in Denmark—Erik suggested he visit the U.S. as a cultural exchange student. The Youth for Understanding program assigned Andersen to Ben Davis High in Indianapolis, and he lived with Jean and Dale Baker and their four children. Andersen arrived on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 1977, his 17th birthday. That evening the Bakers took him to a high school football "jamboree," a scrimmage involving six local teams. Andersen was captivated by this first glimpse of American football. The next morning. Dale Baker brought his son, Roger, to practice, and Andersen, in his soccer shoes, went too. Since Andersen knew how to kick. Baker placed a kicking tee at the 20-yard line. Andersen easily booted the ball over the goalpost. Then Baker moved him back to the 25. And then the 30, 35, 40, 45, 50. From each spot, Andersen easily split the uprights. Bob Wilbur, the Ben Davis coach, watched Anderson make the last two kicks. Wilbur immediately issued him a uniform and jokingly said, "If you miss a field goal, I'll send you back on the boat."

Andersen made five of his seven attempts that season. He missed only one point after—his last, in the state's semifinal game against Evansville Reitz. After Ben Davis scored a touchdown to lead 13-0, Andersen's extra-point kick sailed so high one official lost sight of the ball and it was ruled no good. Davis eventually lost 14-13.

In addition to football, the Bakers introduced Andersen to other bits of Americana, like Disney World and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. They helped him discover peanut butter ("It stinks"). Andersen's picture now hangs in the dining room next to those of the Bakers' "other" children.

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