Morten Andersen, the new Orleans Saints placekicker, is standing on an oil-and-gas production platform called Ship Shoal 246-A, 10 stories above the swirling, deep-blue water of the Gulf of Mexico, making a promotional appearance. Out here it's 110 miles from downtown New Orleans and about 5,200 miles from Andersen's family home in Struer, Denmark. A few hours earlier on this Tuesday in December, Andersen boarded a helicopter at the Superdome Heliport and flew first to Transworld Rig 68, then to the Ship Shoal, 36 miles away.
Andersen, 27, shakes hands with the hearty souls who spend a week at a stretch working the Gulf—weathered, bearded men in oil-spattered jumpsuits with nicknames like LONE WOLF and SQUEEKY scrawled across their pockets. Electricians. Mechanics. Sandblasters. Mud engineers. Maintenance men. Roustabouts. Cooks.
Andersen autographs hard hat after hard hat, always drawing two eyes and a big smile in the middle of the round, script letter A of his last name. He chats with each of Ship Shoal's 44 workers about the loneliness, drudgery and dangers of the job. Archie Bellard, the assistant field foreman, tells Andersen, "Just in case we blow up or a ship plows through us, we'll evacuate into the two orange capsules on the sides of the platform. I don't promise to keep you alive, but I'll do the best I can."
"Archie," says Andersen, squashing his spiky blond haircut under a hardhat, "I just need to be back in time for Sunday's game."
Tom Fetters, president of CNG Producing, points out that his company has one of the nation's best safety records. One of their offshore facilities went more than five years without a serious accident. At the same time, Fetters boasts of the company's record of striking oil or gas in 75% of its drillings. "Remarkable numbers in such a risky business," Andersen says.
Andersen can relate to risk and success, since he makes a living in the NFL. In only six seasons he has become the best kicker in NFL history. He has made 119 field goals in 151 tries (.788) as well as 163 of 166 points after (.982). He has missed only five field goal tries from inside the 40.
At 6'2", 212 pounds, Andersen is physically unlike most of his fellow kickers. He developed a broad chest, large, muscled arms and powerful thighs by weightlifting, which he does five days a week in the off-season, as well as by swimming, skiing, running, cycling, tennis and in aerobics classes. Several times a season he sends kickoffs sailing through the uprights. His longest NFL field goal is 55 yards.
"Morten gives me a sense of security," says New Orleans coach Jim Mora. "I know if we get within his range—and I feel comfortable up to 50 yards—we'll get three points. He makes me breathe easier."
Andersen believes that the stubborn, hardworking and strong-willed traits in his heritage keep him stable under pressure. When the Saints' offense advances the ball to midfield, Andersen begins his mental preparation. He moves away from his teammates, at least 20 yards down the sideline. He's off-limits. "I don't want to be spoken to," he says. "Everybody knows to stay away from me."
Then Andersen begins his own mental pep talk. I will make this kick. Yes. I can do it. Yes. Come on. Come on. Come on. He takes three practice kicks into a net. Then he closes his eyes and visualizes the ball going through the goalposts. He is oblivious to potential distractions.