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KICKING is the essence of life. From our first fetal act ("The baby's kicking!") to our final earthly verb ("He kicked the bucket"), it is so synonymous with vitality that we are said, between the cradle and the grave, to be alive and kicking.
Nobody knows this better than Morten Andersen, the second-leading scorer in NFL history, for whom alive and kicking is redundant. "It sounds geekish, I know," says Andersen, 46, "but to me, there's nothing better than the sound of a solidly hit ball." Which is why, when his NFL kicking career seemed to end 19 months ago—after 23 seasons and 2,358 points, with five teams—Andersen continued to kick in George Pierce Park in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee, home to the Georgia Force of the Georgia Football League, where, as Andersen puts it, "little kids in their bobblehead helmets learn to play football."
"There were elements of comedy out there," Keith Elmore, Andersen's trainer, says of their kicking workouts. "I mean, he was on that field in his Pro Bowl jersey. There were times when he'd stay an extra half hour to help little kids kick plastic footballs." Andersen looked like an eBay auction incarnate. He wore his Vikings helmet, his Giants pants and a red-white-and-blue NFC jersey from the '96 Pro Bowl, which he pulled over the same shoulder pads he was issued in 1982, his rookie season with the Saints, when six-year-old Peyton Manning would shag balls for him.
Park maintenance workers would invite Andersen to join them at a nearby fine-dining establishment. "Listen, guys, I can't go to the Hog Trough," Andersen would say, explaining that he was preparing to make the leap from the GFL to the NFL. They'd nod politely, as one might while humoring the clinically insane. The kicker's own father, Erik, thought he was mildly deluded. "He's a psychologist, so he'd never come out and say it," says Morten, "but I think even he thought it was time for me to move on."
But Andersen is an unfailingly upbeat man who draws a smiley face in the loopy A of his surname when signing autographs. Instead of moving on, he moved back, almost always kicking from beyond the 50 at George Pierce Park—"if you can trust the measurements of guys who eat at the Hog Trough," cautions Elmore. He never kicked inside the 40. "Anything inside the 40 would go over the net, and I'd have to climb down a ravine to get the ball," says Elmore. "There were snakes down there."
All of which made for a charming little story until two weeks ago, when the Falcons—for whom Andersen 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, who retired 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-deprived seasons. "But this time," he says, "I didn't have to room next to Kenny Stabler."
Yes, he played with Stabler, who played with Blanda, who played with Sid Luckman, who played in America's first televised sporting event, a Columbia-Princeton baseball game in 1939. You can return to the dawn of modern U.S. sports in three degrees of Morten Andersen.
Who could have imagined this in 1977, when Andersen came to America as a high school exchange student 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 in his single season that Michigan State gave him a scholarship. "I came to the U.S. for 10 months," he says. "Twenty-nine years later I really have lived the American dream."
In his first NFL season, striking players walked picket lines. "I remember getting hit with eggs and rotten apples," says Andersen. "People were yelling, 'Go back to work, you spoiled, rich brats!'" He laughs. "My salary was $42,500. We were striking for benefits."
Thirteen of his current 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--10 win over the Cardinals on Sunday, doesn't feel like an anachronism—"not yet," he cautions. "But I plan to bring the mullet back. I want to bring some great '80s music into the locker room: some ABBA, Men Without Hats, maybe a-ha."