Morten Andersen still holds numerous NFL records, including most career points (2,544), most career field goals (565) and most career games (382). He’s set to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August as just the second pure kicker ever to be enshrined.
All those accomplishments never would have happened if not for a 10-month stretch back in 1977.
Andersen, who played 25 seasons and was a member NFL All-Decade teams in both the 1980s and '90s, was a star handball player in Denmark when he embarked on a cultural exchange program that sent him to Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.
“American football was not on the radar at all for me,” Andersen told reporters Wednesday afternoon in a conference call. “It was simply to learn the language, immerse myself into the American way of life, soak up as much as I could about American culture – the language, the social values – and bring that back home and impart that knowledge to other young kids who might want to come to the United States. That was really the impetus for doing this.
“There’s no question that if these 10 months don’t happen, we’re not talking today.”
Andersen wanted to play soccer. He also practiced gymnastics. He said he “had no interest” in football and “didn’t know anything about the game.”
He had to get used to the shape of the football, the pace of play and the equipment. All the while, he spoke very little English.
At the time that Andersen joined the Ben Davis football team, Bob Wilbur was the coach, and his son served as the quarterback and kicker.
“One of the players came running to me and said, ‘coach, you gotta see this kid,’ ” Wilbur told ESPN earlier this year. “And when we walked out, I think Morten was on the 45- or the 50-yard line, and he put it through about sky high.
“And so my son never kicked again.”
Andersen played for Michigan State from 1978-81, where he still holds a Big Ten record for the longest field goal in league history at 63 yards in 1981.
In the NFL, he played from 1982-2007 for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.
A remarkable run, Andersen knows, for something that was practically an accident.
“It became a vehicle for me, a vessel, if you will, to integrate very quickly into the American way of life,” Andersen said of football. “I had 80 new friends, like that, when they saw the ball fly vertical and high through the uprights. I was the new kicker, and that happened overnight, literally. That’s how my American dream started, and without it, no question, we wouldn’t be talking today.”
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.