Jason Hanson is ending his remarkable career with the Lions with the same resolute professionalism that allowed him to perform at his peak for all 21 seasons.
After weighing every option – most importantly, the one that he felt would determine whether he could meet his own lofty standards – Hanson is walking away from a career that made him one of the greatest kickers in NFL history and an icon in franchise history.
A heel injury that surfaced last season and continued to trouble him in the offseason as he prepared to play a 22nd season ultimately made Hanson make up his mind to retire.
"It was time to make a decision,” Hanson said Thursday afternoon. "It was the right time to step away.
"Ultimately, it’s my heel – the problem I developed last year. Now that we’re starting a new year, it’s still an issue. I have the desire. I have the determination, as I said earlier, to come back.
"Each time I’d start to push it, I’d kind of short-circuit. I realized that at this point of my career, I don’t want to perform in a compromised way. It’s not good for the team.
"I lost a little of my desire to play injured.”
Injury aside, Hanson felt the 2013 season would be closer to 2011, when they went 10-6 and make the playoffs, than the 4-12 debacle of 2012.
"It was extremely difficult for a number of reasons,” Hanson said. "One, stopping now feels like quitting. I feel like we didn’t accomplish what we could have as a team, as an organization.”
Hanson, who turns 43 on June 17, had been working out on his own, in preparation for the start of the team’s offseason program that begins Monday. The injury is to his left heel, the plant leg for the right-footed kicker, and is vital to get the torque and consistency that kicking demands.
Frankly, Hanson’s decision comes as a surprise, given his performance last season and the comments he made in USA Today last month about wanting to continue playing in 2013. Hanson made 32 of 36 field-goal attempts (32 of 36).
At the same time, Hanson’s agent, Jack Mills, said the Lions were in negotiations with Hanson on a new contract and that Hanson would not play under a minimum contract. However, Hanson said Thursday that the contract was not an issue and that he would have been willing to play under the minimum of $940,000 for a player with 10 or more years of service.
Hanson squelched any notion that his decision was based on a failed contract negotiation or dissatisfaction with management.
"I would have worked out a contract with the Detroit Lions,” Hanson said. "There was talk, and at the start, with their initial offer, it gave me some time to evaluate -- ‘OK, am I going to do this?’ Ultimately, no.
"It would not have been an issue. There are no hard feelings. It never got to a point where there was serious back and forth with numbers. It didn’t matter.”
The heel injury Hanson spoke about is a surprise, because he never complained about any physical issues last season. Hanson missed only nine games in his career. Eight were in the 2010 season, when he sustained a knee injury when he was hit by a Jets player while kicking a field goal.
Regardless of when the end came – Thursday, after the 2013 season or even four or five more – Hanson has a secure place in history.
He ranks third in NFL history with 495 field goals, first in regular-season games played with one team (327) and fourth in field-goal attempts (601).
From the first day of his career until his last, Hanson was as consistent as homogenized milk. His lean body build kept him relatively free of injuries, and his even temperament allowed him to deal with the highs and lows of performing in the spotlight.
That never changed, whether it was his first field goal – a 38-yarder at Chicago on opening day in 1992 – to the last – or the 44-yarder against the Bears at Ford Field in the final game of 2012 that proved to be his last.
He was the ultimate professional in every way, from his practice habits and pre-kick routine to personal accountability for his performance, good and bad.
No one ever had to tell Hanson about a bad kick. He was harder on himself than any coach or fan could ever be.
At the opposite end of the ego spectrum, somebody else had to sing his praises for a big kick. He considered that part of the job. He was paid to make kicks, not celebrate.
Hanson made more than his share of big field goals, especially considering the Lions had only one winning season in his last 12 seasons.
One highlight was the 44-yard game-winner in overtime against the Cowboys in 1994 in a Monday Night game that featured a head-to-head battle between Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.
Another was a five field-goal performance in a victory over the Packers on Thanksgiving Day of 2003. And last season he beat the Eagles with an overtime field goal.
He had some misses, too. One was in last season’s overtime loss to the Texans on Thanksgiving Day. An overtime attempt that would have won the game hit the upright.
Hanson did not dread kicking under pressure. That’s part of a kicker’s job description. At the same time, it put him in a succeed-or-fail position on every kick that most players don’t face.
"As a kicker, especially, I’ve always said I wish I played some position where intensity and effort directly translate to the product on the field,” he said. "But mine is more just that cold, calculating execution of the kick.
"The pressure of performing every week and every kick being evaluated, and one week so high and the next week you feel terrible for a week -- I’m sure I might grow some hair back now.”
Hanson was a refreshing presence in the locker room for his willingness to confront the reality of situations and speak his mind. He never sugar-coated anything.
Late in the 2008 season, when the Lions were on the way to going 0-16, he summed up their situation this way: "We’re so bad that we finally have something to play for.”
And last year, when the Lions began an eight-game losing streak that took them from a 4-4 start to 4-12 and out of the playoffs, he admitted that the season was at a make-or-break point and the players had to face it.
"There’d better be some sleepless nights,” he said.
The Lions were consistent playoff contenders early in his career. From 1992 through 1999, they made the playoffs five times. But in the last 13 seasons there was only one playoff berth – in 2011, with a 10-6 won-lost record.
Hanson’s only regret involved the won-lost record, not his personal situation, but the good memories outweigh any bad ones.
"I haven’t even begun to take stock of all the great memories,” he said. "It’s almost too fresh, too hard. I’m not fully resigned to the memories. I’m not adding any more to them.
"My biggest regret was with the team, us never getting it done and being that elite team – the one the fans deserve and the one the City of Detroit deserves. I think about the Fords, too.
"The big misperception, with a bad record year to year, is that the Fords don’t care. They took the brunt of that, which everybody does when you lose. I wanted so bad to win.
"I appreciate them and respect them. It’s just really painful that we couldn’t ever put it together. I know they feel that way, too."