O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: Jason Hanson, and kickers everywhere, should root for Morten Andersen

Posted Jan 31, 2014

As one great kicker to another, Hanson should have a vested interest in the voting Saturday for the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Burning questions with Super Bowl XLVIII – and the commercials – approaching: Why Jason Hanson should and will root for Morten Andersen Saturday (and why every other kicker in NFL history should, too), as a former Hall of Fame selector who I’d vote for this year, how a former Lion who can make an impact on the game, and a burning question sent from the Twittersphere:

Q. Why should Hanson root for Andersen, and what is the Hall of Fame voting process?

A. Greatest recognizes greatness, and as one great kicker to another, Hanson should have a vested interest in the voting Saturday for the finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Morten AndersenKicker Morten Andersen (Photo: AP Images)

Hanson had one of the greatest careers of any kicker when he retired in March after 21 seasons with the Lions.

First, it’s important to understand the basics of the process. The 46-member Board of Selectors meets Saturday to vote on the 15 modern-day finalists and the two candidates in the senior category. A maximum of five modern-day players can be voted into the Hall, along with two seniors.

Andersen is one of 15 modern-day finalists. Punter Ray Guy and defensive lineman Claude Humphrey are the senior candidates. Jan Stenerud is the only kicking specialist ever voted into the Hall. No player who punted only is in the Hall.

So why Andersen, and why now – 23 years (1991) after Stenerud was voted in?

A. "Obviously, it’s another kicker, and I think it’s great," Hanson said the other day as he tooled around town doing errands. "It’s time, I believe, for the NFL to come to grips with a position that’s part of the game. Times have changed. Kicking and points are a huge part of the game. Punting, too. It can play a huge part in a team’s success – or failure.

"There’s absolutely no reason it shouldn’t be recognized as such."

Hanson gets the argument that punters and kickers don’t toil in the trenches.

"Most of the game is played play after play, by the other guys," he said. "It’s called 'special' for a reason. They are unique plays within a football game that don’t altogether equal a third of the plays in the game.

"The game is fought in the trenches by other guys. Everybody who goes to see football, they go to see the big plays, big hits. Out trots the skinny guy to kick a ball.

"Truly, I think it (kicking) is completely unique in sport – something that’s crucial to the game, but so different to what goes on."

Steve Tasker has been a finalist strictly as a special-teams player – mostly a cover man – but never made it to the Hall. Guy has been one of 15 finalists seven times but never made it, either.

What’s the solution?

"Since they’re 'specialists,' give them a special hall," Hanson said. "Give them their own wing, off to the side. I hope Morten gets in. He deserves it. My solution, to keep from tainting the Hall, is to give them their own little Hall. Recognize the great ones for what they contributed to the game.

"Morten Andersen and Ray Guy are two of them."

Q. Do Andersen and Guy, or any kickers or punters, really belong in the Hall?

A. The Hall of Fame would not be diminished by the addition of Andersen or Guy.

Andersen, who played at Michigan State, passes the stats test. He played 25 seasons over 26 years (1982-2007) and is a finalist for the first time.

He is the NFL’s all-time leader in games played (382), points scored (2,544) and field goals made (565). He was voted the kicker on two all-decade teams – the 1980s and ‘90s. He was first-team All Pro three times and made seven Pro Bowls.

The career leader for every other position – TD passes, receptions, rushing yards, interceptions and sacks, is in the Hall of Fame.

Guy passes the eye test. If you ever saw him, you’d say the list of all-time great punters started with Guy. The race was for No. 2.

He can’t be evaluated fairly on stats because of how field conditions and the ball have changed over the years. No punter dominated his era the way Guy did in 14 seasons with the Raiders.

The late Monte Clark, who was head coach of the Lions from 1978-84 and played on an offensive line in Cleveland that blocked for Jim Brown, once said that when his team played the Raiders, he told his punter not to watch Guy warm up. He’d get spooked by watching how far he could punt, and with suborbital hang time.

Q. What about Hanson and other kickers as Hall of Fame candidates?

A. Hanson ranks third all-time in points scored (2,150) and field goals made (495) and fifth in games played (327). If kickers can be treated the same as players at other positions, Hanson’s career with the Lions is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame.

Jason HansonFormer Lions' Kicker Jason Hanson (Photo: Gavin Smith)

The one active kicker who has the best chance is Adam Vinatieri. He kicked on three Super Bowl winners with New England and one with the Colts, and he performed under pressure. He kicked the game-winning field goals in two Super Bowls for New England.

In a strange way, his eventual candidacy for the Hall of Fame would hurt Andersen and other kickers if Selectors are saving their vote for a kicker like Vinatieri.

Q. Cliff’s notes: How can former Lion Cliff Avril make an impact on the Super Bowl for the Seahawks?

A. If the Seahawks get pressure on Peyton Manning, it will change the rhythm and timing of their offense. Manning has never been particularly nimble, and at this stage of his career, he’s the greatest un-athletic quarterback in history. He doesn’t move out of the pocket.

In the Broncos’ playoff victories over the Chargers and Patriots, Manning dropped back to pass 79 times without being sacked and was hit only once.

Avril has been a playmaker for the Seahawks in all of their big victories, both in the regular season and playoffs, with tackles-for-loss, quarterback sacks and hits and turnovers created.

Turnovers are monumental in the Super Bowl. One or two plays from Avril can change the game. So can near-misses, if he forces Manning to move out of the pocket – and out of his comfort zone.

The possibility of a big play is why I feel good about my pick: Seahawks 19, Broncos 17.

Q. Hall of Fame: Who would get your vote this year?

A. Three are clear-cut, no-brainers – wide receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Walter Jones and linebacker Derrick Brooks. They are among the best ever at their positions. They pass the eye test, regardless of stats.

Tony Dungy, the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl (the 2005 Colts), is eligible for the first time. Dungy’s inclusion enhances anything – from a casual conversation in a hotel lobby to the Hall of Fame. So vote him in, and don’t keep him waiting.

Will Shields, a guard who played 14 seasons with Kansas City, made the Pro Bowl in each of his last 12 seasons. It’s his third year as a finalist, and he should get in.

Both seniors – Guy and Humphrey – can be voted in. They are separate from the modern candidates.

Guy would get my vote. Admittedly, I’m on the fence about Humphrey and never considered him among the best of the best.

Despite his stats, Morten Andersen has to wait another year.

Q. From Twitter: "What would it take for the Lions to trade with the Rams up to the No. 2 spot to grab Sammy Watkins?"

A. Short answer: more than it’s worth, based on history.

Watkins, who played at Clemson, is the top-rated receiver in the draft, and the position is a primary need for the Lions in the draft, or in free-agency.

In 2012, the Rams went into the draft with the second overall pick while Washington was sitting at No. 6 and desperate to draft a quarterback. Washington traded up to the No. 2 spot, giving the Rams three first-round picks and second-rounder. Washington took Robert Griffin III.

Quarterbacks command a premium, but it still would be too costly for the Lions to move from the 10th spot to No. 2.