O'Hara: Is Jason Hanson a future Hall of Famer?

Posted Apr 5, 2013

Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara takes a look at Jason Hanson's career and whether he will end up in Canton

There is a logical final step after retirement for any player whose career matched Jason Hanson's for length of service and depth of excellence.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame awaits those who run the ball, throw it and catch it at a superior level, along with those who block for the offensive playmakers and the defenders who stop them.

K Jason Hanson kicks a game-winning field goal in overtime at Minnesota in 2011. (AP Images)

But the Hall does not welcome men who kick or punt the ball for a living.

Hanson, who announced his retirement on Thursday after a 21-year career spent entirely with the Lions, had a career that is worthy of induction into the Hall of  Fame in Canton. His stats define his excellence: first on the all-time list for games played with one team (327), fifth in games played, third in field goals made (495) and third in points (2,150).

And, in emergencies – such as the one that arose last season – he could punt. And when he punted, Hanson looked like a real punter, not like a plumber who'd been brought in to do electrical work.

You can add to his impressive resume that Hanson is tied for first in fewest controversies, on or off the field – None.

When the news of Hanson's retirement broke Thursday, the reaction among fans on Twitter and website comments was overwhelming in two categories: 1. Retire his No. 4; 2. Hall of Fame.

To the first, I say no doubt. A jersey retirement ceremony is a given. Tuesday at his official farewell press conference would not be too soon.

And to the second, I repeat that Hanson's career performance is worthy of the Hall of Fame, but I doubt if it will happen.

Jan Stenerud is the only pure kicking specialist who has been voted into the Hall of Fame by the board of selectors. Stenerud was in the early wave of soccer-style kickers who revolutionized the kicking game. He kicked 19 seasons, the first 13 with the Kansas City Chiefs, from 1967-85.

And while his stats do not compare to Hanson's or any kicker of the modern era, Stenerud was worthy of the Hall of Fame for his performance in his era. He was elected in 1991, six years after retirement and the second year he was eligible.

Every other kicker or punter in the Hall played another position. That includes Lou "The Toe" Groza, who also played offensive line for the Browns, George Blanda, a quarterback for several teams, and Yale Lary, a defensive back and outstanding punter for the Lions in their championship era of the 1950s and beyond.

Otherwise, a "do not enter" sign might as well be posted on the door at Canton for kickers and punters.

Hanson isn't the only kicker who is worthy of having his bust in Canton.

Morten Andersen, the all-time leader in games played (382), points scored (2,544) and field goals made (565) has never been given serious consideration. Neither has Gary Anderson, second on the list in points and field goals.

The one active kicker who might break the AstroTurf ceiling is Adam Vinatieri, a brilliant clutch kicker who played on three Super Bowl champions with the Patriots and one with the Colts.

Vinatieri is worthy of the Hall of Fame. The fact that he produced in championship games puts him at the top of the class of kickers who should be considered for the Hall.

There has been a bias against kickers that goes back decades before Hanson joined the Lions in 1992 as a second-round draft pick. Kickers were considered weirdoes who weren't part of the team and weren't regarded as athletes by their teammates.

From watching Hanson's career, and Eddie Murray's before him with the Lions, I know that both were exceptional athletes who picked kicking a football for a career in sports. Hanson was timed in 4.94 seconds in the 40-yard dash in a workout before the 1992 draft.

The bias against kickers was especially acute when soccer-style kickers, many from foreign countries, began replacing straight-on Americans in the 1960s.

The late Norm Van Brocklin, a Hall of Fame quarterback and later head coach of the Vikings and Falcons, was once asked what could be done to stop the proliferation of side-winders.

"Tighten the immigration laws," Van Brocklin replied cryptically.

Instead of that, the Hall of Fame selectors should consider expanding the borders to give more attention to kickers, along with punters such as Ray Guy. Guy was the best punter I ever saw, regardless of how his stats match up with players punting more than a quarter century after Guy's career with the Raiders ended after the 1986 season.

One knock against Hanson, Andersen and Anderson is that they didn't play on championship teams. I get that. Winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate team accomplishment.

However, I don't think the Lions' losing seasons was caused by Hanson's performance. It shouldn't bar the door to Canton.