<
>

Falcons reach agreement with veteran K Andersen

9/20/2006 - NFL Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA -- In an effort to address a place-kicking situation that spiraled out of control in the first two weeks of the season, with second-year veteran Michael Koenen converting only two of eight field goal attempts, the Atlanta Falcons have reached for an old and familiar friend.

But it wasn't Todd Peterson, who connected on 23 of 25 field goals in 2005 but went unsigned by Atlanta this offseason, to whom the Falcons turned.

Instead, the team on Tuesday reached agreement with venerable kicker Morten Andersen, 46, who has not played in the NFL since 2004. Contract details were not immediately available but, given the club's salary cap situation, it is likely that Andersen signed a one-year contract for the minimum base salary.

As if there isn't enough irony involved in Andersen's return, his first game will be next Monday night against the New Orleans Saints, the franchise with which he entered the league. Andersen was one of the most popular players in Saints' history and his release in 1995 created considerable fan backlash. He still holds the New Orleans franchise record for scoring, along with the Atlanta career mark as well.

"Talk about a story, huh?" Andersen told ESPN.com when reminded of next Monday night's upcoming visit to the Superdome. "We should all get a lot of miles out of that one. If you [media] guys can't make that a story, you ought to retire."

A 19-year veteran, Andersen once noted that he planned to kick in the league until he was 50, and wanted to retire as the leading scorer in NFL history. He may get the opportunity to reach the second of the goals. Andersen has accounted for 2,358 points in his storied career and trails all-time leader Gary Anderson by 76 points.

Said Andersen: "When I said that I wanted to kick until I was 50, no one said I couldn't skip a year here or there. So I took last season off, right? Now I'm ready to go again. It's going to be great."

George Blanda is the only player older than Andersen to play in the NFL since 1960, retiring after the 1975 season at age 48.

It is believed that Andersen will be the Falcons' kicker on field goal attempts of 40 yards or less and that Koenen, who has one of the league's strongest legs, will be the choice for long field goal tries. Koenen, who has handled all three kicking chores in the first two games, converted all eight field goal attempts in the preseason. But he made just two of four attempts in the regular-season opener at Carolina and then missed all four tries in last Sunday's 14-3 victory over Tampa Bay.

Koenen was the Atlanta punter in 2005, but did register two field goals tries, and made a 58-yarder -- the longest conversion in the league last season. The Falcons' brass decided to award him the placement job this year, in addition to his punting and kickoff duties, although no one has handled all three tasks in the league since the 1982 season.

Coach Jim Mora allowed on Sunday evening that the field goal situation was "an issue [the Falcons] would not disregard," but suggested the team would try to remedy Koenen's problems. It is believed Andersen, who has been phoning teams whenever kicker openings arise in an attempt to revive a career some feel could land him in the Hall of Fame, auditioned for Falcons' officials early this spring.

There has been, Andersen said, "ongoing dialogue" between he and Mora for quite some time. When Koenen missed all four field goal tries on Sunday afternoon, Andersen left a message on Mora's cell phone, reminding him of his interest in returning to the game. Mora returned the call on Monday and then Tuesday morning phoned Andersen to invite him to kick in front of team officials, including club president and general manager Rich McKay.

With McKay present, Andersen attempted about eight field goals and hit the ball well. In fact, he clanged one attempt off the right upright from 55 yards out. The Falcons' brass, which had gone back and tracked Andersen's kicks over the last three years of his career, and decided that they compared favorably with statistics from around the league, was sufficiently impressed.

"I still feel good," said the always classy Andersen, who resides only 15 minutes from the Falcons' practice complex in Flowery Branch, Ga. "I definitely feel like I can do it. It's a matter now of getting in there and getting the timing down with [the snapper and holder], and then I'm good to go. I can't begin to tell you how much I'm looking forward to it."

One of the game's all-time greatest clutch kickers, Andersen ranks second in league history in field goals made, with 520 in 658 attempts. He has also made 798 of 808 extra point tries. In stints with New Orleans (1986-1994), Atlanta (1995-2000), the New York Giants (2001) and Kansas City (2002-2004), the former Michigan State star scored 100 or more points 13 times. He made 18 of 22 field goal tries in 2004, his most recent season in the league.

Nicknamed the "Great Dane," because he was born in Denmark, and came to America as an exchange student, Andersen has a league-record 40 field goals of 50 yards or more.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.