After an offseason where the Falcons had a kicking controversy for the first time in what seems like a decade, Atlanta eventually brought back franchise icon Matt Bryant. But long before Bryant started his exceptional run, the Falcons had another legendary kicker: Morten Andersen. Andersen had two stints in Atlanta, and is of course best known for his heroic kick in the 1998 NFC Championship that defeated the Vikings and sent the Falcons to their first ever Super Bowl.
I had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Andersen just before the 2019 season. I’ll be splitting the interview into three parts, as it was quite long. Here’s Part 3, where Andersen recalls what it was like to prepare for and execute the legendary game-winning kick in the 1998 NFC Championship. He also gives his advice to all the young kickers out there trying to make it in the NFL.
If you missed the first part of the interview, you can find it here: Part 1 | Part 2
Morten was speaking on behalf of US-bookies.
Kevin Knight, The Falcoholic: I’ve got to ask, of course, about your legendary play, the one that all Falcons fans remember: the game-winning overtime kick in the 1998 NFC Championship game, which helped the Falcons defeat the Vikings and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in team history. How did you prepare for that moment, and what was the aftermath like for you as a player, teammate, and person?
Morten Andersen: Part of my pre-game routine--the night before in the hotel--I did a lot of visualization. It’s actually called cognitive intervention. So I would go through potential plays and kicks that may happen in the game. One of those scenarios--and I have it written down in my daily log--was a 38-yarder from the left hash to win the game in overtime. I had rehearsed it, in real time and in slow motion, made the kick, and saw myself being successful.
So when this situation presented itself on gameday, it was like “woah.” It was kind of like wearing an old shoe--it felt really good. And one of the things about being in control of that situation that gave me so much power was that I had already done it. So I knew that we were going to the Super Bowl, I just didn’t tell anyone else. Judging from everyone else, they weren’t real sure. They were all on their knees, holding hands and praying. I thought “these guys, they’re not in control.”
I was just standing there, really confident. I knew they were calling timeout--which they did. That timeout gave me extra time to get my target line. As soon as I lined up--and of course it was deafening, it was so loud--I knew. And when the ball came, it looked big, and everything was in slow motion. As soon as I hit the ball, I started running, because I knew it was right down the middle. Which it was.
And so all of these things just led to an experience at the highest level. It is called “unconscious competence.” Something you can do in your sleep. Something that’s a foregone conclusion. It is performance at the highest, highest level. The highest level of learning. And that was a very unique kick, because it had been made Saturday night in my mind. So when that presented itself, it was almost surreal to me. It was like “Wow, the power of the mind.”
The aftermath, I just remember deafening silence. Up in the endzone, and in the nosebleeds, Falcons fans going absolutely bonkers. And me being at the bottom of a pile of really happy teammates. It was...just pure joy.
K: Yeah, that’s great. I believe I was five years old when that game happened, so I wasn’t watching it closely. But going back and watching the game, and feeling that moment as a full Falcons fan now, it’s really something. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to actually be on the field and at the bottom of the pile. That’s incredible.
M: Yeah! It hurt. (Laughs)
K: Haha, you were probably so hopped up on adrenaline at that point that it’s all worth it.
M: I can give you the end of the story, too. I’m sitting on the bus, and my agent calls me. He goes: “Wow, that was pretty cool.”
I go: “Yeah, no kidding. We’re in the Super Bowl!”
He goes: “You forgot.”
“Forgot what?” I asked.
“When we negotiated your contract a few years ago, you had a performance clause in your contract. It would give you $300,000 if you made the winning kick in an NFC Championship game, and/or in a Super Bowl. So you just made $300K!”
I was like “Well, thank god you didn’t tell me before the kick!”
K: Haha, oh wow. Hey, that’s a nice surprise too.
M: Yeah, that was kind of a nice surprise to get on the bus.
K: Final question here. You experienced your share of ups-and-downs as a kicker, particularly early in your NFL career. Do you have any advice for young kickers about how to overcome mistakes and grow as a player?
M: Yeah, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, I think. Number 1, it’s a marathon. It’s a long season. Not one kick--good or bad--defines your ability as a kicker. You have to be mentally strong to endure that position. You have to understand that you’ll be in situations that are more distasteful than any other position on the football field--maybe other than quarterback.
Your plays are going to be polarizing. Your feedback is going to be immediate: if you succeed or don’t, it’s pretty obvious. Nobody cares how the snap and the hold was. What they care about is “where did the ball end up?”
So, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You shouldn’t be judged by one performance or one kick. You have to understand that “goal windows” are important. Don’t set yourself goals that are absolute and threatening, but give yourself goals that are subjective and motivational. Goal windows are really healthy.
Be involved in your process, and make the process as good as you can make it. Really hone in on your workbench, really understand what it is that makes you successful. And study your behavior--study your film. Study when you have good kicks. Usually, when you’re missing--and I had a situation where I would miss a few in a row--I would always go back and look at the film, and when I was striking the ball really well. I would take that to my coping rehearsals, to my mental training, and really grind and fix it. Before it became a problem.
For a young guy, understand that you have to be process-oriented. Immerse yourself in your workbench and really own that, and trust it. Trust it and go out and play freely on Sunday. Pull the trigger!
Thanks for reading Part 3 of my interview with Morten Andersen, and thanks to Morten himself for offering the interview in the first place. He provided so many great stories and insights into the kicking game, it was incredible to talk to him. I hope you’ve enjoyed our conversation!