The 2019 regular season was a letdown overall for the Atlanta Falcons. One of the positions they’ve been blessed with talent for over a decade is at kicker. After releasing Matt Bryant last offseason and giving the job to Giorgio Tavecchio, the Falcons quickly realized they made a colossal mistake and re-signed Matt Bryant prior to the start of the regular season, only for that also to turn on them. Finding and keeping a great kicker is hard, something that Falcons fans were lucky to forget for a while.
This isn’t the first time Atlanta’s had one for a long time who was a franchise great. I recently had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Falcons-great and Pro Football Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen in which we discussed everything from the Falcons’ current kicking situation to the heated rivalry between the Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
On Younghoe Koo:
The Falcons made a kicking change halfway through the 2019 regular season when they released Matt Bryant and signed Younghoe Koo, who was most recently a part of the AAF’s Atlanta Legends. In 8 games with the Falcons, Koo went 23/26 with a long of 50-yards. It’s still a question if he’s the Falcons’ long-term solution at kicker.
“I think he’s a good, young prospect – and the verdict is still out,” Morten Andersen said. “I don’t think you can judge a guy from the limited amount of work that he’s had. The Falcons obviously believe in him in that they re-signed him. I think the litmus test will come this year, having a full season to see what the guy can do over 16 weeks. Then you can judge his body of work. He seems like a nice, young talent. I have not met him or spoken to him. But again, there’s a lot of good, young talent out there and the key is what’s between the ears. One thing is your physical skill, but can you sustain the mental game over a long period of time. Do you have staying power. Can you stay in the game for a career – not just a year, or six games. That’s the challenge, and that verdict is still out; we don’t know that yet because he hasn’t showed us yet.”
On Todd Gurley and jersey numbers:
With the Falcons recently signing running back Todd Gurley, and Gurley eventually selecting No. 21 as his new jersey number, a debate among fans began to grow as many argued that Deion Sanders’ former number should be retired. As someone who spent 8 seasons in Atlanta, bringing them some powerful moments — should the No. 5 be unwearable?
“No, I don’t think so. I’m fine with people using the number I used,” Andersen said. “The number I’m probably most associated with is No. 7, you know I had that for the longest time. But No. 5 was certainly a big part of me too in Atlanta. I have no problem with other players using that number, I don’t really get caught up in – is he worthy of retiring a number? I haven’t given it a five seconds thought.”
On the Falcons - Saints rivalry:
One thing that Falcons and Saints fans can agree on is that the rivalry between the two is arguably the most underrated in all of professional sports. As someone who had the rarity of legendary careers with two heated-rivals, I was interested who Andersen cheered for when both teams met on the gridiron.
“I’m staying really quiet, Evan. That’s just a no-win situation,” Andersen said. “I don’t go to those games – I think I’ve only attended one, and it was really uncomfortable. I’m conflicted. 21 years… 21 years with two franchises that hate each other. I was the leading scorer for both of them, at the time you know. I’m conflicted, so I try to stay really quiet.”
On being a Hall of Famer:
Currently, there’s only four kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. One of which, is Morten Andersen who was formally enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 5, 2017. They say that the event changes your life forever, as you enter football immortality.
“It’s a really nice thing to have on your resume. It’s a powerful brand enhancer,” Andersen said. “I don’t take it for granted. I take it very seriously. I wear that gold jacket with pride. I wear my Pro Football Hall of Fame ring and try to represent all of the teams I player for in a top-shelf manor. Being a Pro Football Hall of Famer just elevates everything that you touch and everything that you stand for, including the teams you played for because it gives them the ability to say that we have a hall of famer who is at the game today, or that who played for us. It elevates not only the history and the legacy of the team, but it also gives the fans a more powerful interaction I would say. Where the fans can take ownership of it and be proud of it and say, ‘Hey I was a part of that time when Morten played!’ or whoever. It’s a great thing.”
On his favorite moments as a Falcon:
Overall, Andersen played for five different NFL franchises spanning a 25-year legendary career. With that, comes many moments that fans will have for a lifetime. I asked in specifically, if he had any Falcons’ moments that he cherishes most.
“I’ll give you two different ones,” Andersen said. “The first one would obviously be the NFC Championship game when we won, we beat the Vikings in overtime. It was on a 38-yarder from the left hash, I was able to kick that. Another moment would be in October 2006, having been out of football for 20 months, working in a public park, training on my own, not being able to get back in the league – I got a chance to work out with the Falcons. I won the tryout against four guys half my age, and at the time I was 46 – these guys were 23-24 years old. I beat them, fair and square in a workout at Flowery Branch and signed a one year-deal and played another year and became the all-time scoring leader in the history of the NFL in December against Dallas. They stopped the game and that was a very powerful moment. It wasn’t just because I broke the scoring record, it was how it had happened and what I had to go through prior to that happening. So, those would be two powerful moments with Atlanta that I would point out.”
On whether the NFL will expand into Europe:
This upcoming season, the Falcons will have a home game taking place in London as part of the NFL’s International Series. As the NFL continues to push for a possible franchise being located in an international market, such as London, naturally I had to ask what Andersen’s thoughts were considering he’s from Denmark and is arguably the most successful foreign-born player in NFL history.
“I would love to see a team in London. I think it would be great,” Andersen said. “I think the internationalization; the proliferation of the NFL worldwide is underway, it’s coming. NFL Game Pass is very popular, I can just speak from my experience in Scandinavia and in Denmark. The younger generation is no longer watching games like the old school guys like me are on linear television. They’re watching it on their platforms, they’re watching it on iPad’s and phones. And they are watching it on NFL Game Pass. Outside of the United States, if you want to watch NFL you have to use NFL Game Pass. It’s coming, I’d love to see a team in England, I think it’d be awesome. I think it would be supported unbelievably, not just by the British fans but the European fans. Those games that are being played, those 3-4 games per year that are being played in London, in Tottenham are sold out, popular – give us more, give us more, and I say give them more.”
It was announced in February that the Jacksonville Jaguars would play two of their 2020 home games in London over two consecutive weeks, making them the first team in NFL history to play two home games outside the United States during the same season. It could lead to a franchise in London, and possibly elsewhere in Europe.
“I see London, and I don’t know if I see an expansion,” Andersen said. “I could see a team like Jacksonville, their owner Shadid Khan seems to have eyes there. So, I could see that. I don’t know if I see an expansion to 34 teams. Adding two more teams, would it be great? Sure. Evan, it’s an interesting question. London’s a bigger market than Jacksonville – and I’m not trying to take anything away from Jacksonville. But in my mind, if I’m a business guy, if I was running the league, I’d say London’s going to create more opportunities for the franchise and for the league. It doesn’t mean Jacksonville shouldn’t have a team. So maybe you do expand, but I think London would be a layup. It would be sold out, it’s such a big market. It’s still doable to go east coast, travel wise and play games. So, logistically you could certainly do it and I think it’d be great.”
Growing up in the 90s, Morten Andersen was the first Falcons kicker I knew of. The “Great Dane,” as he was nicknamed, held just about every kicking record available at the time of his retirement. Even though he spent a sizeable portion of his career with the Saints, Falcons fans will always appreciate the time he spent in Atlanta during his two stints. I greatly appreciate Andersen for taking the time to speak with me, on behalf of NJ Online Gambling which he is now an ambassador for.
Additionally, if you’d like to read more about Morten Andersen, and his history with the Falcons, click here.