Wed, 12 Aug 2020

Where are they now: Jason Hanson

Detroit Lions
06 Jul 2020, 20:25 GMT+10

Jason Hanson retired seven years ago knowing full well that nothing in his life would replace the sheer drama, competitive adrenaline rush and camaraderie with teammates he experienced in 21 seasons as the kicker for the Detroit Lions.

So he didn't try.

Hanson, who turned 50 on June 17 - and looks half that age, at most - gets his kicks from other pursuits in retirement.

He even kicks a soccer ball around occasionally with his three kids.

But there are no roaring crowds ignited by making a game-winning kick - which he did often as one of the most prolific and dependable kickers in NFL history.

"Nothing replaces that," Hanson said. "That's the great dilemma for almost every pro athlete. When you're done, you're never going to do something like that again, for the most part.

"I gravitated toward golf, but that's intensely frustrating for me. I don't kick anymore. Somebody asked me if I go out and kick balls for fun. No chance.

"It's just not worth kicking a ball so bad that I feel miserable."

He kicked it good - very good - for the Lions.

He ranks fourth in NFL history in career points scored (2,150) and field goals made (495), and he's sixth in games played (322).

He is No. 1 in league history in compiling those statistics with one team.

Being a Lion from start to finish of his career is something he does not take lightly.

"That's the best part," he said. "It was with the Lions, for better or worse. I just have one color set of jerseys. To be with one community in one area, that's something not all pro athletes get, even when they wanted to.

"To give your best for one franchise, I don't regret that at all. The Lions were good to me."

And Hanson was good to them, which is obvious from his longevity and consistent production over all 21 seasons.

Hanson came to the Lions as a second-round draft pick out of Washington State in 1992. It was a surprise pick, given that Eddie Murray had just completed his 12th season with the Lions.

The Lions' front office felt that by drafting Hanson they would get a young player with a stronger leg who would take over the kicking duties for another 12 years.

That was an underestimation. Hanson gave the Lions an extra nine years. However, Murray continued to kick through the 2000 season, spending time with six more teams. He won a Super Bowl with the 1993 Cowboys.

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Hanson fought through a heel injury in his final seasons. He had a fleeting thought of coming out of retirement after the injury healed, and when the Lions were having kicking problems early in 2014 before singing Matt Prater.

"My body felt good," Hanson said. "My heel, which was hurting, felt good. I went out and kicked. I kicked really good. I was like, 'Holy cow.' But that was really it. I just let it go.

"There was a slight window. Did I have the interest? And did the body work? But nothing came of it. I wasn't worried about it. It was really nothing.

"The team was moving on. I put the kicking shoes in the closet."

They have remained there.

Hanson and his wife, Kathleen, have made Metro Detroit their home since the midpoint of his career. They have three kids, sons Ryan and Luke, and a daughter, Jessica.

Hanson was popular among Lions fans, and he remains so in retirement. He is active in the Highland Park Baptist Church in Southfield, and he does speaking engagements and coaches young kickers.

"That sounds more glorified than it is," he said of coaching. "It's kind of word of mouth - 'Hey, are you giving lessons? Sure.' At any given time, there'll be three to five kids.

"The predominance of my speaking is faith based, talking about the Christian athlete."

He also does corporate engagements. .

No surprise about what he gets from the audience when he opens the floor to questions.

"They want to know what it was like playing with Barry Sanders," Hanson said. "And what it was like playing with Calvin Johnson. Who was the strongest player I ever played with?

"What happened with that kick you missed? What was the greatest kick you ever made? All the curious questions people want to know.

"What was the NFL experience like as well? That's the unique thing. It's a short window, but it's a great one. Very few people get a chance to do it.

"What it was like playing with Barry is probably the most popular one."

So what was it like?

"Barry was the greatest," Hanson said. "Just the uniqueness and greatness of what he did. He's the guy that they say, 'He's like Barry.' But nobody is."

Hanson divides his career into two almost equal segments - the Silverdome years for his first 10 seasons (1992-2001) and the Ford Field years for the last 11 (2002-12).

The two segments could not be more different.

The Ford Field years produced one winning season - 10-6 in 2011 and a wild-card playoff berth, the only postseason appearance in that period.

"It was tough," Hanson said. "I don't want to overplay it and have self-pity. Just year after year, by midseason your season is over. It's hard on everyone to show up and play at the highest level when you're 1-7 and 2-6 year after year.

"I tried to just be a pro. You show up. You do your job the best you can. Luckily, unlike the other guys, my job was mostly execution. I can't imagine what it's like to play such a violent, fast sport as football without knowing at the end of the year there'll be a playoff or something.

"The number one rule of sports is, don't lose."

Hanson broke in when the Lions competed regularly for playoff berths. The Lions made the playoffs five times and had six winning seasons in his first nine seasons.

"There were huge games, enormous crowds," Hanson said. "The excitement - not being able to hear yourself after a touchdown. The roars. The stands shaking.

"Those were some great memories -- big games that had meaning. A lot of electricity. There was a buzz in the air from the moment you showed up at the stadium.

"Barry was the focal point of the team. We were pretty good. What ruined it all was losing in the first round of the playoffs. We were really good, but we never reached being one of the great teams."

Hanson had a hand - or a foot, more accurately - in one of the highlight moments of his Silverdome years.

Sanders and Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith had a showdown game at Texas Stadium in Week 3 of the 1994 season on Monday Night TV.

Sanders won the individual rushing battle with 194 yards to Smith's 143.

And the Lions' won the game, 20-17, on Hanson's 44-yard field goal with 32 seconds left on the clock in overtime.

It was a heroic moment for Hanson, who experienced immediate redemption with the game-winning kick - and a dose of the reality of being a kicker in a high profile game when he got back to Detroit.

Redemption came from making the winning kick after being wide left from 51 yards and having two others blocked, from 57 and 51 yards.

"It was a fitting end," Hanson said. "Barry torched him. I'm glad he was rewarded with a win."

He was out to dinner with Kathleen midweek when he overhead a woman at a nearby table talking about the game - and critiquing the kicker.

"She said, 'Can you believe that kicker?'" Hanson said, laughing as he recalled the incident 26 years later. "'He missed all those field goals. It's a good thing he made that one.'

"I agree."

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