Originally written January 14, 2013 on Fox Sports Detroit:
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Some athletes might feel an urge to play another season just to try to solidify their place in a sport's history with hopes of being inducted into the Hall of Fame one day. In the case of Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson, that would appear to be an unrealistic goal. Not because he's undeserving. Hanson should be headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the future based on the consistency and longevity of his career. But it won't happen unless there's a major change in philosophy by the Hall of Fame voters, who continue to snub kickers and punters. That was further evidenced last week when former Michigan State kicker Morten Andersen failed to make the cut as one of the 15 finalists under consideration this year. Andersen only kicked more field goals (565) and scored more points (2,544) than any other player in NFL history during his 25-year career. Hanson ranks third all-time in both of those categories (495 field goals, 2,150 points) after making 32 of his 36 attempts in 2012. He turns 42 this summer and has been contemplating whether to return for his 22nd NFL season. You would think that Andersen and Hanson would be considered Hall of Fame shoo-ins considering their accomplishments. It just doesn't work that way. They put owners in the Hall, but not kickers and punters. Three kickers -- Jan Stenerud, George Blanda and Lou Groza -- are enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Stenerud is the only one who didn't play another position. Blanda was also a quarterback and Groza an offensive tackle. There are no punters, not even the greatest ever, Ray Guy. How Stenerud became the chosen one out of this group is interesting. The voters must have had a weak moment 22 years ago. Stenerud certainly had a tremendous career from 1967-85. He played in an era when the footballs and field conditions weren't quite so friendly, and the snappers and holders not always as reliable. But he's a Hall of Famer despite currently ranking 12th in career scoring, 10th in field goals made and, get this, 109th in field-goal accuracy (66.8 percent). Hanson is 18th in accuracy, making 82.4 percent of his kicks since coming into the league in 1992. From all indications, the Lions clearly want him back for at least another year, and why not? "He's still a Hall of Fame-caliber kicker," general manager Martin Mayhew said. "His accuracy hasn't declined," coach Jim Schwartz added. "He has been the definition of consistent. I wouldn't see any reason that would change. There hasn't been signs that it's in decline." The only real knock against Hanson is that he hasn't made many crucial kicks, largely because the Lions have had so many poor teams during his career. He missed a 47-yard attempt off the upright in overtime during the Lions' Thanksgiving Day loss to Houston. Most of time it hasn't been Hanson's fault, though. He's been a victim of the franchise's ineptness. The team's record over his 21 seasons is 123-213 (.366), plus 0-6 in the playoffs. Over the last 12 seasons, the Lions are 53-139 (.276) with only one winning season. You couldn't blame Hanson if he was just tired of it all and decided to retire now, but there are other incentives for him to return. The only problem is one year isn't going to be enough to accomplish them. He needs 71 field goals and 395 points to surpass Andersen's NFL records, both of which probably would take three seasons. Hanson also could fulfill his career dreams with a trip to the Super Bowl, although that might be more farfetched than anything at this point with the Lions coming off a 4-12 season. "I'm hesitant to feel like we've hit reverse," Hanson, still encouraged by the 10-win, playoff season in 2011, said following the season finale. "We have talent. Something needs to change but I don't think there's any blowing the team up and starting over." If Hanson, deep in his heart, believes the Lions can immediately turn things back in the right direction and become a contender again, he's more likely to want to commit to another year. However, he insisted it will be more about how he feels personally and whether he still has the desire to prepare hard enough to stay at the top of his game. "If I come back, it'll be full go," he said. "If I don't, I think it'll be not because of the season or anything here but simply because I don't think I'm going to prepare enough to be the best I can be." It's always sad to watch once-great athletes stay on too long to the point that their skills diminish and the final memories of them are all negative. That doesn't appear to be happening with Hanson, not even close If he still has the fire to compete, he should come back for at least another year, figure out whether those individual records are realistic or not, and just hope for the best for the team. Maybe by then, or some day down the road, the Hall of Fame voters will start to warm up a little more toward his profession.
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