Jason Hanson: A Kicker for the Ages


Detroit Lions Logo

Generation Jason Hanson

 

“For a whole generation of Lions fans, there’s been one kicker. No matter how disappointing the season, you could always count on Jason Hanson doing his part — and a little bit more. . . . There were times when it seemed like he was our leading tackler on special teams.”

                                                                                                -Bill Ford Jr., Lions Owner

A Fond Farewell:

On Tuesday, April 9th, 2013, we said goodbye to a Detroit sports mainstay. For on that day, longtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson held a press conference, officially ending a magnificent, if bittersweet, career.

On Tuesday, April 9th, 2013, we said goodbye to a Detroit sports mainstay. For on that day, longtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson held a press conference, officially ending a magnificent, if bittersweet, career.

The news came as a shock to many, including myself, when he announced it on the previous Thursday. With the rebuilding the team has been doing, and the bright hope for a Super Bowl appearance in the near future, no one really saw this coming. Even Hanson himself thought he may continue:

“I gave serious thought and consideration to playing in 2013. While the determination and willpower are still there, the wear and tear on my body, especially the issues I had and still have with my heel, have convinced me that it’s time to retire.” – Jason Hanson

Jason Hanson as a rookie in 1992.

Jason Hanson as a rookie in 1992.

From WSU to the NFL

Jason Hanson was the Lions’ 2nd Round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. He was the 56th overall pick out of PAC-12 powerhouse Washington State University, where he made an immediate impact as a freshman in 1988. The Sporting News named him to their Freshman All-American Team. While attending WSU, he set or tied many NCAA records. Among these records, he set the most field goals from 50 or more yards, a foreshadowing of his future with the Lions. In 1989, he was voted an All-American standout.  While there, he also saw the beginning of another future Hall of Fame career when freshman Drew Bledsoe joined the squad in Jason Hanson’s junior year.

When he joined the Lions, they were considered to be one of the premier NFC teams, making it to the NFC Championship Game the previous season. Barry Sanders was the talk of the town, and the pick of Hanson in the second round went largely unnoticed by most of the media, as many saw him as just a backup and future replacement for the current Lions kicker, 1980 draft pick Eddie Murray. Many were surprised by the Lions decision to release Eddie Murray, which, then-coach Wayne Fontes backed up with the statement that Hanson “could be a Lion for a decade or two.” How prophetic that proved to be!

The decision to release Murray for a rookie drove the critics nuts, but Jason Hanson proved all the critics wrong. He made 80.8% of the field goals he attempted his rookie season, including everything inside 40 yards. In fact, other than Barry Sanders and Herman Moore, he was the only reliable Lion the entire season, as the team went from first in the NFC Central in 1991 to last in 1992. That season, Sanders gave Jason Hanson the nickname “Baby J”, because he looked so young.

Jason Hanson in a throwback jersey on a typical Detroit Thanksgiving.

Jason Hanson in a throwback jersey on a typical Detroit Thanksgiving.

 

Through the lean years, Jason Hanson remained true!

Jason Hanson played every game of every season from 1992 until the November 7th 2010 game against the Jets, when his knee was injured during a field goal attempt by a falling Jets player. He was placed on injured reserve two weeks later. He returned in 2011 to get one more chance at the playoffs, only to watch the Lions lose just the sixth playoff game of his career.

In sports bars I have visited across Michigan, he has been called “Ol’ Reliable”. He enjoyed a 21 season career in the blue and silver and scored 2,150 points. He was very accurate on both his field goal attempts and his point after attempts, kicking 82.4% and 98.8%, respectively. His percentage made from over 50 yards was outstanding alone, at 55.9%. He holds many NFL records, including most games (327) and most seasons (21) with one team. He also has the most field goals from beyond 50 yards (52) and the most field goals of 40 or more yards (189).  He also became the first player to score over 2,000 points with one franchise on November 18, 2011. He is the third leading points getter in NHL history, a two  time pro-bowler and three time All-Pro. He was the last player to still be with the same franchise he played for prior to the salary cap and free agency in the NFL.  To put his longevity into a greater perspective: He is the last active player to have played in an NFL game in Milwaukee against the Packers.

During his stellar career, Hanson saw the worst that the Lions could be and some of the best. He played alongside legends like Herman Moore and Barry Sanders,. He saw over-hyped flops like Joey Harrington and Charles Rogers. He played for 8 different coaches. His last and current coach, Jim Schwartz, said at his retirement: “You took him for granted because you had so much confidence in his ability to do his job. Jason Hanson is a Hall of Fame kicker.”

Lions president Tom Lewand stated at the retirement announcement that Jason Hanson would become the 14th member of the “Pride of the Lions” Ring of Honor. This includes joining the ranks of former players Barry Sanders, Joe Schmidt, Charlie Sanders, Lem Barney, Yale Lary, Dutch Clark, Alex Wojciechowicz, Doak Walker, Bobby Layne, Jack Christiansen, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Lou Creekmur, and Dick LeBeau.  All of these players are also members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking towards retirement

End of an Era in Detroit

 

The future of Lions kicking…

The day after Jason Hanson announced he would be retiring, the Lions agreed to terms with pro bowl kicker David Akers. Akers was quoted as saying: “I’m not trying nor would I be able to fill the likes of Jason’s shoes. He is and will always be a legend as far as I’m concerned. That being said, it will be an honor to attempt to follow in his footsteps.”  Lewand also released the following statement, saying: “Jason Hanson is the gold standard. He had an exemplary, Hall of Fame-worthy career on the field.”

The rest of the NFL world may not realize this, but we, as Lions fans, have known these things for two decades. Jason Hanson was a Detroit sports treasure, alongside the likes of Steve Yzerman, Al Kaline, and many others, who played for our teams over the last 112 years. He never left us for love of money. That kind of trait is rare these days in sports and Jason Hanson, though he may have had one more year left, chose to leave the game rather than go play somewhere else for more money. He watched playoffs slip away and endured a winless season. Yet, he persevered on as a Detroit Lion. For that loyalty, drive and determination, he will be missed by Lions fans for years to come.

Leave a comment