State Your Case: Jason Hanson

Set an NFL record by playing 21 seasons with the same franchise

(Published November 2017)

Quarterback Warren Moon and defensive tackle Merlin Olsen both played in 208 NFL career games on their way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Former Detroit Lions’ placekicker Jason Hanson played in 208 career NFL losses. That’s an NFL record for a single player, by the way, and it’s the obstacle standing in the way of Hanson’s own candidacy for the Hall of Fame.

Hanson certainly has the credentials for Canton. He played 21 seasons with one team, an NFL record. Only four players in NFL history played more games than the 327 of Hanson, and only three scored more points than his 2,150. His 52 career field goals of 50 yards or more are another NFL record.

But this may be a case of an employer keeping an employee out of the Hall of Fame simply because the employer didn’t win enough. During Hanson’s 21-year career the Lions managed only six winning seasons, never collecting more than 10 victories in any season. The Lions went 119-208 in Hanson’s 327 games, including the only 0-16 season in NFL history in 2008.

“As a kicker, I’ve always said I wish I played some position where intensity and effort directly translate to the product on the field,” Hanson said. “But mine is more just that cold, calculating execution of the kick.”

At times there were offensive deficiencies in Detroit. The Lions didn’t find a franchise-caliber quarterback until Matthew Stafford in 2009, Hanson’s 18th season. The Lions couldn’t establish a running game after Barry Sanders retired following the 1999 season, Hanson’s eighth year. And there were defensive woes throughout his two decades of employment.

About the only phase of the game the Lions could count on from 1992 through 2012 was Hanson’s right foot. He never let his team down; his team let him down. Hanson led the NFC in scoring in his second season in 1993 with 130 points, the first of his 12 100-point seasons. He led the NFL in conversion kicks with a perfect 48-of-48 in 1995, then went to his first Pro Bowl in 1997 and again in 1999.

Hanson set an NFL record for consecutive field goals of 40 yards or more with 24 from 2007 through 2009. He kicked a franchise-record 56-yard field goal in 1995 indoors against Cleveland, then did it again outdoors against Carolina in 2008 – one of a personal-best eight 50-yarders he boomed that season.

Of the 119 Detroit victories in his career, Hanson delivered 19 game-winning field goals, including six in the final two minutes of games. His nine overtime field goals gave him a share of another NFL record.

The offensive struggles by the Lions often forced him to try long field goals. So he kicked an NFL-record 188 field goals of 40 yards or more in his career. He kicked 18 of those in 2012, one short of the NFL record from that distance. Hanson converted 82.3 percent of his career field goal tries, including 87.2 percent from inside the 50 and 95.3 percent from inside the 30.

Hanson was automatic on a team that was not.

After the 2012 season, at 42 years of age, Hanson decided to retire. But it wasn’t like his career was running on fumes at that point. Quite to the contrary. Hanson registered a career-high 134 points that season to finish sixth in the NFL in scoring. His 32 field goals were the second most of his 21-year career, and he was perfect on his 38 extra point kicks.

All this on a team that finished 4-12.

But Hanson’s greatness spans beyond his 21 NFL seasons. He was a first-team all-state kicker in high school in Spokane, Wash., then the consensus All-America kicker at Washington State in 1989. He left Pullman with school records for points (328), field goals (63) and longest field goal (62 yards). The Lions then used a second-round draft pick on Hanson in 1992, claiming him with the 56th overall choice. Only three pure kickers in the last 26 drafts have been selected higher than Hanson.

Hanson also filled in at punter for the Lions on an emergency basis in five different seasons, kicking 15 times for an average of 35.6 yards with a long of 50, and added 36 tackles on special teams as the last line of defense on Detroit’s kicking teams.

Hanson became eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2018 but didn’t even make the list of the 108 preliminary candidates. Few candidates on the ballot had a resume of accomplishment that could match his. But there are only two pure kickers enshrined in Canton, and 68.5 percent of all players enshrined won championships.

Still, the only player in NFL history to score 2,150 points for one franchise deserves more than a passing glance from the Hall-of-Fame selection committee.

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