For all of his accomplishments, here's one Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson would rather not add to his list: kicking the game-winning field goal on Sunday to beat Green Bay and rescue the Lions from the badge of dishonor that would be an 0-16 season.
"No, thanks. I'd rather win by a couple touchdowns," Hanson said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday at Lambeau Field.
Detroit's history-making season has been particularly hard on Hanson. The Lions reached the NFC championship game in 1991 and selected the strong-legged Hanson in the second round of the 1992 draft. He's stuck with the Lions through thick and thin. It's mostly been thin, of course, for a franchise that had wrapped up its eighth consecutive losing season way back in the second weekend of November.
"Losing is not fun, and each year, you're drained at the end of the year, but at the same time, I've never regretted being here," said Hanson, who is the only active pre-free agency player in the league to have played his entire career in one city.
Hanson has been one of the few bright spots for a team threatening to become the only team in NFL history to finish 0-16, futility that would eclipse even the 0-14 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976. Two weeks ago, he broke Morten Andersen's NFL record with his 41st field goal of 50 yards or longer. He's 21-of-22 this season – the only miss was a block – including a perfect 8-for-8 from 50 and beyond.
Not bad for a 38-year-old guy who laughs when he recalls the "old fogies" who were in their eighth and ninth NFL seasons when he was just getting started.
Hanson calls this, his 17th season in the league, his finest, though he admitted it wasn't like he was having an "out-of-body experience." With the Lions starved of points, the coaches have called his number more than ever to boot long field goals. Hanson takes pride in the accuracy of his long-distance leg.
"Early in my career actually, I missed a bunch," he said. "I came out of (Washington State) and was known for long ones, so I was real nervous for it because everybody was like, ‘Watch this. He made them in college.' I'd get nervous and mis-hit them. So, that's come around."
None of the personal platitudes mean much, however, to a guy who hasn't experienced the NFL postseason since 1999.
"You think things will be different, but obviously not," Hanson said. "A coach once said, ‘You know, when it's like this, all you're doing is rowing. There's no wind in your sails.' And that's what it's been. It's just been constant rowing. You know, sports is about winning and losing. Losses, obviously, are dangerous at any point, because they start to drain you after a period of time, and we've had that for a while."
Hanson has little doubt the Lions will put forth a strong effort on Sunday against Green Bay, which is 5-10 and has lost five straight. That's because, even though the Lions have been outscored by 15.9 points per game and have allowed almost double their 246 points scored, Hanson said the team has played hard and has generally avoided the bickering that can poison a locker room.
"From being in sports for awhile," Hanson said, "you can tell, ‘Hey, we're practicing,' but I'll look at the punter and say, ‘We've turned it in. You can tell.' That hasn't happened here. At least the team has tried, even though some weeks that we've played bad enough where people think we've packed it in, I know we haven't."
Asked which of the losses was toughest to swallow, Hanson didn't mention Week 2 against Green Bay, when the Lions rallied to take a lead into the fourth quarter, only to get blown out at the end. Nor did he mention the 12-10 loss at Minnesota in Week 6, the 27-23 loss at Chicago in Week 9 or the 20-16 loss three weeks ago against Minnesota. The Lions held fourth-quarter leads in all of those. Instead, he cited a humiliating 47-10 loss to Tennessee on Thanksgiving.
"Most people just look at the record and don't pay any attention, even though we've had some good games," Hanson said. "So, you're thinking, ‘Let's show people. Let's get in there and fight and show people what we're made of' and we've played really bad. So, I think after that game, everybody was a little bit upset and shocked, and you felt a little bit of air go out."
Interestingly, Hanson has never won in Wisconsin. A lot of that 0-17 record can be pegged to mediocre (or worse) Lions teams having to deal with Brett Favre, of course. But the Lions haven't always been awful. Hanson and Co. reached the playoffs five times in the 1990s, including losses to the Packers in 1993 and 1994.
"That's pretty amazing," Hanson said. "We had some good teams. We won the division a few years, go to the playoffs, had Barry (Sanders), and we couldn't win. That's probably the greater mystery."
Now, with the Lions one loss away from being a sad footnote in history – not to mention the butt of jokes – Hanson struggles to explain what it would mean to he and his teammates.
"It's tough to sometimes look at the larger picture. Nobody wants that," Hanson said. "It doesn't seem real. Not that nobody knows it's happening, it's just – I don't know. I know for a fact that I've seen us play worse in years before than this. We just can't find a way to win when we've put ourselves in position.
"It's hard to believe the whole season, after going 4-0 in preseason, that we couldn't get a win somewhere along the line. Obviously, everybody here knows we're not a good team, but an 0-15 team at this point? It's hard to take in. It's puzzling. I don't mean to say nobody feels like we didn't do it ourselves. All our names are on this. But it's just surreal."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hanson stays proud amid losses
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