In most NFL circles, Ryan Longwell is viewed as an old man. His 20th high school reunion is coming next year. When hanging around with most of his teammates he is the relic from another time and place. However, when it comes to Lions kicker Jason Hanson, Longwell is that punk kid for the Vikings.
Hanson has been an ageless wonder, playing in his 20th season with the Lions. At some point this season, he will score the 2,000th point of his career and few kickers have ever been as consistent or as prolific.
Longwell said it couldn't happen to a better person because Hanson is active in the community and gives back as much as any player in the league. His success is something that Longwell has watched from a distance – not only admired, but tried to emulate.
"He is as good as they get, as a kicker and as a person," Longwell said. "I'm so happy for him that he has been able to play at a high level for so long."
At the time when Hanson was at Washington State and getting the attention of every NFL team looking for a kicker, he was also drawing the attention of a high school kid who saw Hanson as what he aspired to be. That high school kid was Longwell.
"In 1992 [Hanson's rookie season], I was in my senior year of high school," Longwell said. "He was at Washington State when I was in central Oregon growing up. He was a guy that I patterned myself after kicking. When I went to Cal, I kind of copied everything he had done. I remember in my rookie year when I got to play against him. It was pretty cool."
Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery and, not only did Longwell follow Hanson to the Pac-10 (Longwell went to California), but followed him to the NFC Central. The player he patterned himself after became a division rival and Sunday will mark the 15th season they have competed against one another – a statistic that even makes Longwell shake his head.
"It's just weird that we've been in the division together ever since," Longwell said. "To be in one place for 20 years with the team you drafted is amazing. He's just been so good for so long, despite having multiple head coaches, multiple position coaches, multiple holders over the years. He has still found a way to get it done. I have tons of respect for the guy."
Hanson has showed no signs of slowing down, and with the kickoff line moved forward he may continue on for a few more years to come. What had killed off aging kickers over the years was the lack of kickoff depth over time. With the kickoff line moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line this season, Longwell said it could help a player like Hanson and, believe it or not, add more longevity to his career.
"He's been playing some of his best football the last few years," Longwell said. "He is amazing. He just seems to get better. He can still kick the 50-yard field goal and he has always been clutch with games on the line. I wouldn't be surprised if he goes another four or five years."
Will Longwell follow in his footsteps in that respect as well?
"I feel fortunate I've played this long," Longwell said. "I don't even think about things like that. Jason is one of a kind and always will be. I just hope that someday people may compare me with him. That would be the ultimate compliment."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Lions' Hanson is Longwell's mentor
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