At the simple mention of Bjorn Nittmo’s name, Morten Andersen erupted in laughter.
That’s the sort of reaction Nittmo has drawn since materializing almost out of nowhere in 1989.
Andersen, the NFL’s all-time scoring leader, is Nittmo’s kicking idol. Andersen is from Copenhagen, Denmark, visible across Oresund Sound from Nittmo’s hometown of Lomma, Sweden.
Andersen was with Atlanta in 1997, when Nittmo suffered his devastating concussion against the Falcons in a preseason game. Nittmo knows he must have been excited to meet his hero but has zero memory of it.
“It was normal for kickers to get together to shoot the breeze and talk about the trade,” Andersen said. “I don’t recall it 100 percent, but I remember I enjoyed meeting him.”
In considering Nittmo’s plight, Andersen lamented the way kickers get ridiculed for not being real NFL players and taken for granted.
Only one full-time kicker, Jan Stenerud, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Andersen has been a Hall of Fame finalist four straight years and will find out if he made it next week.
“It’s time to put the old stereotypes on the shelf, and let’s just talk about a football player,” Andersen said. “It is called football, right? Let’s end the rhetoric that kickers are just a sideshow.”
Kickers and punters also are stigmatized when it comes to concussion litigation. They’ve been maligned by other players who claim kickers don’t face the same long-term health threats.
“I would venture to say that every kicker out there has had probably at least one or two concussions,” said Andersen, who had two himself. “The kickoff is one of the single-most violent plays in football, to run at full speed for a head-on collision.
“When it comes to team sports you’re always taught it’s one for all, and all for one. So you’re going to exclude from litigation the kicker because his knuckles weren’t on the ground?”