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A humbled Hansen shares big day with family, friends

Growing up poor on a farm in North Dakota, Phil Hansen learned one life lesson that stuck with him above all else.

Work hard.

Life in Oakes, N.D. (population 1,752) left no other choice. Days were long on the family's 4,000-acre farm.

"My earliest recollection of football was being out there in the seventh grade waiting with the other kids for practice to start. The kids [were] just saying, 'Gee, this stinks, it's hot, we just want to play the game.' And I'm just like, 'I'm glad to be here. If I was at home, I'd really have to be working,' " Hansen said. "I guess I just didn't know it any other way."

Of course, Phil Hansen was a perfect fit for the Buffalo Bills.

"Blue-collar town and I'm a blue-collar guy," he said. "You know, I'm not overly gifted in any kind of way, I just work hard, just like the community. I really felt like I fit in great here."

For his entire 11-year NFL career, he did just that. Hansen was rewarded for his work ethic Sunday, becoming the 27th person to have his name unveiled on the Bills' Wall of Fame.

"I feel pretty humbled. That's pretty elite company there," he said.

Hansen becomes the ninth member of the Bills' Super Bowl teams to have his name on the Wall. He played in the final three of Buffalo's record four straight Super Bowl appearances after joining the team as a second-round draft pick out of North Dakota State in 1991.

The 6-foot-4, 273-pound defensive end started 148 of 156 career games with the Bills. He started 10 games in his first season and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team.

In a taped video message that aired during a ceremony at halftime of Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders, Bills owner Ralph Wilson said Hansen represented the Bills the way all players should.

"I was consistent, dependable and accountable," Hansen said. "It's not fancy, but I was great supporting cast for this team. You could depend on me. I wanted to present that image. It was important to me."

Hansen was the consummate professional during his career. He never made a Pro Bowl, but never played fewer than 10 games in a season. He was the prototypical defensive end in the Bills' 3-4 scheme. If teams doubled Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Hansen was left to get after the quarterback.

The duo made a dynamite pairing. Hansen's 61.5 career sacks are third on the team's all-time list, behind just Smith (171) and Aaron Schobel (78).

"I think there are 20 other teams in the NFL where I probably never would have made 11 years with," Hansen said. "This team just fit me perfectly."

Before the game, Hansen pointed out memories to his son, Ross, who was among a large group of family members and friends who made the trip.

Sporting his No. 90 jersey, Hansen's wife, Dianna, was by his side as he made his speech at halftime. Several teammates from the Super Bowl years, including Hansen's former roommate, Mark Pike, were also in attendance.

"To have something like this happen is a big deal, to me, and I can bring my family back and show them what I did," he said. "That means a lot to me, too."

Hansen, 43, lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn., just outside of Fargo, N.D. He officiates high school football and works as a color commentator for his alma mater.

Hansen is one of the all-time great Division II football players. He helped lead NDSU to a pair of national championships and tied a school record with 41 career sacks. His 32 career pass break-ups set a school mark.

"I didn't even think I'd go to college," Hansen said. "You know, kids kind of plan for this now, sending out tape in eighth grade. We didn't even have tape in 1986, I don't think. But you know, I fell through the cracks in a good way. To get to the NFL, that's no small feat."

email: jskurski@buffnews.com