Andersen returns to Falcons, armed with plenty of old-man jokes

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Morten Andersen has got this down pat. Sit out training camp. Watch the first two games on television while sipping on some nice, cold brews. Then report to the Atlanta Falcons armed with plenty of old-man jokes.

"It's Yogi Berra," Andersen quipped. "It's deja vu all over again."

For the second year in a row, the Falcons sent out a belated call to Andersen to rescue their kicking game. He was more than happy to help out, because this puts the 47-year-old freak of nature another season closer to his ultimate goal: playing until he's 50 and passing George Blanda as the oldest player in NFL history.

"This is what I was meant to be doing," Andersen said. "This is my calling."

He's already the leading scorer in NFL history, an ambition fulfilled last season after he was called in by the Falcons to replace Michael Koenen, who missed six of eight field goal attempts in the first two games.

This time, it was another untested kicker who flopped.

Looking for someone with a stronger leg who might be around a few years, the Falcons decided to go with 23-year-old Matt Prater, even though he had never kicked in the NFL and only joined the team before its final preseason game.

The lack of experience showed when Prater made one of four attempts in the first two games, his fate sealed when he shanked a 26-yarder against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. It didn't take long for the Falcons (0-2) to dig up Andersen's number.

"I was just sitting on the couch with some of my neighbors on Sunday evening, having a couple of cold ones," he said. "The next thing I know, my phone rang. It was personnel asking, 'Can you come in tomorrow?' I told them, 'Not too early, I hope."'

Andersen ran through a quick tryout at the Falcons' complex on Monday afternoon and agreed to a contract by that evening. He joins a team rocked by the Michael Vick dogfighting saga and that has scored only 10 points heading into Sunday's home opener against Carolina (1-1).

"I was excited to hear about Mort," Falcons center Todd McClure said. "We all know what he's done for us in the past with the kicking game. We need to score points when we can get them."

This is Andersen's third stint with Atlanta. He is best remembered for making the kick that sent the Falcons to their lone Super Bowl during the 1998 season, but his career appeared over -- just 77 points shy of career scoring leader Gary Anderson -- when no one called heading into 2005.

Andersen sat out an entire season but keeping himself in shape, he also kept pestering the Falcons, having settled in Atlanta during his first go-round with the team.

When Koenen, who still handles the Falcons' punting, struggled as a kicker at the start of last season, Mr. Reliable came to the rescue. Andersen made 20 of 23 attempts (one was blocked) and all 27 extra points, replacing his near-namesake at the top of the scoring list with 2,445 points.

New Falcons coach Bobby Petrino wanted to go in a younger direction, but he always knew Andersen was available. The geriatric kicker continued to work out twice a week at a local park to stay sharp.

"Same thing as last year," Andersen said. "I did my thing on the little league field out there. I brought my helmet, my shoulder pads, my Pro Bowl jersey, my balls. And, you know, people looked at me strangely."

Yes, this is all a bit strange.

Andersen is seven months older than his head coach. When he began his NFL career in 1982, 22 of his teammates weren't even born. They were quick to remind him of that, posting flyers for a wheelchair and a set of crutches next to his familiar stall in the corner of the Falcons' locker room.

"C'mon, the guy still wears Ken Stabler shoulder pads," quarterback Joey Harrington joked. "But after watching him kick today, he still looks like he's only 43 or 44."

Petrino piled on, too.

"I was tired of being the old man around here," the coach said.

Andersen has plenty of material himself.

"I've heard all the jokes. I've seen all the blogs. I've gotten all the e-mails," he said. "Did you hear that Morten was watching 'Jurassic Park' and started crying? It brought back some nice memories. Did you hear that Morten went to the antique store and they wanted to keep him?"

He was smiling the whole time.

"Yes, it's good to be back."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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