Former Lions kicker Hanson on retirement: It was time

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Detroit — During Jason Hanson’s 21 seasons as kicker, the Lions never won a playoff game.

And as much as Hanson wanted his former teammates to succeed without him in 2013, the first season after his retirement, a part of him hoped the team would fall short of its ultimate goal.

“I was telling people, I joked, that first year, I said, ‘I’m not going to watch them. I’m just going to move to Canada and not worry about the Lions,’ ” Hanson said Thursday. “Well, of course my kid was into them, so I was watching them every weekend. Love the guys, but all I could think about was, ‘Don’t go to the Super Bowl. Don’t go to the Super Bowl, guys.’ ”

That wish, of course, came true as the Lions still have not advanced to a Super Bowl. They lost their only postseason game since Hanson retired, too.

Hanson, a second-round pick in 1992, was one of four former Lions players who signed autographs at the Lions Member Summit for season-ticket holders on Thursday night at Ford Field, and the line for Hanson and guard Rob Sims was filled with fans before the event.

After meeting with the fans, Hanson explained what led to his retirement, finally putting to rest some questions about whether the Lions pushed him away.

“All the circumstances at that point for me were just pointing to, you know it’s time,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure about playing because my foot was hurting so bad. I was just having a hard time getting excited to do it again. … Hey look, the minimum in the NFL is a ridiculous amount of money. I didn’t tell them that, but I would’ve played for that. That’s a lot of money.

“But at the same time, it was like, OK, if they’re saying, ‘Hey, we like you, but we can go get someone else and what do you want to do?’ I was like, ‘OK, well that’s fine.’ If it’s no passion on their end, I’ve been feeling the same way. So, it wasn’t just that, but all of it together.”

Of course, different circumstances would’ve led to Hanson playing a 22nd season.

“If I was still under contract, I would’ve come back and played,” he said.

Instead, the Lions signed veteran David Akers — and Havard “Kickalicious” Rugland — to replace him. Hanson called Akers a “great NFL kicker,” but he missed five field goals, including blocks, and an extra point in his only season with the Lions.

In 2014, the team tried to find a long-term replacement by draft Nate Freese in the seventh round. Hanson said the team asked what he thought of Freese before the draft, and he thought he was technically sound even if he lacked a powerful leg.

Freese went 6-for-6 in the exhibitions, but was just 3-for-7 in four games before being cut as a rookie.

“I think it’s just hard,” Hanson said. “Some guys can bounce around, but sometimes, as a kicker, you go somewhere and only get like a narrow window to have everybody like you. All it takes is a miss or two for the boos to come raining down and the pressure, and that’s what kind of happened to him.”

The Lions then turned to Alex Henery, but he lasted just two games. Finally, the Lions signed Matt Prater — who was with Hanson in Lions training camp in 2006 — after the Denver Broncos released him, and he’s been the kicker the past season and a half.

“I knew when they got Prater they had a great kicker, and he’s awesome,” Hanson said.

A few years into retirement, Hanson said he’s staying busy with speaking engagements and some unofficial coaching. He’s working with more than a handful of high school- and college-aged kickers from Michigan who connected with him for personal training sessions by word of mouth. Hanson said he’s considering promoting himself as a private kicking coach to work with more kids, but he doesn’t want to become a full-time coach.

And even though he’s three years removed from the Lions, he’s still in touch with some of the players. He was hunting in Montana last November when the Lions beat the Packers at Lambeau Field for the first time since 1991, and when he was finished, he had about 40 new text messages, including some from current players like long snapper Don Muhlbach.

“Some of guys on the team were like, ‘Haha, you never did it,’ ” he said.