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Fall 2004


Copenhagen native and 22 year veteran Morten Andersen is still kicking after all these years.
Interview: Michelle Tafoya
ABC's Michelle Tafoya reached the pinnacle of sportscasting when she was named the sideline reporter for this season's Monday Night Football telecasts.
Artful Dodgers
How Minnesota is bouncing along with the sudden popularity of dodgeball.

Copenhagen native and 22 year veteran Morten Andersen is still kicking after all these years.

by David Zingler
Photos by Tom Dahlin & Bryan Singer
Fall/Winter 2004
January 17, 1999 is a day that lives forever in infamy with Vikings fans. With just over five minutes remaining in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen stepped onto the Metrodome turf and nailed a 38 yard field goal that ended the Vikings 15-1 dream season with a resounding thud. To this day, neither the team, nor its fans, has fully recovered.

"It was exciting because it put us in the Super Bowl," Andersen, now a Viking, said of the kick nearly six years later. "From that standpoint it was probably the biggest one, but it certainly wasn't the toughest kick I've ever made. It was the one that had the biggest impact on a single team that I've been a part of."

Andersen points to that moment as the highlight of his long, decorated career, but says that none of his new teammates have mentioned it to him as of yet. "It's not something we need to rehash," he pointed out.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1960, Andersen grew up in nearby Stuer. Unlike in the United States, neither Andersen, nor his childhood playmates, had dreams of NFL glory. "Nothing. I didn't know a thing," the veteran kicker responded when asked how aware he was of the NFL growing up. "I played soccer and team handball, was involved in gymnastics, but I knew nothing of the National Football League."

Andersen came to the United States in 1977 as an exchange student. While attending Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis as a senior, he began his kicking career almost by accident. "The high school football team needed a kicker and asked me to try out and I did," he explained. "I really enjoyed doing it; became pretty proficient fairly quickly, so they kept me around."

After just one high school season, the exchange student received several scholarship offers before eventually deciding on Michigan State University. While at East Lansing, Andersen continued to hone his skills, culminating in a 1st team All-American selection as a senior.

A 4th round selection by the Saints in 1982, Andersen spent 13 years in New Orleans earning Pro Bowl honors six times. In 1995, the veteran signed a free agent contract with Atlanta, where in six seasons, he appeared in a Pro Bowl and helped the Falcons win a conference title.

From there, the Danish native signed with the New York Giants in 2001 and, after one season, caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. He would spend the next two campaigns in Kansas City before losing his job to the younger Lawrence Tynes in training camp this past summer. The Vikings, in desperate need of some consistency in the kicking game, quickly snapped the seven-time Pro Bowler off the waiver wire.

Even after learning of his release, Andersen said retirement never entered his mind. "I wouldn't have had to necessarily retire, I could always try again next year," he commented. "My goal is to play some more years. (Retirement) was never really an option that I seriously considered. I thought I had enough game to be able to go with another team right away, and that turned out to be true."

While he is roughly two decades older than many of his current teammates, Andersen says the generational gap isn't an issue. "I don't think I've had a problem bridging it and I certainly don't think my teammates feel that as well," the 44-year-old said. "When I come into a locker room, I just try to fit in and I try to make a difference in a positive way, try to lead, and try to keep the locker room nice and relaxed so that we can go out and have fun on Sunday and win."

Because each began their career in 1982, have enjoyed remarkable longevity, played pivotal roles in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, rank first and second on the NFL's all time scoring list, and have similar surnames; Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen will forever be linked in NFL history.

"I've known him throughout my years of playing, obviously, and we have a professional relationship," Andersen said of Gary Anderson. "We don't socialize much, but it's been very friendly and cordial."

As all Vikings fans are painfully aware of, it was Gary Anderson that missed a 38 yard field goal that would have given the Vikings a 10 point lead in the closing minutes of the 1998 NFC title game. While Morten Andersen ended up being the hero in overtime, he also understood what his counterpart was going through. "I felt terrible for Gary because I've been on that side, not in a situation like that, but I've been in a situation where I haven't come through at the end of a game," Andersen explained. "It's a nasty feeling. I thought Gary handled it with class."

Gary Anderson, now with the Tennessee Titans, is currently the NFL's all time leading scorer, while Morten Andersen ranks a close second. "(The record) is not something I think about very much," Andersen commented. "I'm sure Gary is like I am—more concerned about doing what he can to help the team win."

Throughout football history, the kicking position has been at best misunderstood and at worst, degraded. Some so-called experts do not consider kickers to be "real" football players. John Madden, for instance, has never named a kicker to his annual "All Madden" team.

Andersen however, takes a diplomatic approach to the subject, "I think (kicking) has sometimes been taken for granted a little bit because guys are getting very good, very proficient at it," he commented. "The kicking position can be the difference in a game. You've got to have someone that's solid in there and I'm glad I'm one of them."

In fact, the position may be the most unique in all of sports, but Andersen offered an interesting comparison. "Kicking is a little bit like a golf swing," the veteran explained. "Of course, you're not dealing with the grip or the club or things like that, but I think the swing rhythm and having to keep your head still, compare a little bit to golf."

Currently there is just one full-time kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jan Stenerud. While Andersen will warrant consideration when he does finally decide to retire, don't expect to see him openly campaigning for induction. "That's not for me to judge," the NFL's all time leader in games played said. "I just try to put a consistent career together, I try to play at a high level and then I'll let people who judge those things make their judgment one day, and we'll see."

Expect Andersen, who hopes to kick until age 50, to take a low key approach to life when his playing days end, "I don't specifically have anything that I am going to jump right into," he said when asked about his post career plans. "I am a father and husband, so I will be spending some time with my family. I am going
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Interview: Michelle Tafoya
ABC's Michelle Tafoya reached the pinnacle of sportscasting when she was named the sideline reporter for this season's Monday Night Football telecasts.

by Eric Nelson
Phots by Gary Anders
Fall/Winter 2004
ABC's Michelle Tafoya reached the pinnacle of sportscasting when she was named the sideline reporter for this season's Monday Night Football telecasts. Tafoya, who resides in the Twin Cities and once worked at WCCO-TV, is part of the longest running prime-time sports show in television history. She is also part of ABC's NBA broadcasts.
Generally I do my work thinking, "Okay, just as long as I'm serving the broadcast well."
EN: Because of the scope and visibility of Monday Night Football, did you have butterflies before your first game?
MT: The very first game that we did was the Canton game, the Hall of Fame game. I remember the first hit (live sideline report) that I did, yeah I had major butterflies and I hadn't had those in a long time. It was different, in this case it was like "Holy mackerel! There are a lot more people watching." Then, when we got into the regular season and it (the butterflies) started over again. Generally I do my work thinking, "Okay, just as long as I'm serving the broadcast well." That's what I care about. But in this case for some reason I am more cognizant of the amount of people watching–the environment is so different. It's night time, the lights are on, the place is packed and everyone knows that (John) Madden and Al Michaels are there. It's just a much more energized environment. You have to keep yourself together.

EN: What is Al Michaels like?
MT: This guy couldn't have been more inclusive and more welcoming and more tremendous to work with. One thing that I like to say about Al is that he takes the sideline reporter's report and makes it better and that's a generous thing to do. Not every play-by-play announcer really cares as much as he does about what the sideline reporter says and then really takes it, and advances it. He's done that so well. He and his family have been great. His family is very involved in the whole Monday Night thing.

EN: What is John Madden like?
MT: I have really come to like this guy so much. He's taught me how to throw a football better. He's taught me how to run routes. He actually coaches me. We'll go and hang out, a handful of us after somebody practices, and we'll take over their practice field, and he will say, "Here's how you run an out." Then he will teach us how to do it. It's a blast.

EN: When the Madden cruiser bus pulls into a stadium parking lot there is a circus atmosphere surrounding John. He's got bodyguards, a posse and is as popular as any player. Are you amazed by this?
MT: (In Washington) we were driving along down this residential street and these people are coming out of their houses and waving at the cruiser because they know Madden is in it. I thought, "This is just remarkable." When the bus pulls into the stadium all the tailgaters come around to see Madden come out. It's something. There's just an everyman quality about him that resonates with everyone. When you're listening to him and Al call a game, you feel like they could just as easily be sitting in your house with you. When we show up at practice all the players want to say "Hi," to coach. They couldn't care less about the rest of us and that's just fine. But they have a great time playing with him, "You didn't list my speed right on your video game this year," and that kind of stuff.

EN: ABC is based in New York and you grew up in Southern California, yet you live in the Twin Cities. Have you ever thought of relocating to New York or Los Angeles?
MT: I really like being here. I have layed down my roots here. I still love my home state of California, but I don't think I want to go back there to live. I've just found that the standard of living and quality of life here is more than I ever expected. I got married and settled down here. It would take a lot for anyone to make us move—it almost doesn't matter where you live as long as you can get to your assignment. Living smack dab in the middle of the country serves me very well. I don't have to make those long 5 1/2 hour flights from L.A. to New York.

EN: Are the Timberwolves a threat to win the NBA title?
MT: I think they are a legitimate contender to win it all. I still look at San Antonio and Sacramento, and now I look at Houston as legitimate threats.

EN: What do you think of the Twin Cities as a sports market?
MT: I think the fans are as good as they are anywhere. I wish that this market could capitalize on its great summer weather and gave us the Twins outdoors as much as possible. I think you'd see the Twins crowds skyrocket. This is definitely, I think, a Vikings-first town. It's a good football market. That's why I can't imagine an owner ever wanting to move a team out of this market—it is just one of the best of its size. I think Kevin Garnett has really made the NBA in this city more enjoyable to watch. He's one of the few—and there are just a handful of athletes I can talk about—that every performance gives every drop that they have. He defines the NBA in this market.

EN: ABC has the Christmas Day telecast between Miami and the LA Lakers. How much hype will there be surrounding the Shaq-Kobe showdown?
MT: The hype will be enormous. Enormous. I can't imagine a more hyped Christmas Day game and it's sort of ironic that on Christmas Day, one of the most sacred holidays in our country, some very nasty stuff will be going on in Los Angeles. All of those things: Shaq's rap song, now the (Kobe) transcripts, their past relationship, whose team it was, all of that. It's going to be so much stuff just bubbling over.

EN: How hard are you are you working?
MT: I'm working harder than I've ever worked. I feel really challenged, I'm tired a lot, but I feel like I'm being pushed to give my very best in every single report that I do. There's just a natural tendency when it's on such a big scale and you are working with the kind of people you're working with, to try to raise your game.

EN: What is your typical work week like for a Monday Night Football telecast?
MT: I try to start a little bit of the work on Tuesday to get a handle on what I'm doing the following week. Wednesday I have a conference call with two producers and we talk about everything we want to highlight during that game. We put together a list for each team, then I start hammering the P.R. directors from each team on Wednesday, telling them the people I want to talk to. Generally it's anywhere from five to eight people per team. Then I get on the phone with each of these people and try to spend as much time as I can with them, getting the information I want and trying to get fresh stuff that hasn't been out there before. That means doing my research. Friday night I fly to the city I'm going to. Saturday I'm with the home team. Sunday with the visiting team. Monday we start with a 9:00 a.m. meeting and go until the wee hours. Tuesday, we start all over again.
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Artful Dodgers
How Minnesota is bouncing along with the sudden popularity of dodgeball.

by Doug Frattalone
"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball," says the man in the wheelchair, seconds before he whips the steel projectile at a player's noggin. The fellow in the chair is actor Rip Torn, playing Patches O'Houlihan in the signature scene from, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story."

Intentional or not, the Ben Stiller comedy sparked a surge in adult dodgeball participation nationwide, including the Twin Cities.

In Minneapolis, the Dodge-It Center continues to hum under owner/marketing whiz Ed Prentiss, who says about 500 players will be involved in amateur leagues there this winter.

"It's a blast," Prentiss said, "It's a unique sport because you're always on." As in, there's no time to rest. Be alert, or you'll be knocked silly by one of those red playground balls, and out of the action. Prentiss, who offers leagues to the masses, also wants to take a cue from the movie and start up his own professional dodgeball

While the film was a goof on the game, Prentiss, 39, is serious about his venture. Right now, his timetable is for pro tryouts to begin in February or March, with the league (National Dodgeball League) to start play in April. Four franchises are in the mix for the first season—with marketing, broadcasting contracts and everything else under construction.

"I get e-mails from all over the country," he said of potential players, with a lot of interest from those with college football and baseball backgrounds. "The people that play are serious about it," explains Prentiss.

Serious about dodgeball? Well, we do have the WNBA, after all. Not to mention the Arena Football League. Plus it's one of those niche sports, unlike lacrosse, that we can actually understand. And unlike hockey, there's no second mortgage involved. "It's not like you gotta buy a billion dollars worth of equipment," Prentiss added.

Joining a league costs $300 per team at Dodge-It, which Prentiss hopes to branch out to other cities soon. While Prentiss' place is the only spot in town that concentrates only on dodgeball, there are other leagues in the metro.

Soccer Blast, a sports facility in Burnsville, also offers dodgeball at the same rate. League Coordinator Matt Tanhaken says a 12-team league (120 players) will play there this fall and winter. "People are really liking it," he said of the playground game. "Maybe adults want to relive their glory days."

Oh yeah, there are also dodgeball pickup games. This past summer, a 30-something crowd of professionals would meet Monday and Thursday nights near the Kenwood Park tennis courts.

John Barton, 36, was part of that action. "There's nothing like whipping a ball at your friend," he said. "It kind of brings you back."

In Barton's case, back to the second grade, when he described himself as an "average" player. These days, he says it's great exercise, and simply a nice diversion. "It's one of those things that wives don't understand," he muses. "So it's all the more appealing." Spoken like a married man.

But don't think for a minute dodgeball is just a men's club. Co-ed leagues are quite common, with Prentiss promising a women's-only league soon. In fact, he says a priceless sight is watching the face of a strutting male player who suddenly realizes that a ball zooming toward him has been chucked by an former fast-pitch softball star.

"They can light it up," Prentiss beams.

As for Prentiss' dream, he says he'd love to see a sold-out Xcel Energy Center, with 19,000 rabid, T-shirt-buying fans cheering on the Minnesota Blur in the NDL title match against the New York Empire. Maybe in a few years, Ed.

For now, it's one toss at a time, as he grinds out putting together the league. Can he make it? Why not? Surely the craze will spike higher than ever when "Dodgeball II" is released.

"All we have to do is make it until the sequel," he joked.

Talk about your true underdog stories.

Dodgeball Rules!

A. In a 12-player game (two teams of six), there are six balls—four standard (8.5') and 2 "stingers"™(5').

B. Players then take a position behind their endline. After a signal by the official, teams approach the centerlines to retrieve the balls.

C. Balls must be taken back across the end lines before they can be thrown at an opposing player. If the ball is not taken behind the endline before it is thrown the throw will not count.

D. Players then attempt to eliminate members of the opposing team by tagging them with the ball. If a player is hit with any ball that has not yet touched the floor, that player is "out".

E. If a defender catches a "live" thrown ball the thrower is out and one player then returns to the defenders side in order of first out, first in.

F. If a defender attempts to catch a live ball, but drops it, the defender is out.

G. The defender may block a live ball with another ball. That ball is still a live ball however, until it hits the floor, wall or ceiling.
H. If a blocking ball is dropped as a result of contact from a live ball, then the player who drops the ball is out.

I. A player may block a live ball, then throw the blocking ball down and catch a live ball.

J. A player shall not leave the playing field to avoid being hit or in an attempt to catch a ball.

K. Headshots resulting from a high thrown ball, result in the thrower being called out.

L. Play continues until one team is eliminated.


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