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NFL's all-time leading scorer, Morten Andersen, didn't learn football until age 17

Morten Andersen played in more games (382) and scored more points (2,544) than any player in NFL history. Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The leading scorer in NFL history didn't know the first thing about American football until he was 17 years old.

Even more ironic than that? Morten Andersen's claim to fame before he became the most prolific kicker in the history of the sport was team handball.

Andersen was on a path to becoming an Olympic handball player in his native Denmark before he came to America in 1977 for what was supposed to be a 10-month cultural exchange program. But it wasn't long before Andersen's host father and the teacher in charge of the foreign-exchange program suggested he try kicking a football, since he had also been a standout soccer player in Denmark. So some of the other kids on the Ben Davis High School football team in Indianapolis took him out to the practice field.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

"One of the players come running to me and said, ‘Coach, you gotta see this kid,'" recalled Bob Wilbur, the former Ben Davis coach whose son was serving as both the quarterback and kicker at the time. "And when we walked out, I think Morten was on the 45- or the 50-yard line, and he put it through about sky high.

"And so my son never kicked again."

They went to the state semifinals that year before Andersen earned a scholarship to Michigan State and went on to kick for 25 years in the NFL.

Wilbur laughed at the memory of how far Andersen has come. He recalled Andersen running over to the sideline toward him during his first game as instructed after every kickoff, since the other team always sent a blocker after the kicker.

"A couple days after I arrived, I'm standing there in all this garb and all this gear, trying to kick a football, and that's how it all started," Andersen said with a laugh of his own. "I think everybody, including myself, was a little surprised at how well it went."

It didn't take long, however, for Andersen to develop a taste for the sport.

"The plan initially was to stay here 10 months, then go back home, finish college, continue with sports and live in Denmark. But fate had a whole different idea for me, and I embraced it," Andersen said. "I was open to this new experience and enjoying getting better at kicking and also the popularity that came with it, I think. It was a cool new sort of thing.

"We showed up in the state semifinals, and there was 10,000 people in the stands. That was unheard of for me. I had never played in front of 10,000 people in my life, coming from a little village in western Denmark. We might have 20 people watching a soccer game or maybe a hundred people watching a team handball game on the select team."

Andersen said it would mean a lot to that little village in western Denmark if he ever makes it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that dream was realized on Saturday night when the "Great Dane" finally made the cut for Canton in his fifth year of eligibility. Andersen garnered 80 percent approval from the 48-person Selection Committee.

It will also mean a lot to Bob and Shirley Wilbur, who are now retired and splitting their time between Indianapolis and Florida. And to Andersen's host parents, Dale and Jean Baker, both of whom have passed away -- but both of whom got to see the biggest kick of his life, when his 38-yard overtime field goal sent the Atlanta Falcons to their only other Super Bowl appearance 18 years ago.

Andersen's Hall case is hard to dispute. He is the leading scorer in NFL history (2,544 points), the leading scorer in New Orleans Saints history and the leading scorer in Falcons history. He scored more than twice as many points as the NFL's all-time touchdown leader, Jerry Rice. And his 360-game scoring streak is the longest in NFL history by nearly 100 games.

Andersen was so good for so long that he was a member of both the 1980s and 1990s all-decade teams, while being selected to seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams during a remarkable 25-year career spent with the Saints, Falcons, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings.

Andersen has not shied away from the fact that he would love to finally kick down the door to the Hall of Fame -- largely for kickers and specialists everywhere. Only one other true kicker, Jan Stenerud, is in the Hall, along with only one punter, Ray Guy.

But Andersen said it would hardly be a singular achievement.

"I'm really mindful that it's never really a journey that you take by yourself. There's so many people along the way that help you," Andersen said. "If I was to go into the Hall, those are some of the remarks and comments I think I would share with people, because it's been a long journey, but it's been an interesting one.

"And it's one I certainly didn't walk alone."