Lions’ Jason Hanson announces retirement

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton was voted in as President of the United States, the Mall of America was constructed in Minnesota, rioting broke out in Los Angeles following the Rodney King beating, the first nicotine patch was introduced and, oh yeah, Jason Hanson made his debut with the Detroit Lions.

A fabulous kicking era ended Thursday when Hanson officially announced his retirement.

No one has ever played more games (327) or more seasons (21) with the same team in NFL history than Hanson.

Hanson, 42, had confirmed about three weeks ago that he wanted to return for another season after contemplating retirement for a couple of months, but contract negotiations stalled and ultimately led to his reconsideration.

“It’s time,” Hanson said. “I gave serious thought and consideration to playing in 2013. While the determination and willpower are still there, the wear and tear on my body, especially the issues I had and still have with my heel have convinced me that it’s time to retire.
“I have put a lot of prayer into this decision, and I believe it is the right one.”

Hanson is widely considered a model for class and dignity among professional athletes, which showed through in his explanation for retiring now.

In reality, it seems as if it should have ended a little differently. The Lions reportedly wanted to pay him the minimum salary for a player of his experience, which is more than $2 million less than he made last year. Hanson and his agent thought the offer was not acceptable.

You can understand the club’s point of view. The Lions are trying to improve a 4-12 team in a salary-cap era and have chosen to commit money to other areas of the team for 2013.

You can also understand Hanson’s stand. Regardless of management’s reasons, the offer was a major pay cut considering his accomplishments and long-time dedication to the organization. Perhaps it was even viewed, deep down inside, as an insult to some extent.

This simply wasn’t the ideal way to part considering the history, especially when Hanson’s skills are still good enough to play another year.

Although his distance on kickoffs has suffered, Hanson made 32 of his 36 field-goal attempts last season.

But football is a business first these days and this was a business decision on both ends.

The Lions have planned a farewell news conference for next Tuesday to celebrate his career.

“While I look forward to my press conference next Tuesday where I can publicly thank so many people who have played such a big part in my career, I do want to offer my sincere appreciation to the Ford family, all my coaches and teammates, the Lions organization and the incredible Lions fans,” Hanson said. “You all helped me along this journey and I am forever grateful.”

Hanson, a second-round pick in 1992 out of Washington State, ranks third in NFL history in career scoring with 2,150 points, behind only Morten Anderson (2,544) and Gary Anderson (2,434). He was consistently accurate throughout his two-plus decades, connecting on 495 of his 601 attempts (.824).

Much of it came on losing, awful teams in Detroit. The Lions had a 123-213 regular-season record during Hanson’s career and also lost all six playoff games. Ten of the last 12 years ended with double-digit losses, including a 4-12 record in his final season.

There were times when it seemed as if he was the only reliable aspect of the football team. No kicker in league history has more field goals from 50-plus yards than Hanson, who nailed 52 of them, 10 more than anybody else.

He completely rewrote the Lions’ record book. If there’s a kicking stat, Hanson owns it, shares it or maybe even invented it.

He will be missed, not only for his legendary leg but also for the gentlemanly fashion he went about his business on and off the field.

“Jason Hanson is the gold standard,” Lions president Tom Lewand said. “He had an exemplary, Hall-of-Fame worthy career on the field, and for those of us fortunate to know him well, he is an even better person, teammate, friend, husband and father.

 “Our organization has been blessed to have Jason for 21 years.”

The Lions have to move on now, in search of a kicker for the first time in more than two decades. David Akers, released by San Francisco, came in for a visit to the Allen Park team headquarters earlier this week but left without a contract.

There are several other unsigned free agents available or perhaps the Lions will use a draft pick on a kicker such as Florida’s Caleb Sturgis.

Whoever it is won’t have a resume anywhere near the man he’s replacing.

The Lions announced their preseason opener will be at home against the New York Jets the week of Aug. 8-11.

The other home game is scheduled for Aug. 22-25 against New England, the third game of the preseason.

The road trips are to Cleveland (Aug. 15-19) and Buffalo (Aug. 29-30).

Exact dates will be announced at a later time. None of the games is scheduled for national television.

The regular-season schedule should be released in the next couple of weeks.