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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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John Blanchette: Jason Hanson’s not the type to go just halfway

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 28, 2019

Jason Hanson made an outing to Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, stopping by some tailgate gatherings and watching the Lions take down the New York Giants.

But really, he was on a mission.

Before the game, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader headed up to the press box to get even with a sports writer – just not in the way you might imagine.

“In 1994, we lose to the Packers in the 1994 wild card game and I get a letter from a little kid who looked like a fourth grader - he stapled his school picture to the page and drew this smiley face,” said Hanson, who apprenticed for his 21-year NFL gig at Mead High School and Washington State. “I’ve used it in speeches so much through the years that I had to laminate it so it wouldn’t disintegrate.”

In tortured grade-school cursive, the boy explained that his father was in a football pool at work and how he had never come close to winning. But he’d drawn the 0-3 square for the end of the second quarter, and with the Packers holding a 10-0 lead just 100 seconds before halftime and Hanson lining up a 30-yard field goal, this one was a lock.

Except Hanson missed the placekicker’s equivalent of a tap-in putt.

 (Courtesy)

“Because I was going to get some of the money, I was wondering if you would be so kind as to send me a $25 check,” the letter read. “I would be so proud to bring it to my school and show it to my class. Your friend, Kyle Meinke.”

Fourth-grade chutzpah is the best chutzpah.

Fast forward to last year when Hanson is reading a story about his old long snapper, Don Muhlbach, who’s still with the Lions, and noticed the byline of the Lions beat writer for MLive.com.

Kyle Meinke.

“This is impossible, right?” Hanson said.

So Hanson huddled with the Lions’ media relations people, made sure they had the right guy (“we did our own forensic age-progression match”) and on Sunday presented Meinke a $25 check with “Sorry … 25 years late” written on the memo line.

“I am now guilt free,” he laughed.

 (Courtesy)

A couple of things here. This is pure Jason Hanson, who always had an appreciation for the oddities and ironies of football life as a placekicker and the pressure that can be crushing even without a 9-year-old Eddie Haskell laying it on thicker. Also, he’s old enough to still have a checkbook to pull off this Hall of Fame gag.

Which is apt, as Tuesday he joins the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame as part of a splendid 2019 class in a ceremony at the Spokane Arena which, alas, he won’t be able to attend. But he will be at a Cougar game in a couple of weeks for induction into the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s all very special,” he said. “I went from playing youth soccer at the old Farwell fields to having sports be my profession until I was 42 years old. It’s amazing to think how that happens.”

It happened because high school soccer is a spring sport, and a few of his Mead buddies prodded him into turning out for football, though they – and he – would later joke that he “only went halfway and became a kicker.”

He certainly went all the way with that. He left Wazzu as the school’s all-time field goal leader and with a portfolio of 20 kicks of 50 yards or longer, which is why he was off the board two rounds into the NFL draft. Then came 327 games with the Lions before retiring in 2013 No. 3 on the NFL career points list.

He was a quick study as to the discipline required to sustain excellence and keep a job. He rolled with the kicker’s odd reality of looking like someone’s pharmacist or CPA amid 300-pound behemoths.

“I needed the mascot to go with me to events so they’d know I was a Lion,” he said.

And he learned how to manage the tension that bubbled as he waited for his chances – though he brought perspective to that, too.

In 2002, Hanson’s wife Kathleen was expecting their third child and had stayed behind in Spokane, where they were still living in the off-season. A C-section was scheduled for Oct. 21; the Lions hosted the Bears on Oct. 20. Hanson had found a flight to get him back in time, but it left not long after the game.

Which, naturally, went into overtime.

“We win the toss and somehow within about 30 seconds we’re in field goal range,” he recalled. “I’ve got a 48-yarder to win it. You know, the Lions didn’t play in a lot of huge games but nobody’s kicking to see their son’s birth.

“I made it to the gate just as the doors were closing.”

Of course, he probably ruined somebody’s chances in the office pool. But that’s the price you pay.

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