Former Steeler great Gary Anderson was a bit of a pioneer in the 80's in that he was one of the first field goal kickers to take accuracy to a whole new level. As this article from 1991 points out, before the likes of Anderson came along, the art of field goal kicking wasn't so precise. At the time of that article, Anderson was the 2nd most accurate kicker in NFL history at .775.
To give you an idea of what I mean by taking accuracy to a "whole new level," Jan Stenerud, who kicked primarily in the 60's and 70's and is the only field goal kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, finished his career at .668.
Anderson kicked in the NFL from 1982-2004, and he finished with a kicking percentage of just over 80%. As I said, Anderson was a bit of a pioneer, and just to show you how far kicking has come over the years, Anderson now ranks as the 31st most accurate field-goal kicker of all-time.
Anderson played for the Steelers from 1982-1994, and he was known by teammates and fans as "Mr. Automatic." After the Super years of the 70's, the 80's were a bit of a rough stretch for the Steelers, and Anderson was one of the few consistencies for the organization. He made the Pro Bowl three times during his career with the Steelers (four overall) and was voted to the NFL's All-Decade Teams for both the 80's and 90's.
Anderson will always be a beloved member of Steelers Nation, and he's certainly one of my all-time favorites.
Sadly, however, in places like Minnesota and, perhaps, the rest of the country, accuracy and consistency may not be the first things that come to mind when Gary Anderson's name is brought up.
After Anderson left Pittsburgh, he played for a few other teams and continued his accurate ways. One of the teams that he played for was the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2002.
In '98, Anderson was so good, he became the first placekicker in NFL history to make every single field goal and extra point for an entire regular season as he helped the Vikings post a 15-1 record.
The Vikings made it to the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons and were leading, 27-20, when Anderson lined up to kick a 38-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the game. Unfortunately for Gary, instead of extending Minnesota's lead to 10-points, he chose this time to show everyone that he was human, and he missed wide-left.
The Falcons would go on to tie the game in the final minute and eventually win it in overtime on a Morten Andersen 38-yard field goal, ironically enough.
To this day, Anderson still receives a pretty hefty chunk of the blame for losing that game, even though the Vikings still led by a touchdown and could have, you know, played defense instead of allowing Atlanta to march down the field.
Normally, a field goal kicker gets blamed for missing a kick with everything on the line--think Scott Norwood--and not for missing an insurance field goal with 2:12 to go.
I guess the perception of Vikings fans is that Anderson choked in the big moment.
Fortunately, we Steelers fans know better. Not only was Gary consistent during his time in Pittsburgh, he proved to be very clutch on more than one occasion. The most memorable occasion was that night in Houston on December 31st, 1989, when he connected on a 50-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the hated Oilers, 26-23, in a Wild Card playoff game.
Unlike the NFC Championship game, when the Vikings still had a touchdown lead and two-minutes to play, everything really was on the line at that moment when Anderson lined up from 50 yards away, and he came through.
To this day, that winning field goal ranks up there as one of the all-time great moments in Steelers history.
Unfortunately, there aren't any Youtube videos floating around of Anderson's game winner in Houston, but that moment will live on in the hearts of Steelers fans everywhere.
Vikings fans can call Anderson a choke artist if they want, but that name is probably displaced and should be attached to the defense that allowed the game-tying touchdown in the final moment and the game-winning field goal drive in overtime.
If you call Anderson that, he probably won't answer. His real football name is "Mr. Automatic." At least that's what we call him in Pittsburgh.