FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) – When Morten Andersen finally escaped an unwanted retirement, a couple of his new Atlanta Falcons teammates wasted no time ordering replicas of his No. 5 jersey.

They wanted something special for him to sign.

They wanted their own little piece of history.

“Some of the younger guys may not realize what a big deal this is,” said linebacker Ike Reese, who teamed up with defensive tackle Grady Jackson to get Anderson’s signature on a pair of jerseys.

“But if you’ve got any historical presence, you realize that this guy is probably going to be on that podium in Canton some day.”

Already the second-oldest player in NFL history, the Great Dane has a chance to become the No. 1 scorer when the Falcons (7-6) host the Dallas Cowboys (8-5) Saturday night in a game with major playoff ramifications.

The 46-year-old Andersen needs two points to break Gary Anderson’s record of 2,434. A couple of extra points would do the trick. Or maybe it will come down to a field goal, which would serve a dual purpose. The kickers whose names sound the same but differ by a single letter already share the record for most career field goals with 538.

Perhaps a little superstitious and not wanting to deflect attention from such an important game, Andersen declined to discuss either of the impending records in the days leading up to it.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “I haven’t done anything yet.”

But records are part of the reason Andersen wouldn’t let go, even when no team wanted him for more than a year and the only kicking he did was in a local park – all by himself. He learned something about himself during those solitary sessions, when there’s weren’t any fans cheering or teammates patting him on the back as the ball sailed through the uprights.

He still had things to do. He wanted to win a Super Bowl ring. He wanted to be the first guy to play until he was 50. He wanted to chase down Anderson.

“I’m trying to leave a legacy,” said Andersen, a native of Denmark.

“I’m trying to leave something that I can look back on with great satisfaction. I want to know for sure that I left everything on the field. I have those thoughts going through my head. I guess I’m trying to get rid of them. I don’t want to have any regrets about this game. I want to have full closure.”

Of course, few athletes get to make that decision on their own. Andersen seemed to be at the end of the line after the 2004 season, when he made 18-of-22 field goals for the Minnesota Vikings, his third team in four years.

He waited for another team to call. None did. So, Andersen sat out all of last season, making those daily trips to the park even when it seemed more and more likely he was done. He went through his normal routine, just as he had for more than two decades, and kept telling himself that someone would need a kicker. But another training camp came and went, and Andersen was still unemployed.

“During that one year out of football, I realized just how much I missed the game,” Andersen said. “I guess it could have gone the other way. I could have just retired. But it made me realize that I wanted to play.”

There was some hope. The Falcons put out feelers to their former kicker last summer, telling him to stay by the phone just in case they couldn’t find a younger guy to handle the job. But Michael Koenen, who already did the punting, had a strong preseason as a kicker and went into the opener with both jobs.

He couldn’t handle the extra load. Koenen missed a couple of field goal attempts at Carolina in Week 1, then went 0-for-4 against Tampa Bay the following Sunday.

The Falcons won both games, but realized they needed someone more reliable.

Welcome back, Morten.

Andersen played for the Falcons from 1995-00 and made the biggest field goal in team history, a 38-yarder in overtime to win the 1999 NFC championship game at Minnesota. While he doesn’t have quite as much strength in that left leg as he did during his prime, he’s been just what the Falcons were hoping for – a reliable kicker from inside of 50 yards.

“If I couldn’t do this at the highest level, I would quit immediately,” he said. “But I’ve been able to take advantage of my opportunity.”

Andersen has made 18-of-21 field goals – one of the misses was blocked – and is 21-of-21 on extra points. He came up short on his only kick from beyond 50 yards, but the Falcons can still turn to Koenen for any long-range attempts.

“I might have lost a little bit of leg strength,” Andersen conceded.

“I’m not going to hit those 60-yarders anymore (as he did in 1991). But I feel like I can be very effective from 50 yards and in.”

AP-ES-12-14-06 1656EST

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