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home : lt sports : sports May 2, 2016

1/15/2013 8:00:00 AM
Stenerud reflects on football career and time in Green Bay
Former kicker gives speech at prostate cancer awareness seminar
Jan Stenerud speaks to a group gathered at the Thirsty Whale Thursday reflecting on his football career that included a stint in Green Bay. Bryan Rose photograph
Jan Stenerud speaks to a group gathered at the Thirsty Whale Thursday reflecting on his football career that included a stint in Green Bay. Bryan Rose photograph

Bryan Rose

Pro Football Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud said he owes everything to football as he reflected on his career during a prostate cancer awareness seminar held Thursday at the Thirsty Whale.
“I really owe everything to football,” Stenerud said. “The jobs I got in Kansas City, where I had a radio program, believe it or not with this accent. And all the jobs I got were from name recognition. I feel very fortunate.”
But it was another sport that brought him to the United States where his kicking talent was discovered.
Stenerud was a world-class ski jumper in high school and his success earned the attention of Montana State University.
“I got a letter from a student at Montana State University and they informed me that they had a ski team there,” Stenerud said. “I was offered a full ride skiing scholarship. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.”
Stenerud competed on the ski team as a ski jumper and a cross country skier.
It was at Montana State that Stenerud’s kicking prowess was discovered. And while many stories abound about how that fateful day happened, Stenerud said it was more a series of events and than one sudden realization.
“There has been a lot of stories about how I got discovered,” he said. “The basketball coach takes a lot of credit for this thing. One day he was walking across the football field where I was kicking.”
As part of his training, Stenerud would run the stadium steps and one day he saw the football team’s kicker practicing on the field.
As a soccer player his whole life, Stenerud was drawn to what the player was doing.
“I played a lot of soccer as a kid,” he said. “I could kick the ball really far which wasn’t much help in soccer except when you had a free kick or a goal kick.”
Stenerud asked the kicker if he could try kicking the ball.
After that, Stenerud would kick with the player and one day the basketball coach spotted him.
“He watched me and held the ball for me a couple of times,” Stenerud said. “He ran over to the football coach, Jim Sweeney, and told him about me. But the football coach didn’t pay him much attention.”
Stenerud continued his offseason workouts during his junior year and at the last practice the coach turned his attention to the skier running the steps.
“I heard a voice and it was something like “Hey skier, come down here,’” Stenerud said. “He actually had me kick in front of the entire team. It was the last practice so they were having a light workout.”
In his previous attempts, Stenerud had kicked the ball off the grass with his tennis shoes. The coach gave him his cleats to wear and a tee from which to kick off.
“I had never kicked with a tee so I didn’t know how to place the ball,” he said. “So my first kick I kind of topped the ball a little bit and it went rolling down the field like a squib kick.”
Stenerud said the players were laughing, but Sweeney gave him another shot.
“He told me to try it again,” Stenerud said. “So I adjusted the ball on the tee a little bit, took a few steps back and got a running start.”
This time the result was much difference.
“I was kicking from the 40 yard line which was where you kicked off back then,” he said. “The ball went high in the air all the way through the goal post 70 yards away and into the seats. So it got a little more quiet among the players.”
Stenerud kicked the ball the same way two more times.
“The coach turned to me and asked ‘Kid what are you doing tomorrow?’” Stenerud said. “So I thought well this is something. This is America. This is the land of opportunity that you heard about as a little kid. America was very respected where I came from.”
Stenerud was not eligible to play in the game but he did suit up.
“The coach wanted me to get used to the crowd,” he said. “There were 8,000 people there. I had ski jumped in front of 80,000 people in Norway so the crowd wasn’t a big deal to me.”
During the spring practice, Stenerud hit a 62-yard field goal and became a permanent member of the football team.
“They changed my scholarship from skiing to football even though I competed in both my senior year,” he said.
From there, Stenerud was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL and the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. He chose to play for the Chiefs where he went on to earn a Super Bowl ring when Kansas City defeated Minnesota in Super Bowl IV.
After 13 years with the Chiefs, Stenerud was cut and sat out the 1980 season until a call came from Green Bay.
“Bart Starr called me himself and said I need some help up here, can you still kick?” Stenerud said.
Stenerud came in and was the Packer kicker for the remainder of the season.
“After our last game, we were on the flight back and I said to Bart, ‘if you want me to come back to camp next year, I would be happy to come if the best kicker wins the job,’” Stenerud said. “I just went through the same thing in Kansas City where I felt I was the best kicker but the guy that got the job was 15 years younger and it was a rebuilding situation. Bart Starr looked at me and said, ‘if you are the best kicker I guarantee you, you will win the job.’”
In the preseason, Stenerud faced tough competition.
“In those days you had a lot of people in camp,” he said. “There were five to six kickers.”
The second to last preseason game, Stenerud was called on to kick a 54-yard field goal near the end of the half.
“We had a punter that had held out and was not kicking as well as he would have liked and the fans were really on him,” Stenerud said. “I made the kick and then kicked off to end the half. Bart Starr came up to me as we were going into the locker room and said, ‘sorry I had to do that to you but I couldn’t stand letting that punter go out there and getting booed some more.’”
At that point there were three kickers left in camp. The following week, Stenerud had won the job and was the only kicker left.
He would go on to play five years with Green Bay which he said were wonderful.
“If you are a professional football player and if you haven’t played for the Packers, you missed out on something,” Stenerud said. “It is a very special place with great fans. Lambeau Field itself is so special.”
Stenerud was named to the Packers Hall of Fame, the Chiefs Hall of Fame and was the first soccer-style kicker inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
It was an incident at a Hall of Fame event that prompted Stenerud to join the fight against prostate cancer, which was the reason for Thursday’s gathering.
While listening to prostate cancer survivor and former Oakland Raider Mike Haynes talk about the importance of early testing, a former teammate of Stenerud’s at Kansas City, Willie Lanier, decided to get tested.
“They had doctors there that would do the screening,” Stenerud said.
Lanier’s tests came back elevated and required more tests.
“He went back home to Richmond and they found he was cancerous,” Stenerud said. “He had it taken care of and that was four or five years ago and he is just fine.”
The fact that Lanier’s cancer was discovered in the early stages was key to his recovery.
“Early detection is the key,” Stenerud said. “It doesn’t hurt to go get examined. You need to do that. Please do that.”
As for the sport that brought Stenerud to the United States, he said he has not downhill skied in 10 years but does cross country ski when he goes back to Norway to visit friends.
“I get back there every year and I ski with my old teammates,” Stenerud said. It is a nice leisurely ski to a cabin.”
Other than that, Stenerud said he prefers to be warm during the winter months and spends time on  the golf course.
“I find I would rather go and play golf,” he said. “When winter comes around, I am looking for warmer places to golf instead of skiing.”
Bryan Rose may be reached via email at sports@lakelandtimes.com.

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