Brian Hansen graduated from West Sioux High School and the University of Sioux Falls before being drafted by the New Orleans Saints. He punted in the National Football League for 15 seasons, made the Pro Bowl in 1984, his rookie year, and threw three passes–one each for the Saints, the Browns and the Jets–and completed them all, including one for a touchdown. The married father of three returned to South Dakota following his retirement from football and now serves as the state director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. We spoke one week before his 50th birthday in late October, 2010.

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I was anxious. I was anxious to be done. But yet it was what I knew and what I did and when there were opportunities to do it, as long as that door was open, I just continued to do it, not really enjoying it.

You hear a lot of guys, you know, they miss the camaraderie, they miss the games. I was just looking for a way out. I don’t even know if I was looking for my own terms. I just wanted an honorable way out. I just felt like, How many times can you kick a ball? How many times can you show up for another game? And, you know, What sense does it really make? I mean, it just seemed somewhat meaningless. And I just felt like I was called to do something different and to move on to the next part of my life.

As a punter you were kind of the bottom guy on the totem pole, so you got to kind of be an observer, basically. It was kind of take it all in and see how it affected people, what fame and money and all those things did to people, and what it did to yourself. And I think you learn that as you get older and, you know, being in it long enough, you’re able to get a great grasp of just what takes place in the lives of the athletes that have the opportunity to do that. So I was just thankful that I never got in a position that some of the guys were in that received all the attention and received the big bucks. You know, I just saw that it was a less desirable place to be than the world makes it out to be.

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It’s kind of funny. When I was in Punt, Pass & Kick I came in second place every year. And every year I got second place I was determined to move on to the next level and go as far as I could go. But punting was the thing that always kept me from beating the guy in front of me, so it was something that I continually worked on. I remember watching my older brother play quarterback at the University of Sioux Falls and watching the punters. I hadn’t gone out for football my junior year of high school. I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. But because he was playing quarterback I watched the punters in college, and I didn’t think they were very good. And I thought, I could do that. So I went out for football my senior year and started working on punting and just kind of developed an obsession with it. The other things I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t big enough or aggressive enough, and so I just gravitated towards punting.

I had this dream as a kid to be in the NFL. A lot of kids have that dream. The reality of that dream ever happening was slim and none, and so I never had any expectation that I was going to make it. I just was kind of holding onto that dream. And I saw that there was a slight chance of maybe getting in a training camp and saying I did that. And so to make the team and then, you know, to last as long as I did was beyond my wildest expectations.

There were just countless examples throughout my whole career where it was just divine intervention. I mean, it just had to be ordained by God.

One that I think was kind of a defining moment was: Bill Parcells comes to the Jets. We have a team meeting, so he brings everybody back from wherever they are in the off-season. So we come in the night before. We hear that he’s going to basically tell us about his off-season conditioning program. And I was in my 13th year and really had one of my better seasons, but I was really concerned about this off-season program and having to come back to New York and spend three months away from my family. It just didn’t seem like where I needed to be and I didn’t have any peace about doing that, and was really very anxious about that and just felt that wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

And at that time I was really trying to grow in my faith and understanding of, you know, just trusting God. I got a book from Kyle Brady. He was a number one draft choice for us that had just a really strong commitment to his faith and his relationship with Christ. And so I had been reading about just trusting God. I mean, just really trusting Him. You know, you talk about having a faith life or having faith in God. Well, what does that look like? What does that mean? I was really kind of evaluating, do I trust Him? I mean, do I really trust God or do I just say that?

So I prayed that night in my room as I was wondering what to do. I didn’t feel like I could be a part of this off-season program, and I knew that that would probably end my days with the Jets because I’m sure that wasn’t going to go over well with Parcells. I literally got on my knees and I just prayed. I said, Lord, I don’t know what your plan is for my future, but I have to trust you with it. And football’s been my life and my identity and, you know, everybody says we have to give our lives to you, and that includes football and my future and everything. And so I just did that. I said, Whatever my future holds, I put it in your hands and I trust you with it, and I know that you have the power to do whatever and I’ll be fine with it. But I know that I’ve got to go in and talk to Coach Parcells and say that I can’t be a part of that program. And I just left it at that, and had a peace about it, and was planning on doing that.

Went to the meeting the next day and I’m sitting in the back row–veterans would sit in the back, rookies up front–I’m sitting between two offensive linemen and Parcells gets up and says, “Welcome, guys. I’m Bill Parcells. You know, here’s the deal.” And he talks about the injuries that we had last year, and said, “It’s one of two things.” And he pointed to this big binder. And he said, “Guys, that’s not the playbook. That’s our injury log from last year and it tells me one of two things: we’re either really bad athletes, because good athletes don’t get hurt that much, or we’re just out of shape. Conditioned athletes don’t get hurt that much.” And he said, “So to remedy that we’re going to have an off-season conditioning program that you guys probably heard about, and everybody’s going to be there. You’re going to be a part of that. And if you’re not going to be a part of that, you won’t be on this team.” He said, “I don’t care who you are," and he pointed at Keyshawn Johnson and Neil O’Donnell, our quarterback, and Curtis Martin, whoever was there. He said, "I don’t care how much money you make, which round you were drafted in, you’re going to be here from March, April and May.” He said, “Except for our punter.”

He said, “Hansen, how long you been in the League?” I said, “Thirteen years.” And he said, “You should know how to get ready by now, shouldn’t you?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He says, “Well, you come to camp ready to go. Everybody else be here March 1st.” And to me that was [laughs], I don’t know how you explain that. Why he would he say such a thing? Why he would need to say such a thing other than… I just realized, from that point on, that even Bill Parcells has no control over me or over his own life, you know, that God controls it all.

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It was pretty common for players to talk about wanting to retire after so many years in the League and be financially secure and be able to do everything they wanted to do. And I remember talking to numerous guys that, you know, had a plan. You know, I’m going to do this for X amount of years and then I’m getting out. They couldn’t wait to be done. And I don’t know if that was true for everybody, but it was a lot of guys anticipating the day when they were done. And so I would think about that, the idea of financial security and retirement, but when I’d think about that I’d become depressed. I couldn’t enjoy the thought of playing golf every other day. You know, hanging out at the lake, developing a bunch of hobbies, hunting, fishing. I mean, it just made me ill to think about it, that that was going to be the rest of my life even though I might be in a position to do that. I would physically and emotionally be depressed just thinking that that was going to be the rest of my life, not knowing what I was going to do and what I could do. And so that was kind of set in my heart and my mind that I wanted to do something. I wanted to use what God had given me, for however long he would let me do it.

I remember when I got my knee blown out. This was in that 14th year when I came back and played for Parcells that I blew out my knee. A guy ran into my knee, completely extended, and it felt like I got hit by a truck. It felt like my knee was just completely shattered. And as I got drug off the field and laid on the training table I just was in total relief, thinking, Here’s my honorable way out. I’m done. And I was just at peace with it and thought I would never play again because I thought I had just shattered my knee. And then I found out that it was a 4-to-6 week injury and I was back playing in two weeks [laughs]. So much for that.

But it was kind of an illustration for me of my life in football and just wanting to be gone. To leave. And I think of life in the same way: that, you know, football was just a grind. I mean, it was getting ready every day and doing what you had to do and just anticipating that day when you were done with it. At least that’s the way I looked at it. And I kind of look the same way at life. I mean, I try to, you know, find joy in the things that I do and in my family, but I also think about death a lot and I think about, you know, if it’s truly true that God is who He says that He is and He’s got these plans and He’s got this place and He’s gone to prepare a place for us that is beyond comprehension, then how can you help but think about, you know, desiring to be there? At the same time balancing between, you know, As long as I’m here, you know, I need to make the best of it. I need to do what God has called me to do in the time that He’s given me, but, you know, desiring to be in His presence. So I think about that a lot.

I want to see my kids grow up, and my grandkids and all that, but, you know, it says that we are separated from Him and that we are apart from Him and that we should long to be in our true home. That we’re foreigners here. We’re aliens. And that our desires and thoughts should be to our real home. And so I find myself in that mode, trying to be effective here, but yet focused on ultimately where I want to be. So yeah, I think about death a lot.

I think about the people that I see all around me every day that are dealing with it. This friend of mine the other day, you know, finds a lump and has cancer all over her body and is weeks, months away from that reality. And was in a car crash a few weeks ago. Got rear-ended. Guy going 45 miles an hour and, you know, nothing happened to him, which was amazing. In a split second your life can change. So there are constant reminders. I believe that God puts those things, those reminders of our mortality all around us, and so if you’re not thinking about it you probably should be.

I had a friend that was in my wedding that was in a car accident and died, oh, ten years ago. And that was an amazing thing, what transpired in his life and our getting reconnected and seeing him go in just a split second. That gave me kind of a sense of urgency about my ministry and, you know, not taking for granted that somebody might be around next week.

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You can go to any given funeral and they make the guy sound like, regardless of what he’s done or what kind of life he’s lived, that’s he’s, you know, Mr. Wonderful and we’re all going to miss him. And, you know, we like to think he’s in a better place and that’s supposed to be just kind of a natural promotion that everybody gets because he was a good guy. That is what we all want to think and believe, but reality, my reality and what I believe in is that that’s not a given, that we don’t just naturally go to a better place. That there is the potential for eternal life, one way or the other, whether it’s heaven or hell, a life beyond comprehension in the presence of God or one that is separated from God in eternal hell and fire. Whatever hell looks like I have no idea, but I don’t want to find out. But I know and believe that that’s a reality.

So depending on what you believe, what I believe, determines where we spend eternity. And we’re going to be in eternity a lot longer than the short time that we’re here on this earth. You know, it says our life is like a mist: we’re here and then we’re gone. And eternity is our everlasting home. And so we need to have an understanding of what’s involved. And if our hope is in something that there’s no hope in, for example, I was a good person, I did good things, therefore, I’m going to be rewarded and how could I possibly spend eternity in hell? I never did anything bad enough to do that. Or I choose to believe there isn’t a hell, you know? I mean, I can choose to believe there’s no gravity, but jump off a mountain, as much as I believe that I’m not going to fall to the bottom, it’s what is real.

I believe that no eye has seen or no mind has conceived what heaven looks like. And I think about, you know, any time you try to imagine some place you’re going to go, and you actually get there and it’s always totally different than you what you perceived it to be. I really believe that it’s not even within our ability to visualize it or to have any idea of what that’s going to be like. So I can’t even go there to think what that’s going to be like, or what it’s going to be like to stand before the creator of the universe and give an account for my life. I mean, it’s just going to be beyond anything. And I think you’ll know in an instant what you should’ve done, the way that you should’ve lived your life, and it’ll all make sense.