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Top 50 All-Time Bills, No. 34: DE Phil Hansen

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DE Phil Hansen (1991-2001) | 6'5", 278 lbs.

Notable Achievements: Division II Hall of Fame, North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame

Phillip Allen Hansen was born on May 20, 1968 in Oakes, North Dakota.  He grew up on his family's 4,000-acre farm and attended Oakes High School.  He became a two-time all conference selection in high school, playing on the defensive line, the offensive line, at LB and at RB.  After high school he stayed in his home state, attending North Dakota State University, and became one of the best defensive players in Division II history.  While at NDSU, he helped lead the Bison to a pair of national championships in 1988 and 1990.  He was the anchor of a very good defense for three seasons and earned All-American honors twice, while the team went 42-7-1 during his tenure, including a pair of undefeated 14-0 seasons when they won the national title.

Hansen matched the school record with 41 sacks and set a school record with 32 career pass break-ups.  He also earned plenty of accolades for his play.  Hansen was named All-North Central Conference and the league's Most Valuable Player twice during his career.  He played in three college all-star games following his senior season - the East-West Shrine game, the Blue-Gray Football Classic, and the All-American Classic.  He was also named to the NCAA Division II "Team of the Quarter Century," where he was the top vote-getter among defensive linemen.  Finally, he was named Small College Defensive Lineman of the Year by the NFL Draft Report after his final season.  These honors, along with his excellent play on the field, opened the eyes of many NFL draft scouts.  The Bills were lucky enough to grab Hansen with their second round pick in 1991, the No. 54 overall selection.  He would go on to play 11 seasons for the team and retired as one of the best defensive ends in team history.

Career Highlights
From the minute Phil Hansen set foot in Buffalo, he was the epitome of the city and what endears many players to fans.  He was as humble, hard-working and down-to-earth as any player in Bills history, and his achievements speak for that.  He was a well respected figure in the locker room, on the field, in the community and pretty much wherever he went.  Hansen was an immediate contributor helping to stabilize the Bills' talented 3-4 defense opposite Bruce Smith.  Hansen's rookie season got off to a quick start as he started in his very first game on September 8, 1991 against the Dolphins in place of an ailing Bruce Smith, who missed much of the season with a knee injury.  Hansen recorded his first sack on November 24th against the Patriots, ended up starting 10 games and would end the season making the All-Rookie team that year.

His second season was really a jumping off point for the rest of a very solid career in Buffalo.  Hansen became a full-time starter in 1992 and never looked back.  He finished with a very productive (and much needed these days) 8 sacks, second to Smith, and 64 tackles.  He also recorded a sack in 6 consecutive games, tying Smith's team record set in 1986. After his impressive regular season, he stepped up to have a productive postseason that year, as well.  In the Comeback Game against the Oilers Hansen posted a team high 11 tackles and followed that up with a deflection of a Dan Marino pass in the AFC Championship Game that he was able to corral for an interception. 

After his breakout 1992 season, Hansen struggled a bit through an injury-riddled 1993 season due to a foot injury, playing in just 11 games.  He finished with 2.5 sacks and 43 tackles.  After his down year, Hansen came back strong the next year and would not miss another game until 1998.  He had another steady, yet unspectacular 1994 season finishing with 5.5 sacks and 71 tackles.  Hansen got even better in 1995 and ended up having arguably his best season.  He added 10 sacks, which was amazingly just third on the team that year, and 76 tackles.  Over the next four seasons he was able to produce 27.5 sacks finishing with at least 6 sacks in each season.  Age and a knee injury really hurt his productivity after his run of consistent, productive season at Left End opposite Smith.  In the 2000 season, at the age of 32, Hansen would play in just 10 games due to a knee injury and his statistics suffered.  He finished with a career low 2 sacks and just 27 tackles.  In 12 starts during his final season in 2001, Hansen would finish with 3 sacks, 30 tackles and his lone regular season interception. The Bills finished the season 3-13 and Hansen decided to leave on his own terms:

Any time you play for more than a couple years in the National Football League you always think about retirement, especially Monday mornings after Sunday games. But for a defensive lineman - playing 11 years - that's almost above and beyond the call of duty.

I wanted to leave the game on my own terms. I didn't want to be cut or traded.

He had waited until the end of the season to announce his retirement to avoid being a distraction to his teammates.  Never one to draw attention to himself, that was an admirable move for an 11-year vet who know it would be his last season.  For his career, Hansen finished second in Bills' history with 61.5 sacks. He left the game the same way he came into the league, quietly, professionally and full of class:

At the time of his retirement speech, Hansen stated that he didn't want to be a distraction to his teammates, this being his reason for waiting till the season was over until calling it quits. He went on to thank the assistant trainers, ball boys, parking attendants and maintenance people. These are people that aren't even listed in the Bills media guide but Phil Hansen knew them all by their first names.

Best Moment
Besides his play during the 1992 postseason, Hansen had numerous individual moments that stood out.  Chris Brown believes his best one came during the 1997 season:

Hansen’s most memorable play came on Oct. 5, 1997 when Hansen broke a 13-13 tie with two minutes remaining in the game by dropping Detroit’s Barry Sanders for a safety in his own end zone in what wound up being a Bills 22-13 victory.

Parting Shot
There were many former Bills that were far more talented that Phil Hansen, but few matched his intensity, professionalism, modesty and overall gritty play.  He was a perfect fit in Buffalo, a blue-collar player for a city that adored that trait.  Hansen will always be an underappreciated player because he played in the shadow of guys like Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley, Bryce Paup and Ted Washington during his career.  He never earned a Pro Bowl bid and was probably a no-name in other NFL cities.  It's a shame Hansen was never fully recognized for his play on the field because he was as deserving as most.  He is likely more appreciated by his former teammates than by Bills fan simply because of how overlooked he was.  Maybe he'll get his day in the sun in the near future with a place on the Bills Wall of Fame.  I'd hardly argue against his inclusion.

Marv Levy remembers the type of player Hansen was in his book, Where Else Would You Rather Be? with a recollection of one of the forgotten big plays from the Comeback Game:

The Oilers came roaring back. They crammed 12 plays into the next two minutes and 45 seconds. They kept moving the chains, and they kept drawing closer and closer to our goal line. There were under 20 seconds left to play, and they were at our 25-yard line. Moon faded back for another pass attempt. Barreling in from our defensive left end position came second-year man Phil Hansen, who had played at an intensity level rarely seen even in the NFL. As he leapt into the air in his attempt to block Moon's throw, a Houston blocker attacked his legs and sent him on a twisting somersault that culminated with Phil landing on the ground in jarring fashion flat on his back. Houston had been setting up a screen pass to our left, which they now threw out to their star running back, Lorenzo White.

White caught the perfectly thrown ball and with three big offensive linemen arrayed in front of him, he headed upfield for what appeared to be an unimpeded path to the touchdown that would break our hearts. He was speeding toward the goal line when a human missile hurled itself from behind at White's ankles, tripped him up, and sent him sprawling to the turf eight yards short of the end zone. It was Phil, who, the instant he had hit the ground, had bounced up and gave frantic (and seemingly hopeless) chase. Many moments in that historic game have been recounted in the years that followed, but I will always remember that if we had not had a man at that position with the fiber and character qualities of Phil Hansen, we wouldn't have won that game.

We still hadn't won it at that exact moment, either. With just a few seconds remaining, Houston kicked a field goal. The score was tied 38-38. The game went into overtime. ~p.373

That's quite the compliment.

Career Stats
156 games, 148 starts
61.5 sacks (No. 3 in franchise history)
870 total tackles (No. 6)
8 forced fumbles (No. 7)
10 fumble recoveries (No. 7)
135 quarterback pressures
1 interception

Phil Hansen teamed up with Bryce Paup to give Dan Marino what he deserved.
(photo source)