Phil Hansen’s days of bringing down NFL quarterbacks are long gone, but the former Buffalo Bill has found a unique way to channel that competitive fire inside of him.
A member of the Bills Wall of Fame, Hansen is now 48 and living in Minnesota with his wife and three adolescent children. Although most of his time is taken up with his kids, Hansen couldn’t stay too far away from the sport he loved. A few years after he retired from the NFL in 2001, Hansen became a high school basketball and football referee.
“I got asked to coach football and I’ve been through 22 years of organized football and it was just more than I wanted to do to be a coach,” Hansen said. “It takes time to be good at it, and my family was young at the time and I decided not to. Officiating was just a way that I could kind of stay involved. You don’t have to worry about injured kids or who you’re going to play, you just get the best part which is the game.”
Hansen admitted that it is hard to keep a low profile during some of the games, especially when he towers over the players at 6’5, but that hasn’t stopped him from truly enjoying the games.
“I had a coach tell me one time that it was getting too rough and that this wasn’t the NFL anymore,” Hansen joked. “I thought that was a great comment, but you work with the coaches and players enough and they eventually figure it out.”
Hansen is especially busy in the fall. In addition to his officiating duties, he is the color analyst on the radio for North Dakota State University—his alma mater. Hansen starred for the Bison, helping them win two Division I FCS National Championships, and setting records for most sacks and pass breakups in the process. Since Hansen took over on the broadcasts, the team’s success has increased to new heights. NDSU has appeared in every championship game since 2011, taking home the trophy in every appearance except in 2016.
“It is fun traveling with them and it’s always nice to be a part of a winning team,” Hansen said. “I guess that and officiating keeps me involved in football without the time demands that coaching has. Keeps me involved without a huge time commitment and I can give that instead to my family.”
Of course, Hansen is no stranger to winning. He was on the roster for three of Buffalo’s four Super Bowl appearances, and played in 14 total playoff games for the Bills. In 11 seasons with Buffalo, he played in 156 games, recording 496 tackles. He also ranks third all-time in franchise history with 61.5 sacks, behind only Aaron Schobel and Bruce Smith.
Hansen has paid attention to his only NFL team since he retired, and is eager to see the Bills return to the postseason. He was quick to point out that the site of next year’s Super Bowl is in Minneapolis, the same city where he played his first Super Bowl with the Bills.
“I think of generations of Bills who never even got a sniff of the playoffs,” Hansen said. “It makes you appreciate what we did, even if we never won one, to go there all those times puts it in perspective for all my Bills colleagues that came after me that didn’t get a chance.”
Hansen hasn’t limited his activities to sports in retirement. In 2012, he ran for a seat on the Minnesota Senate, but lost. He also helps his brother manage a 1,300 acre farm in North Dakota and was an ambassador for the NFL Heads Up program, which aimed to advance player safety in football.
Through it all, Hansen just wants to make an impact and continue to find a way to replicate at least some of that passion he felt while playing football.
“When people ask me what I do, I first tell them that I’m retired,” he said. “I do things that keep me busy, but my time is kind of my own. I can decide what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. I guess when you’re done with football and when you can retire you try to find purpose in your life and when you play at that level you want to be productive with the time you have. That was the highest level of production in football so you just find something else in life to be productive with. For me, all of that is surrounded by my family.”