At first he thought it was a crank call. Phil Hansen didn’t know what to make of the two people at the other end of the phone call he had answered. That is until he heard Ralph Wilson’s trademark laugh. Wilson and his wife Mary were trying to congratulate Hansen after being named the 27th inductee for the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
“First, I was kind of shocked,” said Hansen by phone from his North Dakota home. “And then I quickly looked down at the number and I saw the 716 phone number and then Mr. Wilson got a chuckle out of something. I said, “No, that’s Mr. Wilson. I’d recognize that laugh anywhere.”
Hansen was so surprised because he never envisioned he’d be on the Wall of Fame, but after putting together a solid 11-year playing career for the Bills, and only the Bills, the Wall of Fame committee saw him as a fitting member.
”When I look back I think of my time in Buffalo, I wasn’t a superstar,” said Hansen. “I look back at my career and I’d say I was a consistent, dependable and accountable football player. That’s not fancy, but it’s who I was. And with all of the great names around me on the football field, I did my role. I did my job and I did it as well as I could.”
Hansen’s blue collar approach to the game was fitting of his roots in rural North Dakota where he grew up on a 4,000 acre farm. It also endeared him to a Bills fan base that has always revered hard work and dedicated play.
A second-round pick in 1991, Hansen walked into what most college prospects would consider a dream scenario. Fresh off a gut-wrenching defeat in Super Bowl XXV, Buffalo still had the core of a championship caliber team and Hansen was an additional piece to the puzzle. True to Hansen’s workmanlike approach, he only wished his time with the Bills had come sooner.
“One of the biggest regrets I have is that I came when the Super Bowls were already happening,” he said. “I came after the first one, so I got to go to three. But one thing I really regret is not being there when those teams were making what it takes to go to those Super Bowls in the late 1980s. Those were the building years and where those bonds were made between those players. They accepted me when I got there, but I had never really felt a part of that great group of Kelly, Hull, Smith, Talley and all of those guys that made that team what it was by the time they got to the Super Bowl. I got there for the frosting on the cake, not the first layer.”
Still, Hansen proved himself early in his career earning 10 starts as a rookie while earning NFL All-Rookie team honors.
His career year arguably came in 1995 when he posted his only double-digit sack season with 10 and his first of three consecutive 100-tackle campaigns (110).
“Bryce Paup was a tremendous addition to our defense during those years. I just remember thinking I moved around a little bit after that because Bryce and Bruce were both outside guys. So I kind of found my place on the inside of that pass-rushing group,” Hansen said. “You never know it at the time, but those were the glory days in my span of time anyway. Those are some serious pass rushers there and I was certainly a beneficiary of having those two guys garner a lot of attention.”
Though Hansen wasn’t all that interested in mentioning any of the personal highlights of his career, some that stand out include his interception of Dan Marino in the 1992 AFC Championship game victory at Miami (29-10). He stoned Barry Sanders in his own end zone along with Bruce Smith for a safety that provided the game-winning points in a 1997 home win over Detroit (22-13). He had a pair of fumble recoveries including one that he returned 13 yards for his only career touchdown in a win over Oakland in 1998 (44-21). And Hansen was instrumental in the final victory of his career when he tipped and intercepted a Vinny Testaverde pass to preserve a 14-9 win over the Jets at the Meadowlands in his final season (2001).
Late in his career he was part of one of the most formidable defensive fronts in Bills history as he along with Ted Washington and Bruce Smith helped lead Buffalo’s defense to a number one league ranking in 1999. The Bills allowed just over 85 yards rushing per game that season (85.6).
“Ted Cottrell did a great job that year as defensive coordinator,” said Hansen. “You’d rather trade out all those things for a Super Bowl win, but to be recognized as the number one defense in the league that says something as well. Looking back on it I think you never realize how good and how special those days were until they’re not there anymore. That was a pretty special time. Ted Washington in the middle… I would go to battle with him every day of the week and Bruce Smith as well. The three of us up front for several years we really felt good about what we had there.”
A three-time AFC Champion, Hansen still ranks third in franchise history in sacks (61.5) behind only former teammate and Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and Aaron Schobel. And only 10 Wall of Famers have appeared in more games than the 156 that Hansen suited up for Buffalo.
Currently residing in Detroit Lake, Minnesota, Hansen is still involved in football as he does radio color commentary for his alma mater at North Dakota State. He also officiates high school football games in Minnesota.
The former defensive end has not yet selected a home date from the Bills 2011 schedule for his Wall of Fame induction ceremony.