Injury returns Giants' Anderson to spotlight

January 16, 1991|By Vito Stellino

When wide receiver Mark Ingram was drafted on the first round by the New York Giants four years ago, he had a question for a teammate in the shower shortly after he joined the team.

"Whatever happened to O.J. Anderson?" he asked.

Ingram told the teammate that Anderson had been his idol when he was growing up.

Ingram had been 14 years old when Anderson gained 1,605 yards as a rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979.

The teammate listened to the story for several minutes before he introduced himself.

He was O.J. Anderson.

Ingram said he was shocked. "I thought he was 38 or 40. I thought he'd be out of the game," Ingram said.

Actually, Anderson turned 30 when Ingram joined the team in 1987, but he wasn't playing much. He gained 6 yards on two carries that year.

"That was kind of a big joke then, but it made me realize, hey, maybe I really am too old for this game," Anderson said.

It turned out that Anderson, who is 33, isn't quite done yet.

When rookie Rodney Hampton broke his leg Sunday early in the second quarter when the Giants were leading the Bears, 10-0, in a divisional playoff game, Anderson again was thrust into the role of being the team's key runner.

After Kevin Butler kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 10-3, Anderson carried the ball on six straight plays and gained 36 yards on the touchdown drive that gave the Giants a 17-3 cushion on their way to a 31-3 victory over the Bears.

"That was the key drive in the game, I think," said center Bart Oates. "We made the plays when we had to and had some big, key runs, especially from O.J. We definitely got a rhythm coming off the ball in that drive."

Anderson declined to comment after the game, but offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt said the team didn't change any of its philosophy after it lost Hampton.

"Everything in our scheme is designed for all of our backs," Erhardt said. "We keep everyone involved in the system. So, no, we didn't have to make any adjustments at all."

When the Giants play the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football Conference title game Sunday at Candlestick Park, Anderson will be the feature back.

Behind Anderson, the Giants will have Lewis Tillman and blocking back Maurice Carthon, who carried eight times against the Bears. Dave Meggett, who carried twice against the Bears, is the team's third-down back.

Anderson was obtained by the Giants Oct. 7, 1986, from the Cardinals for second- and seventh-round draft picks. He was insurance behind Joe Morris and carried 75 times for 237 yards in eight games.

In the playoffs, as the Giants won the Super Bowl, he carried seven times for 6 yards. The next two seasons, he continued to be a forgotten man.

After he carried twice in 1987 and 65 times in 1988, the Giants didn't protect him on the first Plan B list.

Anderson stayed with the Giants after nobody showed interest in him. When Joe Morris broke his foot in the final exhibition game in 1989, Anderson gained 1,023 yards at age 32.

The Giants, though, left him unprotected again at the end of last year, figuring that running backs that age aren't in much demand even when they're coming off thousand-yard seasons.

The concern about Anderson's age is a major reason they took Hampton with their first-round draft choice last April.

But Anderson wasn't finished. He again led the team in rushing with 784 yards during the regular season.

Hampton, who gained 455 yards in the regular season, is the team's the back of the future and was expected to have a big role in the playoffs.

For Hampton, though, the future is next year.

Anderson, by contrast, is still the team's present.

If the Giants are to make the Super Bowl again, they'll need another big game from him Sunday.

NFL playoff schedule

SUNDAY Championships

AFC: Raiders at Bills, 12:30 p.m. TV: Channels 2, 4

NFC: Giants at 49ers, 4 p.m.

TV: Channels 11, 9

JAN. 27 Super Bowl: 6:18 p.m., channels 13, 7

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.