Still in a rush to show them NFL: Falcons running back Jamal Anderson has nothing left to prove, but being drafted in the seventh round in '94 still rankles, and drives him.

November 13, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Four years later, the answer still eludes Jamal Anderson.

Yes, he found retribution. Certainly, he has enjoyed the last laugh.

But the answer as to why he was a seventh-round draft pick out of Utah in 1994, selected after 200 other players -- including 23 other running backs? No, there still is no answer for that. Just theories.

And Anderson, in his fifth year with the Atlanta Falcons, has heard them all.

"It was difficult to assess where I belonged," he said, drifting down the path of speculation and hindsight. "I played I-formation fullback at Utah, then in the single-back formation. The Bus [Jerome Bettis] was just getting started in the NFL and there wasn't a trend toward big backs at the time. Maybe I was a 'tweener.'

"I've heard a million-and-one theories, so I don't really know. You're only as good as your last performance. That's how I look at it now."

In Anderson's last performance, the 5-foot-11, 234-pounder rammed the New England Patriots 32 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Atlanta won, 41-10. It was his second straight 100-yards-or-better rushing game, the sixth in his last seven games, the 11th in an escalating career.

It was one more chance to prove the experts wrong. Does he still find motivation in that 1994 draft?

"I think so," Anderson, 26, said during a national teleconference this week. "You never lose your draft position. It's one of those things that follows you. It's not something I'm bitter about. I guess you could say I look forward to playing every team #F because they didn't draft me. When you're a seventh-rounder, you prove everybody wrong."

Anderson gets the chance to make another statement on Sunday when the Falcons (7-2) play host to the San Francisco 49ers (7-2) in a sold-out Georgia Dome. The winner takes over first place in the NFC West.

With 966 rushing yards this season, Anderson needs just 34 to become the first Falcons running back since Gerald Riggs to gain 1,000 yards three years in a row, and to tie the club record. Riggs did it in 1984-86.

After laboring to shed his seventh-round status, Anderson has ,, joined with quarterback Chris Chandler to give the Falcons a potent one-two punch on offense.

Anderson is the third-leading rusher in the NFL; Chandler the ninth-leading passer. The Falcons, 7-2 for the first time in their 33-year-history, increased their scoring average from 20.0 points game a year ago to 28.1 this season. They have won 13 of their last 17 games under coach Dan Reeves.

But the win on the road in New England opened some reluctant eyes.

"The way we played against the Patriots, I guess a couple people who didn't believe now believe we are a team you have to come to play every week," said Anderson.

"We understand it's a process here in Atlanta. We haven't been a dominant team. It's all new to us. We're trying to play every game like it was a first-place showdown."

Just don't expect Anderson to be awed by the ride toward the top of the NFL. He's been on top of the world, rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous athletes and celebrities of the time.

When Anderson was growing up, first in Newark, N.J., and then Los Angeles, his father, James Anderson, was a bodyguard for Muhammad Ali and singer Donna Summers, among others. Sugar Ray Leonard once appeared at a Pop Warner football game Anderson played in, and former Los Angeles Lakers guard Byron Scott cut his hair.

A former New Jersey police officer, the elder Anderson now works as a security consultant for Boyz II Men.

Jamal Anderson said his association with all those celebrities helped lend perspective when he embarked on his NFL career as a lowly seventh-rounder. Perhaps that was the inspiration that caused Anderson, upon seeing his name ranked fifth among running backs on a blackboard depth chart, to draw an arrow from his name to the top of the list.

"I had been around the most famous, hung around the people who set trends, been on covers of all the magazines," he said. "It was more if I could create my own niche to get on the next level."

What Anderson remembers most about his time around Ali was the way the three-time heavyweight champ dealt with people.

"Regardless of race, he treated everybody the way he expects to be treated," Anderson said. "That's something that stays with me to this day. Whether you know me or don't, I treat everybody with respect. It was his treatment of people that made everybody feel like they were champion. That was a unique gift Muhammad Ali was able to bestow on people."

Anderson is grateful for his new-found place among NFL running backs. He trails only Denver's Terrell Davis and Detroit's Barry Sanders in the rushing race.

"For me personally, maybe it's finally the recognition that I belong among the elite backs in the NFL," he said. "It's always gratifying to be mentioned in the same breath with Terrell Davis and Barry Sanders."

Seventh-round gem

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