Showing them he can still play

Ravens Q&a Willie Anderson

November 12, 2008|By EDWARD LEE

Teammates like center Jason Brown and left guard Ben Grubbs have spoken of their admiration for you. What does it mean to you to join a new team and earn their respect so quickly?

It just means you're old. [Laughs.] But I knew coming in here that I was going to have to be in a show-and-prove mode. I had made that my goal for the '08 season even when I was with the Bengals. I knew I had to come in and show them that I could still play at a high level, and once I got released from there, I still made that goal my goal here, to come in and show the Ravens that I could still play.

How does it feel to have gained the confidence of the coaches, who have inserted you as the starting right tackle for the past four games?

It feels good. I'm just working, and I appreciate the opportunity to be able to play here and to show guys that. That was a big thing on me, to come back and being 33 years old and a 13-year guy in the league. So playing with a very young group of guys and having that youthful spirit that those guys have, that's a big thing for me.

Has moving from Cincinnati to here been a seamless transition?

It was hard at first. But then, as always, time and a lot of prayer. [Laughs.] The guys really embraced me. I told the guys when I first came in, "There are no egos. If I'm the backup, I'm the backup. If I'm playing, I'm playing." ... If my job was to mentor a young guy and show him how to play and get beat up for him, that was my thing.

How difficult was it for you to leave the Bengals franchise, which drafted you out of Auburn with the 10th overall pick in the 1996 draft?

The only thing hard about it was how I left with - for some odd reason - them speculating about my endurance and whether I could play. Until '07 [when he sat out nine games with a bone bruise and medial collateral ligament sprain in his right knee], that never was a question. ... You have one rough year where I took a blow - nothing that had to with age - and how I left with the training staff there saying, "Well, he can't play anymore. He's done," that's been said about me since 2005 when I had knee surgery. By the grace of God, I've always bounced back and had steady years. But the way I left and what was being said about me when I left was the hardest part. But now I'm done with that. I'm over it.

Are you proof that football players can get better with age?

That's been my goal since I turned 30. I started having individual success, Pro Bowl success when I was 28, and it kept going from about 28 to about 31, 32 years old. But that's been my goal. [Wide receiver] Derrick [Mason, 34] is proving that, and [Bengals wide receivers] T.J. [Houshmandzadeh, 31] and Chad [Johnson, 30] are having to prove that right now.

I read that your older sister Jackie was an influential figure in your life until she died in a go-cart accident when you were just 8 years old. What kind of impact did she have on you?

She was the one who took care of me. It's kind of funny, because I haven't talked about her in a long time. My mom worked and my older brothers and sisters were out of the house. My big sister was the one I was with for the majority of the day. ... I saw my first high school football games with her, and she took me to my practices. Once she was killed, that affected me.

Is it true that you were 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds in the eighth grade?

No, I was 6-foot-4, 260. [Laughs.] I thought I was going to be Shaq [Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal]. It should have been me, 7-1, 350. That should have been me. I stopped growing, though. I stopped growing in the ninth grade when I was 6-6. [Anderson is listed at 6-5 and 340 pounds.]

Did you ever resent being so big and standing out from the crowd?

I always credit Shaquille O'Neal and [late rapper] The Notorious B.I.G. for putting big guys on the map. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, it wasn't cool to be big. You were the funny guy. You had the big feet. I had a size-18 shoe at the age of 14. I still remember the first day of high school and a group of seniors crowding around me and just picking on me and laughing because my mom got me a pair of all-white, high-top, size-20 shoes because she thought my foot size was going to keep growing. They looked like boats. I saw those shoes, and I had tears in my eyes, man, because I knew that the first day of school was going to be rough.

You're stuck on an island with one CD, one DVD and one book. What are they?

There's a book I love that inspired the name of my investment company, Think Big. The name of the book is Think Big, Act Small. It's about 10 Fortune 500 companies that haven't lost money in years ... because they're run by billionaire CEOs who act smaller than what they really are. There are no egos in the companies. It's a book for anybody interested in leadership, and it's a great book for me. The CD would be anything from Jay-Z to Biggie to 2Pac to Eminem. And I make everyone in my company watch The Godfather, so the DVD would be The Godfather.

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