Call Him Ottis, Bucky or O.J., but Don’t Call Him Washed Up : Giants: Just when everybody thought he was finished, 31-year-old Ottis Anderson is running like a young man again.


Ottis Jerome Anderson has been to the mountaintop. Of course, he has been over the hill, too. But now he has climbed back and has another view from the peak.

That’s Ottis, with two t ‘s. Or maybe you know him as O.J. It’s a little hard to keep track because he’s had a different nickname for every peak and valley in his career.

He used to be called, “Bucky,” at Forest Hill High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., and later when he was starting to break Chuck Foreman’s rushing records at the University of Miami.


He was O.J. by the time he had made his pro debut--an eye-opening 21-carry, 193-yard howdy-do against Dallas--as St. Louis’ No. 1 draft choice in 1979. O.J. ran for more than 1,000 yards in five of six seasons with the Cardinals, setting club records for season and career rushing along the way.

But by the time St. Louis traded him to the New York Giants for two draft choices in October of 1986, Anderson was coming off a season in which he had managed just 481 yards in 118 carries.

He was just plain Ottis then, and everybody figured the Cardinals got the best of the deal.

Anderson had three years remaining on a $475,000-a-year contract with St. Louis and, as it turned out, he wasn’t required to do much to earn his pay. In his first season and a half with the Giants, he carried only 26 times, picking up 87 yards--a disappointing single-game performance in the good old days.

Last year, the Giants came to realize that while Anderson may have lost a fraction of his speed, he was still an impressive 6-foot-2, 225-pound power runner. He became their short-yardage specialist and, despite running the ball just 65 times all season, he rammed into the end zone eight times, more than any other Giant ballcarrier.

Still, Anderson was a role player, and the Giants figured they had better things to do with a half-million dollars than spend it on a soon-to-be-32-year-old, two-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust guy.


As insurance policies go, this one was just too expensive. So, New York left Anderson unprotected after last season.

Here, just a a phone call away from all 28 National Football League teams, was a running back who had racked up 8,000-plus yards in the last decade. But no one reached out for Anderson. And he wasn’t exactly touched.

“I felt a little bit hurt,” Anderson said. “One team told my agent that my better days were behind me.”

But Anderson wasn’t ready to retire and he had more than enough incentive to mount a comeback. He got together with George Young, the Giants’ vice president and general manager, and they hammered out a deal. Young bought some insurance, and Anderson got the chance to show he had a few yards left in his legs.

Anderson signed for about half as much money as he had made each year under his old deal, but he and his agent sneaked in a few incentives--some tied to performance, some to playing time.

“Ottis has the maturity to realize that you should draw as many paychecks as you can, because other businesses don’t pay like this one,” Young said. “Now that may seem like a simple thing, but there are a lot of egos involved in this game, and you have to have the maturity to get past that.


“He was contributing, but in a reduced role. We thought it was fair to reduce his contract but we were willing to make adjustments in the event he resumed a more active role.”

Anderson showed up in training camp looking like a man who had something to prove, and Coach Bill Parcells liked what he saw. With two weeks remaining in camp, Parcells told Anderson that he intended to expand his role.

“He kind of looked at me like, ‘Well, yeah, you know, I’ve heard that before,’ ” Parcells said, “but as the preseason wore down, I think he started to sense I was serious.”

As the exhibition season came to an end, so did Joe Morris’ season. The Giants’ starting running back broke his foot in the final exhibition game against the Washington Redskins.

“Then (Anderson) knew he would get quite bit (of playing time),” Parcells said. “But I still don’t think he ever anticipated getting as much has he’s gotten.”

Neither did Young.

Ottis Anderson, the oldest starting running back in the NFL, has carried the ball more times than any other player in the NFC this season. He has rushed for more than 100 yards just once, but has gained 85 or more yards six times and appears well on his way to a vintage 1,000-yard season. He has 698 yards going into Sunday’s game against the Rams at Anaheim Stadium.


“He’s been given the opportunity to play, and now he’s going to make up what he had on the front side of that original contract,” Young said. “Don’t feel sorry for O.J., he’s doing just fine.”

Financially and physically.

Parcells suggests warm milk and a shawl after practices. His teammates question why he shaves his head since he’s probably bald anyway. And his newest nickname is, “Old Red,” like some aging Irish setter curled up in front of a fire.

But Anderson keeps on chugging.

“I’ll tell you what,” Anderson said, “I consider myself like a nice old bottle of champagne, just sitting around and getting better and better.

“Honestly, I feel pretty good. I don’t know how many times I’ve carried the ball--I really don’t want to know--but I feel pretty good about it. I don’t feel like I’m taking a pounding.”

The Giants have evolved into a conservative offensive team this season, relying on ball control and their defense. Anderson is the quintessential clock-burning back. He is averaging a less-than-spectacular 3.4 yards a carry, but if you need a couple of yards to keep a drive alive, he will get them.

And Ram Coach John Robinson is quick to point out that rushing averages can be misleading.

“He carries on the goal line and short yardage almost every time,” Robinson said. “Guys who don’t carry short yardage will have higher averages.”


Even after Morris’ injury, Anderson didn’t figure he would step in and carry the entire burden. But he has 168 more carries than rookie Lewis Tillman, the Giants’ fourth-round draft pick and second-leading ballcarrier.

These days, Anderson takes more punishment every Sunday than he did in some recent seasons--he carried only twice during the strike-shortened 1987 season--but extracts a measure of retribution with every bump and bruise.

“Nobody in the NFL thought I was worth even a chance,” he said, referring to the period when he was left unprotected. “They were telling my agent that I was once a great football player.

“Well, I don’t have to prove anything (to anybody else), but I have a lot to prove to myself. I want to be able to play 16 games and if I’m able to do that, then I’ll have accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish and done it at an age when nobody thought I could do it.”

A twist of fate and a turn of the foot provided Anderson with that rare opportunity to look doubters in the eye after he had proved them wrong. But with that chance came pressure.

“No one really knew how serious Joe’s injury was until the next day,” Anderson said. “I was told I might have to carry the load. I was kind of excited and kind of afraid. I had focused my mind on playing 15 or 20 out of 75 plays. I had to re-focus myself.”

Parcells apparently had fewer doubts about Anderson’s ability to handle the job than Anderson had.


“I was calling him Elvis Presley on his comeback,” Parcells said. “You know, can you still do it? I think he probably had some apprehension. When you don’t do it for two or three years, you have to wonder. It’s a natural thing.

“But the man hasn’t missed a practice in four years, and every time someone asks me about him I say, ‘What’s not to like?’

“I think he’s really having fun playing football this year and having fun being back in the limelight. I think he feels good about it. And he should.”

Anderson isn’t gloating, though. In fact, he credits “the offensive line and God” for allowing him to make the most of his second chance. Make no mistake, however. At the heart of this comeback is Ottis Anderson’s work ethic.

After all, he turns 32 next week and is an 11-season NFL veteran. Hardly a geezer, but he’s playing a young man’s game in a young man’s position.

“I believe in working,” he said. “I don’t believe in shortcuts. I just pride myself on being one of the old dinosaurs who keeps on going every day.”


Obviously, this dinosaur is not ready to vanish yet.