Contrary to popular belief, Ottis Anderson is not older than the rocks and trees, although nobody has seen his birth certificate in a while and we might have to check it.
Older than the Super Bowl, yes, by eight years. Older than any other NFL running back, that’s documented. Older than running backs are supposed to get before they wither and crumble, certainly.
Four years older, in fact, than he was when the St. Louis Cardinals decided he was done. Old enough.
Ottis Anderson, now here’s somebody who knows how to celebrate a silver anniversary, even if it was the Super Bowl’s, not his own.
Anderson, 33 years old and wearing a pair of baggy pants that made him look maybe 45, churned out 102 squeeze-and-pound yards against a tough Buffalo defense and won the most-valuable-player award when the Bills missed a field goal in the last four seconds, sealing a taut 20-19 victory for the New York Giants.
“I don’t feel old at all,” Anderson said. “I just feel like I did when I was 24, 25--a tired young man who’s been working real hard.”
And running real hard in the biggest game of his life.
Playing a game of keep-away from the potent, hurry-up Buffalo offense, Anderson was the Giants’ battering ram, the guy who picked up four yards--no more, no less--when four yards were exactly what the Giants needed. The guy who chipped at the Bills’ resolve and pushed their defenders to their physical limits play after play.
Buffalo inside linebacker Shane Conlan smashed his face mask into Anderson early on, waited for Anderson to collapse and leave the game, then watched him hop back up and get ready for more. This is a 33-year-old running back?
“That was one of the best hits of my life,” Conlan said, shaking his head. “I thought he might die or something when I hit him. I smashed my face mask, and he gets up like it was nothing. Like it was nothing!”
Giant quarterback Jeff Hostetler made more big plays, and Bill running back Thurman Thomas had more yards--135 in 15 carries--but Anderson deserved the MVP award because he was the blue-collar soul of this game. Because of his methodical running, the Bills’ offense had to score every time it had the ball or else risk losing it again for 10 minutes at a time.
Mostly because of Anderson’s work, the Giants had a two-to-one advantage in time of possession and ran off 17 more plays. On the Giants’ two crucial drives in the second half--one that took 9:29 for a touchdown and one that went 7:32 for the eventual game-winning field goal--Anderson carried 10 times for 51 yards and a score.
Matched against the Bills’ hurry-up, Anderson was the Giants’ slow-it-down equalizer extraordinaire. The plan worked as long as Anderson did.
“I knew I’d run the ball quite a bit, but I didn’t know I’d run it 21 times,” Anderson said. “Bill (Parcells, the Giants’ coach), he said during the week he’s not going to give me the ball that many times. But as usual, he lied and I carried the ball 21 times. I can take it, my body can take it. This is what it’s all about.”
Nothing fancy, just straight up the gut and tackle him if you dare.
“I was getting tired,” Anderson said. “But when they needed me to run here and there, I knew I could reach down and inside and do it because I wanted to do it. I knew I could do it because I’ve done it before in the past.
“I knew there’s a lot still left inside of me.”
How much more is there left for him to do? How much more can be left down there inside of him?
Defying NFL conventional wisdom, wave after wave of younger runners and quite possibly some laws of nature, Anderson has worked himself back up to the pinnacle from a long way down.
He was first on the scrap heap back in 1986, when the St. Louis Cardinal decided that their former franchise back had been battered around enough and whispered that his heart was no longer in it.
After the Giants got him, Anderson sat in limbo--"I was a where-are-they-now? candidate” is how he describes it--for three seasons behind Joe Morris.
Then, suddenly, before the 1989 season, Morris got hurt and Anderson was thrust into the featured running role with the Giants as a stopgap.
And if he still is a stopgap now, two years, hundreds of carries and a slew of potential replacements, then he is a stopgap with a big smile and a Pete Rozelle trophy and teammates who cannot get enough of him.
“Ottis is a tremendous role model for anybody who has been told by somebody else that they’re washed up, not good enough,” Giant center Bart Oates said. “He’s shown us the way.
“When things look the darkest, that’s when he shines the brightest.”
Said Parcells, who probably would give the ball to Anderson 100 times a game if it were possible: “He’s going to Canton (and the Hall of Fame). Over 10,000 yards in his career, and anybody who watched him today knows he can still do it.”
Even now, such is the reality of professional football that Anderson politely conceded that he would probably be exposed by the Giants during the Plan B free agency period, and that he knew they didn’t draft running back Rodney Hampton with their No. 1 pick last year to have him comfy on the sidelines.
But that’s all he was conceding.
“As far as I know, I’ll be Plan B again,” Anderson said. “Hey, why not? I’ve been there for the last three years, and it’d be foolish not to be put me on Plan B. I won’t get a phone call, but that’s OK, I’ll come back to the Giants all fired up.”
Said Oates: “Yeah, they drafted a running back No. 1 this year. He’s got to be thinking that they’re trying to get him out of there. People pigeon-hole you because of the situation.
“But it’s the player himself that decides it, ultimately. I think Ottis is showing us all that it’s the player himself who decides when he should retire, what he has left, what kind of desire he has.”
Just about the only goal Anderson says he has left, now that the Super Bowl MVP trophy is his, he has passed the 10,000-yard mark and proven everybody off base, is to be the first runner to gain 1,000 yards in three decades. He gained 784 this season but could have run more if the coaches had wanted him to.
“I guess that’s the only thing that’s eluding me so far,” Anderson said. “That and being around Lewis Tillman and Rodney Hampton and helping them, so when I do decide to retire, which won’t be next year, I can retire and know that those guys can do the job.”
Until then, Anderson, who is not older than the rocks and trees but probably tougher, will keep on plowing into the line hard enough to teach them all.
“The man knows how to come and play ball, and today he came and had a great game,” said Lawrence Taylor, who knows a thing or two about great games.
“It’s just a happy ending to a long story,” Anderson said.