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A Lot of Those Big Hits Were by Anderson : Raiders: The ‘other’ safety wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl, although he probably was deserving.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are differences between Ronnie Lott and Eddie Anderson, among them: Pro Bowl appearances, paychecks, restaurant seats, access to Joe Montana.

On the field, though, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the two Raider defensive backs.

Both are fierce hitters who strike fear in opposing receivers. Anderson leads the team in tackles with a career-high 107.

“I don’t know if there’s a better tackler at the safety position in the National Football League,” Raider Coach Art Shell has said.

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Anderson, not Lott, calls signals for the defense. Anderson stalks the middle of the field at free safety, poised to deliver forearm shivers.

When Lott, maybe the best free safety ever, was signed last spring as a Plan B free agent, the Raiders asked him to change positions and play strong safety.

But there is only one Ronnie Lott.

And one Eddie Anderson.

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This week, Lott was named to his 10th Pro Bowl. Anderson was not named to his first.

Such is life in the legend business. Taking up a position next to Lott in the Raider secondary must feel like pulling up a piano stool next to Mozart.

“Oh, you play, too?”

No voting body worth its weight could have denied Lott his 10th Pro Bowl shot. His was not a thanks-for-the-memories selection. Left for dead by the San Francisco 49ers, Lott joined the Raiders and has delivered one of his most inspired seasons. He also leads the NFL with eight interceptions.

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But Anderson is having a nice little season, too.

Lott, among the humblest of superstars, was one of the first to acknowledge that Anderson belonged alongside him in Hawaii.

Pro Bowl voting, though, has never been a science.

Instead, Anderson’s peers selected Lott and the talented tandem in Denver, Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater.

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Lott said that Anderson could sit at the same table with those men and hold his own. Lott also knows how the Pro Bowl game works. Reputations count. One hundred and seven tackles don’t. You need to sprinkle your seasons with a few spectaculars. Anderson had two interceptions, but he let a few slip away, too.

“If he catches those four or five, then it’s Eddie Anderson, not Steve Atwater,” Lott said. “You put that together with his hits and his tackles and he’s outplayed Steve this year.”

Lott, though, saw the future this year.

“There’s a changing of the guard,” he said. “There are some old guys, Dennis and myself, that are not going to be around forever. The Atwaters and the Andersons are the kids you’re going to be looking at.”

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Anderson, by his own choice, took the back road to the top. Unlike Lott, he did not attend USC, was not a first-round draft selection, was not a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season.

Anderson, finishing his sixth NFL season, said he was recruited by 75 major colleges at high school in Warner Robins, Ga.

But he wanted to stay close to his mother, so he attended nearby Ft. Valley State, a Division II school. He earned all-conference honors three years, but no one in the big leagues took much notice.

The Seattle Seahawks took him with a sixth-round pick in 1986 and deemed him a project, a possible replacement for their great safety, Kenny Easley.

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Plans were altered when Easley was injured and ultimately forced to retire. Anderson was rushed into the lineup as a rookie.

“I wasn’t ready to be pressed into duty, but they needed me in there,” Anderson said. “And I made a lot of mistakes.”

So many mistakes that the Seahawks released him in training camp, 1987. Anderson told Coach Chuck Knox that he would regret the move.

“I told him I’d be playing for the Raiders, and that he was making a big mistake,” Anderson said. “He asked me how I figured that. I just had a gut feeling.”

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Anderson said that Willie Brown, former Raider secondary coach, told him the team had considered taking him in the third round.

Then before a 1986 game at the Kingdome, Anderson let on to Brown that he wasn’t happy in Seattle.

“I told him that I would really like to wear the silver and black, but I’m playing against you guys and I got to help my team win today,” Anderson recalled. “He said ‘If anything ever happens, we’ll pick you up.’ ”

The Raiders made good on Brown’s promise in the fall of 1987, after Anderson had been released.

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Anderson, who has the upper-body of a linebacker, was a perfect fit in the tradition of big-hitting Raider safeties.

Anderson said he didn’t know what to expect when the Raiders acquired Lott as a free agent.

“It’s been a real experience for me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from the guy. He’s probably the best safety to play the game. For me, it was like a challenge. I really wanted to see whether the guy was as good as everybody said he was.”

Anderson knows Lott has made him a better player, but he would like to think he has helped Lott, too.

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Anderson said he looks at Lott and sometimes wonders if his career might have been different had Anderson attended USC and Lott gone to Ft. Valley State.

“I believe that would have been me,” he said. “That still can be me, with maybe not as many Pro Bowls as Ronnie. But the way it turned out, it’s not bad. It’s turned out all right.”


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