When five-time Pro Bowl Buffalo Bills running back and 1973 NFL MVP O.J. Simpson rode off into the sunset in 1979, another running back named O.J. came into the fray.
It was none other than Ottis “O.J.” Anderson.
Anderson played like a man possessed when he started his pro football career. He racked up five 1,000-yard seasons in six years from 1979 to 1984.
Only the infamous player’s strike in 1982 prevented Anderson from extending that streak to six years.
Anderson went on to become just the eighth player in league history to amass 10,000 yards on the ground
He became more of an insurance policy for Bill Parcell’s New York Giants in the second half of his NFL career.
Fortunately, Anderson rediscovered the fountain of youth and eventually earned Super Bowl XXV honors at the ripe old age of thirty-four in 1991.
Ottis Anderson was one of the most reliable running backs in New York Giants football history.
Ottis Jerome Anderson was born in West Palm Beach, FL on January 19, 1957.
His mother Emma was a maid who put her five children through school on a scant budget that never amounted to more than $70 per week, per The Washington Post’s Ken Denlinger.
Anderson attended Forest Hill Community High School in his hometown.
3 locals have been #SuperBowlMVP: Joe Namath (Tequesta resident), Ottis Anderson (Forest Hill grad), Santonio Holmes (Glades Central grad)
— ESPN WEST PALM (106.3 FM) (@ESPNWestPalm) February 7, 2016
Anderson’s friends called him “Bucky” at the time, per The Los Angeles Times’ John Weyler.
His older brother Marvin “Smoke” Anderson, who played football at Roosevelt High School, became his main influence on the gridiron.
He was a two-sport star who excelled on the gridiron and track for the Forest Hill Falcons.
Falcons head football coach Jerry Jacobs remembered Anderson going off for 270 yards and four touchdowns in his final high school football game.
Jacobs told Denlinger in 1979 that Anderson almost had a fifth touchdown. He scampered for 60 yards but dropped the football at the one-yard line.
Fortunately, one of the Falcons tackles recovered the loose pigskin for a touchdown.
It was a fitting end to Ottis Anderson’s high school football career.
He would eventually remain in-state and become one of the best running backs in Miami Hurricanes football program history.
College Days With The Miami Hurricanes
Ottis Anderson attended the University of Miami from 1975 to 1978. He earned a full-time scholarship as a physical education major.
He set the bar high for future Miami Hurricanes running backs such as Edgerrin James, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, and Clinton Portis.
Some pundits even consider Anderson the greatest running back to ever don Hurricanes Orange, Green, and White.
When Anderson was a freshman in 1975, he immediately showed flashes of his incredible potential on the gridiron.
According to The Washington Post, Anderson, a true freshman, won best player of the game honors as a true freshman against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 1975.
Anderson’s prize: a reclining chair.
However, there was a catch. If Anderson accepted it, he would’ve forfeited his college eligibility at Miami.
Hurricanes head football coach Carl Selmer told Denlinger that the reclining chair just sat in the athletic director’s office.
For his part, Anderson dropped by every now and then and asked if he could sit on the chair.
Anderson became the first Miami running back to record 1,000 rushing yards in a single season.
He pulled off that impressive feat as a senior in 1978 when he had 1,266 rushing yards. It remains the third-highest in program history.
Anderson’s senior season was his coming-out party.
He set new single-season records with eight 100-yard rushing games, four consecutive 100-yard games, and 39 carries in a single game in 1978.
At the end of Anderson’s college football career, he became the school’s all-time leader in career rushing yards (3,331), all-purpose yards (4,265), career 100-yard rushing games (13), and longest kickoff return (100 yards).
He earned First-Team All-American honors from The Sporting News and the Football Coaches Association.
With Anderson in tow, the Hurricanes of the mid-to late-1970s hardly resembled the juggernaut they became in the 1980s and early 2000s.
Miami barely won four games per year from 1975 to 1978. Thus, Ottis Anderson never played in a college bowl game in his gridiron career.
He had 3,331 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 691 carries during his four-year tenure with the Hurricanes.
Despite never playing in a college bowl game, Ottis Anderson would enjoy a fruitful 14-year pro football career that included two Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants.
Pro Football Career
The then-St. Louis Cardinals (now known as the Arizona Cardinals) made Ottis Anderson the eighth overall selection of the 1979 NFL Draft.
Anderson, whom his teammates referred to as “O.J,” started his pro football career like a house on fire.
He had 193 rushing yards in his first NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys. He then shredded the New York Giants’ defense for 109 yards in his second pro outing.
Anderson’s performance against New York was noteworthy because ran behind a Cardinals offensive line that didn’t have injured All-Pro linemen Tom Banks and Dan Dierdorf.
At the time, only the Baltimore Colts’ Alan Ameche had a more productive debut than Anderson.
Ameche outran Anderson by a mere 36 inches in his pro debut in 1955. Only Ameche, Anderson, Earl Campbell, and Zollie Toth had at least 100 rushing yards in their first two pro football games, per The Washington Post.
Ottis Anderson’s arrival spelled doom for Cardinals’ opponents.
“Unfortunately for us, he’s for real,” Washington Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard told The Washington Post in 1979. “He’s a slasher with breakaway speed – and he also catches the ball.”
What is my rookie card going for these days?? @garyvee @Cardcollector2 pic.twitter.com/c5OYDHdoEA
— Ottis OJ Anderson (@OJAnderson24) February 19, 2021
Anderson told Denlinger building his late brother Smokey Anderson’s house motivated him at the beginning of his NFL career.
Smokey Anderson died in a mysterious swimming incident during his college days at Arkansas AM & N.
Ottis Anderson continued his tear deep into his rookie season. He torched the Atlanta Falcons for 122 rushing yards in late November 1979
However, Anderson received a huge dose of reality after the game.
When he boarded the team bus, he sat next to St. Louis head coach Jim Hanifan and clutched his chest as if he were having a heart attack, per The Washington Post’s Jane Leavy.
Hanifan saw his prized rookie running back doubling over twice and then shaking his left numb that went numb.
Within minutes, the Cardinals’ team bus rushed Anderson to a nearby hospital. Physicians then wheeled the sweat-soaked running back into the emergency room
Doctors hooked up the 25-year-old Anderson to an electrocardiogram machine. While all of that was going on, his teammates waited for him inside their bus.
When the doctors saw a cheerful Anderson joking with the nurses, they allowed him to rejoin the Cardinals for their return flight home.
Physicians couldn’t come up with a precise diagnosis. However, they did rule out a heart attack.
The team suspected Anderson had a muscle spasm that was similar to cardiac pain. The spasm could’ve been the end result of a spasm of the esophagus or chemical abnormalities.
Cardinals team physician Dr. Bernard Garfinkel did a coronary arteriogram procedure on Anderson several days later. The X-ray procedure involved inserting an artery in his groin.
Garfinkel and his team of doctors told Hanifan that Anderson could bleed profusely if he took a hit on his groin when he returned to the gridiron.
Both Hanifan and Anderson were scared at the thought.
Nonetheless, something good came out of the ordeal. Ottis Anderson felt the experience gave him a brand-new perspective on life, per Leavy:
“It makes you look at life a little bit, what you’re doing wrong. There’s a reason for everything. It was a warning, a severe warning about how I am living my life.”
“I wasn’t living in the fast lane but let’s say the middle of the fast lane. It will definitely slow me down.”
He also told Leavy the incident made people look at him more as a person and not an athlete or commodity.
Anderson had every reason to feel scared. The Cardinals were still reeling from the shocking death of tight end J.V. Cain due to heart failure just four months earlier.
Ottis Anderson finished his scintillating rookie season with 1,605 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 331 carries.
Anderson earned First-Team All-Pro and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1979. He also earned the first of his two consecutive Pro Bowl nods.
Anderson also was a member of the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) All-Rookie Team that year.
Unfortunately, the 5-11 Cardinals missed the postseason for the fourth straight year.
RT if you believe that Miami Hurricane and St. Louis Cardinals (@BigRed_STL) legend Ottis Anderson should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF). pic.twitter.com/PZc4zBsJmw
— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) January 30, 2021
Anderson spent the first eight years of his pro football career with a bad Cardinals squad that averaged just six wins per season.
The only time they made the postseason was during the strike-shortened 1982 NFL campaign.
St. Louis had a 5-4 win-loss record that year. The Cardinals to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Wild Card Round in lopsided fashion, 41-16.
While the Cardinals mired in mediocrity, Anderson was on a different level than other NFL running backs.
He had at least 1,174 rushing yards in five of his first six pro football seasons.
Only the infamous NFL players’ strike in 1982 prevented Anderson from extending his 1,000-yard rushing seasons to six.
He had 587 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 145 carries for St. Louis that year.
When the 29-year-old Anderson entered his eighth pro football season in 1986, he quickly fell out of favor with first-year Cardinals head coach Gene Stallings.
New York Giants head coach Bill Parcells quickly pounced on the opportunity.
According to The Washington Post’s Michael Katz, Parcells and the Giants sorely needed depth at running back entering the 1986 NFL season.
Parcells reached out to Stallings and inquired about Anderson. The running back found himself wearing New York Giants Blue in exchange for two draft choices – a second-and a seventh-rounder.
“You’re just insurance,” Parcells told Anderson, who backed up Joe Morris in 1986.
Anderson bore little resemblance to the Super Bowl MVP he’d become almost five years later.
He had just 214 rushing yards on 67 carries as Morris’ backup from 1986 to 1987.
Nevertheless, he earned his first Super Bowl ring after the Giants routed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, 39-20.
By the time the 1989 NFL season kicked off, Anderson was buried deep in the Giants’ depth chart.
NFL teams could only protect thirty-seven players on their roster back then. Anderson had the option to seek employment elsewhere.
I remember 1989 Comeback Player of The Year Ottis Anderson! pic.twitter.com/iVHB3hQj4M
— Dave Lawson (@ninersdavester) March 25, 2020
Despite recording his first 1,000-yard season in five years and winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in 1989, Ottis Anderson was teetering on the brink of unemployment.
The New York Giants left him unprotected yet again. When they drafted Rodney Hampton in 1990, things looked bleaker for Ottis Anderson.
However, Anderson remained unfazed. He and Giants vice president and general manager George Young agreed on a new deal that paid him half the annual salary he had earned in his previous contract, per The Los Angeles Times.
Anderson’s agents also convinced the team to include a few performance and playing time-based incentives.
While Hampton learned the ropes of life in the National Football League, Anderson sprang to life.
The 33-year-old twelve-year NFL veteran had 621 rushing yards through the Giants’ first ten games – all victories – in 1990.
When Hampton regained his swagger, Anderson had just 163 yards the rest of the way.
When Anderson racked up 784 rushing yards for the 1990 NFL season, he had gained 10,000 yards on the ground during his 12-year NFL career.
He was just the eighth running back to achieve that gaudy feat. Those who preceded Anderson were Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown, Franco Harris, Eric Dickerson, John Riggins, and O.J. Simpson.
Despite the milestone, Anderson admitted his limited role with the Giants took a toll on him.
“It always hurts when you think you can still contribute and you have to take a step back,” Anderson admitted to The Washington Post’s Michael Katz.
From a coaching standpoint, burying Anderson in the Giants’ running back depth chart made sense given his age.
However, he was arguably in the best shape of his career at the turn of the decade.
Anderson kept himself fit during the offseason by playing basketball and tennis. He also did strength training on a Nautilus machine, per Katz.
Anderson even had a good time joking with another aging athlete, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, when the latter visited the Giants’ locker room during the season.
🤷🏻♂️ https://t.co/JR2kXg64LW pic.twitter.com/ZrbaWZV0Cx
— Ottis OJ Anderson (@OJAnderson24) January 28, 2021
Ottis Anderson proved he was far from finished when the Giants made another Super Bowl run in the 1990 NFL season.
Anderson was on the brink of turning thirty-six years old as the postseason unfolded. He regained a spring in his step thanks to a superstition he started by mistake: wearing an old pair of practice pants.
When the Giants took on the Chicago Bears in an NFC Divisional Round matchup on January 13, 1991, Anderson showed up for pregame warmups with the wrong set of pants, per Giants.com’s Dan Salomone.
At that point, Anderson accepted the fact the Giants’ ground game rested squarely on the shoulders of Rodney Hampton.
However, Hampton fractured his leg after he tried to recover quarterback Jeff Hostetler’s fumble against the Bears in the second quarter.
Parcells, who was in his eighth and final season as Giants head coach, summoned Anderson – who was wearing his old practice pants – onto the field.
Anderson finished New York’s resounding 31-3 romp of the Bears with a team-leading 80 rushing yards on 21 carries.
The league called Parcells about Anderson’s pants. The latter confirmed to the Big Tuna that he wore his practice pants in the win over Chicago.
Parcells told Anderson to wear them for the remainder of the postseason.
Lo and behold, thirty-six-year-old Ottis Anderson racked up 249 yards on 62 carries in three postseason games.
Twenty-Eight years ago today, Miami Hurricane Ottis Anderson rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on his way to being named Super Bowl XXV MVP. pic.twitter.com/LJGftt3cwP
— RapidReplay (@RapidReplays1) January 28, 2019
Anderson had 102 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ 20-19 win over the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.
Ottis Anderson earned Super Bowl XXV honors after helping Big Blue win their second Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Better yet, Anderson earned his second Super Bowl ring in his home state of Florida, per Giants.com:
“I felt that it was everything I had predicted when I first came out of the University of Miami.”
“Twelve years later, I was in the Super Bowl – I was in the state of Florida. All the stars lined up the way they should have lined up for me.”
As Anderson’s NFL career wound down, he had a combined 172 yards and a solitary touchdown in twenty-three games for the Giants over the next two seasons.
Ottis Anderson retired from the National Football League following the 1992 NFL season.
He finished his fourteen-year NFL career with 10,273 rushing yards and 81 touchdowns on 2,562 carries.
Anderson was a sure-handed running back who fumbled just three times in 739 carries with the Giants.
It’s a further testament to Ottis Anderson’s reliability to New York’s cause when the chips were down.
Ottis Anderson became a member of the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Florida Sports Hall of Fame inducted Ottis Anderson a year later.
Anderson established the OJ Anderson Scholarship Foundation in 2007. It aims to provide financial assistance to deserving students in the West Palm Beach, FL area.
Anderson became Metro Exhibits’ vice president of business development in 2017. Part of his duties include exploring new opportunities in the trade show exhibit industry.
According to Anderson’s official LinkedIn page, his other post-football business ventures include serving as a sales and marketing specialist for Veritext Legal Solutions and working in a business development capacity for Metro Business Solutions.
Anderson clarified on Twitter on December 1, 2021 he isn’t the father of former UCF Knights football player Otis Anderson. The latter was allegedly killed by his father following a heated argument in their home just two days earlier.
Otis Anderson, Jr. – no relation to the New York Giants legend – was just twenty-three years old.
The Super XXV MVP tweeted his phone blew up in the aftermath of the incident:
My phone is blowing up. I am not the father of the young man who played for UCF and was killed by his father. I only have daughters. It is a tragic situation and I pray, as should all of you, for his mother and the rest of his family. He was gifted! Rest well young man 🙏🏿
— Ottis OJ Anderson (@OJAnderson24) November 30, 2021
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