Flipper Anderson knows about quarterbacks. As a fifth-year split end, he has worked with a bunch of different quarterbacks at UCLA--Rick Neuheisel, Steve Bono, David Norrie, Matt Stevens, Brendan McCracken. He even was a pretty good quarterback himself at one time, when he was a senior at Paulsboro High School in New Jersey.
So, based on his experience, what's his opinion of UCLA's current quarterback, Troy Aikman? "He was a God-send," Anderson said.
Without Aikman, the Bruins would have played this season with McCracken, who is practically an option quarterback--not the dropback, pro-style quarterback that Aikman is. Anderson says: "I'm not knocking Brendan. I like him. But he understands."
McCracken understands that Anderson likes the attention he gets with a passer like Aikman.
Aikman credits Anderson, whom he thinks has great hands, with making his passing statistics look good. And the gushing is no holds barred from either side.
The bottom line is, Aikman-to-Anderson works, and it will work for the last time for the Bruins on Christmas when they play Florida in the Aloha Bowl.
This season Aikman has connected with Anderson on 44 passes for a school-record 851 yards.
That has increased his Bruin career receiving total to 1,971 yards, only 14 yards away from breaking the school's all-time receiving record by Mike Sherrard, who is now with the Dallas Cowboys.
Anderson has closed in on Sherrard's career yardage record with 27 fewer catches than Sherrard's career reception record of 128, further underlining why Anderson has a reputation as a big-play receiver. He averaged 19.3 yards on every catch this season. Thirty of his catches were for first downs. Six more were for touchdowns.
He has been a big-play guy from the start. In '85, when Sherrard was injured and he was called in from the sideline, he opened with a 54-yard touchdown catch against Arizona State. The next week, in his first start, he had a 51-yard touchdown catch against Stanford.
And here is a really impressive statistic. Dropped passes: None.
In his never-ending quest to spread the credit, Anderson says he has good hands because of the drills instituted by assistant coach Bill Dudley, and he says he has held on to every pass because Aikman zips the ball to him.
Anderson said, demonstrating with a cough: "He fires the ball so hard, with such velocity, that if he hits you in the chest it makes you go (cough). But you like that. It keeps the defensive backs off of you and gives you a chance to get your feet on the ground before you get hit."
And then Anderson throws some credit to senior flanker Paco Craig, who caught 28 passes for 507 yards, and the 13 other Bruins who have caught passes, because it has forced pesky opposing defensive backs to spread out a little.
Anderson said: "It helped my season a lot the way Paco came on this year. If he was just a mediocre guy, he wouldn't have drawn the coverage that he did. I was double-covered a lot more in the past. With Paco out there with me, the DBs couldn't just zero in on me. So I appreciate that."
Those may be factors, but Flipper was having a lot of success as a receiver before all those good things came together this season. That's why not only UCLA but also Notre Dame, Georgia, Penn State and Michigan recruited him as a receiver, preferring his outstanding junior year as a receiver to his outstanding senior year as a quarterback.
Aikman prefers it that way, too. Midway through the season, when the Bruin quarterback was asked about his favorite receiver, he said, in the midst of his lists of praise, "I'm going to start right now promoting him for the (National Football League) draft."
Not that he needs help. The numbers will get him a bid. Not just the number of catches and the number of yards, but the 4.35-second 40-yard dash and the 36-inch vertical leap.
He already has a catchy nickname. The pro ranks are filled with Willies (his parents named him Willie Lee Anderson Jr.) but "Flipper" will be noticed. When the sports information director at UCLA, Marc Dellins, asked him a few years ago if he wanted to be Willie or Flipper on official releases, Anderson said to go with Willie. But his teammates and his coach stuck with Flipper, and the media followed.
It's a nickname that has stuck with him for many years so it's not likely to go away. His baby-sitter, whom he calls Mom Pearl, gave it to him because she thought that his crying sounded like the dolphin who starred in a television show.
If he can tell that story about himself--and he does--he can live with the name.
Anderson says he's ready to enter the next phase of his career. "I'm looking forward to the Senior Bowl, too. You always want to see how well you can play with other top players."
The Aloha Bowl is important, too, because no senior wants to go out on a losing note.
Since Anderson arrived at UCLA, the Bruins have played in two Rose Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl and a Freedom Bowl, and have won all four.
"It's been a great career here at UCLA, and I don't want to spoil it by losing my last game," he said.