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Anderson At Home

Super Bowl is Perfect Stage For Falcon Running Back's Antics

January 24, 1999|PAUL NEWBERRY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

SUWANEE, Ga. — While all the other kids in the neighborhood camped in front of the TV on Saturday mornings to watch Bugs Bunny, Jamal Anderson was mesmerized by "NFL Films."

He soaked in the booming voice of John Facenda and was awestruck by the sight of this running back wearing a plain orange helmet, a figure who seemed as unreal as any cartoon character.

Superman deflected bullets, but whole men bounced off Jim Brown.

"This is it," Anderson thought to himself, a youngster idolizing a man who retired seven years before he was born. "This is who I want to be."

Anderson had worn No. 70 during his first season of Pop Warner football, but the following year he switched to 32--Jim Brown's number--and never let it go.

Through high school, college and into the NFL, he kept chasing his hero's mystique, hoping that number would bring him some of Brown's power, some of Brown's speed, some of Brown's style.

"He's my favorite player," Anderson said. "No doubt about it."

But Brown never played in a Super Bowl, walking away from the game a year before the first one was played. Next Sunday, Anderson and the Atlanta Falcons will take part in an improbable title game against the Denver Broncos at Miami's Pro Player Stadium.

It's a moment Anderson has pondered and plotted since those days in front of the TV. He's oozing confidence and ready to embrace the spotlight.

"This is my element," he said. "This is my destiny."

Don't expect him to get a case of stage fright once he gets to Miami, either. This guy grew up around some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment, from Mike Tyson to Richard Pryor, from Muhammad Ali to the Jacksons.

"The biggest thing about this game that's disturbing me is what I'm going to wear to the stadium," Anderson said, always walking the line between seriousness and farce. "I don't know if I'll wear a double-breasted or maybe a five-button suit.

"And what color to wear? It's Miami, so I can get away with a light-colored suit. I'm getting one made just for the Super Bowl, but I'll have some from my closet, too. I haven't decided."

Anderson's father, James, runs a high-profile security agency in Southern California, so Jamal didn't exactly have a normal childhood.

Sugar Ray Leonard invited the youngster into the locker room after fights. Former Lakers guard Byron Scott would come over to the Anderson home to cut Jamal's hair. "Uncle Muhammad" used to entertain the kids with magic tricks when he visited.

Nervous about the Super Bowl? Hardly.

"I've been around," Anderson said. "I've seen this. I guess it really, really helps when you've been around the people I've been around, all their experiences. ... I've been around the fanfare, I've seen around the ups and downs. All along, I've known these people on a personal level, and they've always remained the same people.

"Nothing about Jamal Anderson is going to change because of the Super Bowl. I'm the same person you met four or five years ago: cocky, talkative, friendly."

He's the same person who arrived at the Falcons' training camp in 1994--bitterly disappointed that he wasn't drafted until the final round, wary of going to a perennially losing team like Atlanta--and saw his name listed at the bottom of a blackboard depth chart.

He drew a line from his name to the top of the list, and he didn't waver when the running back coach told him the names were merely listed in order of experience.

"He explained what it was," Anderson recalled, "and I explained where I was going to be."

This season, he rushed for a career-high 1,846 yards and was an All-Pro for the first time. He set an NFL record by carrying the ball 410 times, putting his body through a staggering 25 carries per game. His ego keeps growing and growing.

"I'm going to save the planet in about two years like Will Smith," said Anderson, referring to the actor who starred in the movie "Independence Day."

"Maybe it won't be 'Independence Day II,' but I'll think of something."

Anderson's teammates chuckle at his antics and look deeper into his soul, beyond the braggadocio to the psyche of a truly hard-working athlete who yearns to win a championship for Atlanta.

"I think a lot of that is for effect," quarterback Chris Chandler said. "That's not his true personality. It's funny to laugh at him, I think it's great, and that's as far as it goes.

"This is a guy who really cares about winning football games. You wouldn't carry the ball as much as he did without caring about winning. That's the bottom line with Jamal. He wants this team to win, and all the rest of the stuff is funny."

Just wait till Super Bowl week.

"I've got to save some stuff for the game," Anderson said with a wink. "I'm just thinking about getting down to Miami and blowing open the scene."

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