Jamal Anderson believes that being in June Jones' offense taught him the fundamentals needed to be a Pro Bowler.
‘Dirty Bird’ learned from Miano
Former Falcons star Jamal Anderson is here as an ABC analyst for the Hawaii-Fresno game
Ten years ago, Jamal Anderson and Rich Miano were co-workers and neighbors; Anderson a second-year running back, and Miano wrapping up an 11-year career as an NFL safety. They played for the June Jones-coached Atlanta Falcons. Anderson and Miano lived in the same apartment complex and a mentor-protege relationship developed.
"Rich was one of the great examples for me about how to be a pro. I used to always tell Rich, 'When I get my chance, I'm gonna be a star,'" Anderson said.
He was prophetic.
In 1998, Anderson put together one of the best seasons ever by a running back. He rushed for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns to lead the Falcons to the Super Bowl. Anderson also invented one of the more memorable touchdown celebrations in NFL history, "The Dirty Bird."
Yesterday, Anderson said a few encouraging words after practice to the Hawaii team of which Jones is head coach and Miano an assistant. Retired from football after two ACL injuries, the 33-year-old Anderson is now a TV analyst for ABC. He is in town to work tomorrow's UH game against Fresno State.
"Fresno's a great team. They're back on top. They should be undefeated, they should be in the top 15, maybe top 10 in the country," Anderson said, when asked to break down the game. "It's a good rivalry that's developed. I think it's going to be a good game. It's a helluva challenge for Hawaii, but it could propel them for the rest of the year and next year and be used as a recruiting tool."
Miano smiled when asked about Anderson.
"That's my man, Jamal," he said. "We hung out a lot. I always knew he's got the gift of gab. There's no shortness of confidence in him. He's very outspoken, but in a positive way. TV's the perfect field for him. Either that or wrestling."
When the Falcons drafted Anderson, Jones was delighted the Utah star was available in the sixth round.
"He was what we were looking for in a single back. We had him graded very high because of his size, speed, quickness ... everything for a single back. The perfect guy for it.
"He was very outgoing, always with a smile on his face," Jones added. "But on the field serious and delivered as a running back."
Anderson said friends offered condolences because he was picked by a run-and-shoot team. But he said he loved being the only running back in a four-receiver set. If it was good enough for Barry Sanders ...
"It's funny because people said, 'Oh, you don't get to play in June's system. That's not true. I did get to play. I got to return kicks, which is unusual for a guy at 240 (pounds) to be a primary kick returner. And then, to be in an offense where I can have 50 catches, rush for 1,200 yards, to do everything. I had to pick up blitzes.
"I learned so much in the offense about being a versatile player. That was invaluable experience for me. June used to let me split out as a receiver, then I'd be in the backfield. It was like a dream system, much like Edgerrin James is doing now in the NFL. And Mouse (Davis) used to constantly guide us with principles and fundamentals of how to run the offense."
Anderson blossomed in 1996, Jones' last year with the Falcons. It was Anderson's first of three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
"He didn't surprise me at all. He was playing at a time when backs would just take off and go," Jones said. "He played very physical and was the real deal until he hurt his knee."
This is not Anderson's first football-related visit to Hawaii. He was here for the Pro Bowl in 1999 and also toured UH in 1992 on an official recruiting visit.
"Bob Wagner was here. Great guy, great coach. Arkansas was in it, and Cal. I was all over the place. But I did seriously consider coming to Hawaii. With Travis Sims, Michael Carter, they had some dynamic players. But I thought if I come here, Michael Carter's never gonna give me the ball," Anderson said, laughing.
He was serious, though, about pointing his brother, Jazen, toward Manoa. Jazen Anderson is a 5-foot-11, 220-pound running back who played at Moorpark Junior College (Calif.), the same school Jamal went to before Utah.
"He'll be here in January. He's training with me in Atlanta now, so I'm hard on him," the older brother said. "He's excited about coming here and he's excited about being part of this offense. He's old enough to know by watching me the capabilities of this offense and that June was my coach and he'll be ready for the competition."
Jamal Anderson said he likes being a living example that there isn't just one way to the NFL, that a JC transfer from a mid-major college can make it to the Pro Bowl.
"You don't have to be from Florida State or Miami to take a team to the Super Bowl or to be one of the top players in the NFL," he said. "You just have to have the dedication. And it takes a little bit of luck and desire to get those things done. And then it can happen."
Miano knows. Although he didn't get to the Pro Bowl or the Super Bowl, he made the most of his talent and enjoyed a long NFL career.
"But (Anderson was) better. He made $20 million and was All-Pro. We got drafted in the same round, so we always joked about being sixth-round draft picks," Miano said, laughing at the memory of his days showing Anderson the ways of the league. "It took a while for him to get going, but he ended up being worth $20 million and I'm a state employee worried about the gas prices in Honolulu."
Now Anderson's working at his second shot at stardom, describing the action instead of being in the middle of it.
"I think you'd have to ask people who watch the games, but judging from the response I'm getting I feel like it's going good," he said. "My first year I did the personal one-on-one interviews with the athletes and stuff in the studio. I wanted to get out and fill my résumé by doing games. It's one of the most challenging things you can do. It's exciting for me to come out here and be part of the college experience and see these guys develop as players."