KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee lost a treasure Tuesday when Bill Anderson died at age 80 in Knoxville.
Anderson was a star player for the Vols and was team co-captain in 1957. He was better known as the folksy color analyst on the Vol Network with legendary “Voice of the Vols” John Ward for 31 years, 1968-98. He also was known for his sense of humor and wonderful story-telling.
One of Anderson’s classic tales was how he made the Washington Redskins as a rookie.
Anderson was a 6-foot-2, 190-pound wingback at Tennessee, but he was drafted as a tight end in the third round by Washington. Anderson was in danger of being cut as he hadn’t exactly impressed the coaches – until he faced the Chicago Bears in an exhibition in 1958.
The Bears were led by a fierce All-Pro defensive end named Doug Atkins, who had played at Tennessee. Atkins was unblockable, the Reggie White, Julius Peppers and J.J. Watt of his era. But in this particular game, Atkins – who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – showed a soft side seldom seen by his NFL brethren.
Anderson was concerned his NFL career might be over before he played a regular-season game. So he lined up across from Atkins and offered a plea: “Don’t hurt me,” Anderson said.
Atkins, sympathetic, responded: “You’re a Tennessee guy, so I’m going to take care of you.”
Snap after snap, Atkins engaged Anderson, even shook him like a rag doll, but never got to the quarterback or made a tackle.
“How’d I do on that one, Bill,” Atkins said.
“You’re doing fine,” Anderson said. “Keep doing it just like that.”
A few plays later, Washington inserted the regular tight end and Atkins flattened him and sacked the quarterback.
Anderson went back in the game and started chicken fighting with Atkins again, but Atkins never made a play.
In the third quarter, Anderson, feeling cocky, fired out and hit Atkins.
“Are you trying to mess this deal up?” Atkins asked.
“I’m sorry,” Anderson said. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
The next day, during the film session, Washington’s starting tight end watched himself get destroyed by Atkins and got angry.
“There’s no way Anderson can block that guy,” he said. “The fix is in with these Tennessee guys.”
But the Washington coaches didn’t buy it. They kept Anderson because he could block the best pass rusher in the NFL. Anderson ended up playing eight seasons in the NFL.
When Anderson played at Tennessee, the All-American in the wing-T in 1956 was Johnny Majors, who finished second in the Heisman voting that year.
The leading receiver was Buddy Cruze. Anderson often said the reason Majors wouldn’t throw him the ball is because he was dating one of Majors’ former girlfriends. “I’d been All-American if I hadn’t dated that girl,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who came to Tennessee from Bradenton, Fla., played six years with Washington before retiring and joining Doug Dickey’s first staff at Tennessee in 1964. Then Anderson got a call from Vince Lombardi, inviting him to play for Green Bay. Anderson played on two NFL championship teams for the Packers, and he started in the first Super Bowl for Green Bay when the Packers faced Kansas City.
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