Sunday, December 17, 2000
Mile-High Salute Denver Rookie Anderson Credits His Stint
as a Marine for Amazing Run From Rank and File to NFL's
By ROBYN NORWOOD
Times Staff Writer
On a Wednesday or Thursday night in the fall at Camp Pendleton,
you can find a football game manned by Marines so eager to compete
they've been known to practice before roll call at 6 a.m.
On Sunday afternoons, some of those same players gather
at spots like the Grand Avenue Bar & Grill in Carlsbad or
Rookies sports bar in Oceanside to pull for one of their own.
It wasn't so long ago that Mike Anderson, the Denver Bronco
running back who set an NFL rookie rushing record with 251 yards
against New Orleans two weeks ago, was just another Marine who
played on the base. Kurt Warner's rise from grocery store
stock boy to Super Bowl champion was the story of last season.
Anderson--the NFL's third-leading rusher--is one of this season's.
He didn't even play football in high school in Fairfield,
S.C., playing drums in the marching band instead.
Then he became a U.S. Marine.
"When I was a little kid, I would always see the commercial,
'The Few, The Proud,' and I always thought of it as a challenge.
Could I do that?" Anderson said. "I wanted to get away from
the neighborhood, and it was a good way to earn money for school,
so I joined."
He became a lance corporal, working as a communicator in
an artillery battery. He went to Somalia and Kenya on peacekeeping
missions. And he played football.
Bob Turley, a retired lieutenant colonel who scours the
base for players as an assistant coach at Mt. San Jacinto College,
first saw Anderson play for the 11th Marine Regiment--the Cannon
Cockers, as they're known. "It was obvious he was an exceptional
athlete with great talent, speed and toughness," Turley said.
"He looked like a pretty strong young Marine." After Anderson's
four years in the Marines, Turley recruited him to Mt. San Jacinto,
and he still remembers the day in practice when a tough defensive
back named Lawrence Walls--another former Marine who delivered
hits so devastating the coaches called them anti-tank rounds--finally
grew weary of hitting Anderson.
"All of a sudden, he sort of backed off. All the coaches
looked like, what the heck? 'Lawrence, why didn't you take a
shot?' " Turley said. "I think I'm done tackling furniture,"
Walls told them. "You can't just pop [Anderson]," Turley
said. "He has great balance. He can take a hit."
After two seasons at Mt. San Jacinto, Anderson went on to
Utah, where he rushed for 150 yards against Utah State in his
first game as a junior and finished his career the next season
with consecutive 200-yard games against New Mexico and Fresno
The Broncos made him a sixth-round draft choice.
Then Terrell Davis and Olandis Gary both were injured, and
Anderson rose from obscurity to become the latest 1,000-yard
rusher to work behind Denver's vaunted offensive line.
With two games left in the regular season and Denver headed
for the playoffs, the 27-year-old rookie has 1,353 yards and
six 100-yard games--251 against New Orleans, 195 against Seattle,
187 against Oakland. His jersey from the Saints game has
been shipped to Canton, Ohio, to be displayed at the Pro Football
Hall of Fame in honor of his rookie rushing record.
Talk about the few and the proud.
"That's hard for me to put in words. For me, that's unbelievable,"
Anderson said. "Never in my wildest dream could I have imagined
that or even pondered that thought in my mind. For that to happen,
it's just remarkable. It is a big-time honor."
Richard Gomez, the master sergeant Anderson worked for in
an artillery battery at Camp Pendleton, would like the base
to recognize Anderson too. "I mentioned to my boss, we
should do something like rename our football field in honor
of him," Gomez said. "He really thinks the Marine Corps, being
in the military, gave him the foundation to be where he is now.
I heard somebody ask him about training camp, and he said it's
nothing compared to boot camp."
Anderson's high school career fell by the wayside when the
coach wouldn't let him try out for running back.
"He said, 'You go with the offensive linemen,' " Anderson
said. "I just walked away and did other things."
On the base, they were happy to give the 6-foot, 235-pound
Anderson the ball.
"I think without going into the military, I probably wouldn't
be at this point right now. I probably wouldn't be playing,"
he said. "I walked away from it my ninth-grade year in high
school. I never looked back and thought about playing again
until I got into the Marine Corps." He was a standout
player among the dozen or so teams, but nobody has the precise
stats. The base paper, The Scout, covers the games, but there
is nothing official.
"There were times he broke 100 or maybe a couple of times
he had a couple of hundred yards," Turley said. "The statistics
are not as detailed. But you walked away with the impression
he was the leading rusher." Anderson isn't the only Camp
Pendleton player to move on and make his mark.
David Minnich, who followed him to Mt. San Jacinto and broke
Anderson's records there, was the leading rusher at Washington
State this season. "For those that do have plans and think
they have athletic talent, Anderson has opened doors for them,"
Turley said. "His experience in the Marine Crops just improved
his resilience and ability, I think, to perform and cope with
He'll get no argument from Anderson.
"It put a lot of discipline in my life, gave me a sense
of direction and changed my whole demeanor about the way I approached
life," he said. "At a young age, I was looking for some
direction. When I got into the Marine Corps, I got a chance
to go overseas and go to Africa, and that just changed me, that
experience, going over there and seeing a third-world country
as opposed to seeing it on TV like most Americans do.
"When you go to a third-world country, you see people struggling,
just surviving one day to the next. When you come back over
here, you appreciate every little thing you have and don't complain
about the things you don't have.
"For me, the situation I'm in now, I'm just so thankful
to have the opportunity to have the success and have fun at
something that I love doing. But at the same time, I'm not taking
it for granted.
"If it was to end tomorrow, I could walk away and say I'm
just so thankful for that opportunity."