State Your Case: William Andrews
Are five years of greatness worthy of Canton?
William Andrews walked among giants in the 1980s.
Well, ran among them, anyway.
The early 1980s was a golden age for NFL running backs. There were seven Hall of Fame backs vying for rushing titles, Pro Bowls and MVP honors: Marcus Allen, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, Walter Payton and John Riggins. Then inject a handful of other decorated backs like Ottis Anderson, Joe Cribbs, Chuck Muncie, George Rogers, Billy Sims and Curt Warner into the mix.
All 13 of those backs went to Pro Bowls during the window between 1980 and 1983 with Campbell, Rogers and Dickerson winning NFL rushing titles, Dorsett and Payton capturing NFC rushing crowns and Freeman McNeill and Warner AFC crowns.
But only one back went to all four Pro Bowls during that four-year window – Andrews. Campbell, Cribbs, Dorsett and Sims all went to three apiece with Allen, Rogers and Payton going to two each. And Andrews was competing with Anderson, Dorsett, Payton, Riggins, Rogers and Sims for those three annual NFC Pro Bowl spots at running back.
William Andrews was that good, that dominant. There wasn’t a better, more complete back in the NFL from 1980-83 than William Andrews. Yet his name has never come up in any Hall of Fame discussion. Which is not surprising, given that his career came to abrupt end in 1984 when he suffered a knee injury in training camp.
Andrews spent two years rehabilitating his knee before returning to the field in 1986 as a shell of his former Pro Bowl self. He spent that season as a reserve, rushing the ball only 52 times, before retiring.
But with the Hall of Fame warming up of late to short-career players – specifically Tony Boselli, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley and Kurt Warner – it may be time to dust off the candidacy of William Andrews. If four quality seasons can garner Davis a bust in Canton, Andrews is certainly deserving a look with his five-year window.
Andrews was a third-round pick by the Falcons out of Auburn in 1979. At 6-0, 210 pounds, he was projected as a fullback to supply the power in Atlanta’s running game plus the physicality to block for the club’s feature back Bubba Bean. Instead, Andrews immediately branded himself as the club’s new feature back.
Andrews rushed for 1,023 yards as a rookie – the first of four 1,000-yard seasons over the next five years. The only year he didn’t hit 1,000 was 1982 when a player strike shortened the season to nine games. He rushed for 573 yards – a pace that would have given him 1,018 yards in a 16-game season.
Andrews rushed for 1,308 yards in 1980 to finish fourth in the NFL in rushing. He rushed for 1,301 yards in 1981 and finished fourth in the NFL with 81 receptions, scoring 12 touchdowns and leading the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,036. He scored a career-long 86-yard touchdown on a reception in 1982 and finished second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,036.
Then Andrews turned in the best season of his career in 1983, rushing for 1,567 yards and finishing second to Dickerson in both rushing and yards from scrimmage (2,176).
“He is just the best runner in the NFL,” Buffalo linebacker Jim Haslett told Sports Illustrated’s Rick Telander that season. “I know all about Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson and the rest. But Andrews is the best I’ve seen.”
But, at 27 years of age, “the best” was finished the following summer. And his career has been lost in the pages of history. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame didn’t forget a great player, though, enshrining Andrews in 1996. And the Falcons didn’t forget him, retiring his jersey number 31 in 2004.
Maybe the Pro Football Hall of Fame shouldn’t forget William Andrews, either.
A complete back who did it all. On his way to the HOF, had he stayed healthy. Always ran north to south. His replacement, Gerald Riggs, had a nice career of his own …