OPINION: OJ Anderson pleads for Hall of Fame nod 'while I'm above ground'

OJ Anderson
Photo credit Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Is OJ Anderson a Hall of Famer? Not yet. And he's worried that he may never live to see it. "We don't know how long we all have on this earth," he recently explained on my brand-new "New York Accent" podcast. "You know guys my age are falling all the time. Guys a little ahead of me are going. You just don't know when, and if I don't want to get flowers [after] I do. Give me my flowers while I'm above ground. Hall of Fame, give me my nominee while I'm above ground and can appreciate it. That's all I expect."

Anderson isn't bitter. He's in great spirits, and he joined "New York Accent" to discuss his NFL career at length. But the 66-year-old does question why he's yet to receive the call from Canton. Based on his credentials, Anderson's case is extremely strong. He earned AP Rookie of the Year honors back in 1979 and was a first team All-Pro. At that time, his 1,605 rushing yards were the most by a rookie, and it's still the fifth-highest total ever by a first-year back.

Photo credit Click the image to listen to OJ Anderson's appearance on Damon Amendolara's "New York Accent" podcast

He also rushed for 1,000 yards in five of his first six NFL seasons, broken only by the strike-shortened campaign of 1982. Anderson had another 1,000-yard season in 1989 and won the Comeback Player of the Year award. He also won Super Bowl MVP honors with the Giants. When he called it quits after the 1992 season, he ranked eighth on the league's all-time rushing list. He cracked the then-mythical 10,000-yard plateau. He's featured in the Giants' Ring of Honor. He's a member of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.

"I went there to see Harry [Carson] get inducted. I saw Lawrence [Taylor] get inducted and I made a promise to myself that I would not go back again until it was my time. I haven't been back," Anderson said. "You know, people want to give you roses when you pass. Give me my roses while I'm above ground. Give me my credibility while I have a sound mind and body, and can enjoy it with my family and friends. I don't want to be one of those players. They say, 'You know what, had he been alive, he would really appreciate this.' I want to enjoy it. I want to be one of those players who enjoys it."

When Anderson retired, only seven players had ever rushed for more yards. Every one of them is in Canton: Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown, Franco Harris, John Riggins, and OJ Simpson. In the 30 seasons since Anderson's retirement, 22 halfbacks have pushed ahead of his 10,273 yards. However, there's a plethora of Canton backs who tallied fewer yards. The names: Earl Campbell, Jim Taylor, Larry Csonka, Terrell Davis, Joe Perry, Leroy Kelly, Floyd Little, John Henry Johnson, Hugh McElhenny, Gayle Sayers, Lenny Moore, and Marion Motley. That's a dozen Hall of Fame running backs that don't have Anderson's career yardage.

Ottis Anderson
Photo credit USA TODAY Sports

"Why am I not there? What did they do differently than what I've done other than maybe play in a generation where the people who know about my career passed away?" Anderson said. And the new [voters] saw these young guys play and figured they don't even know about me."

Perhaps a more eye-opening stat is Anderson's touchdowns scored. He still ranks inside the top-20 all-time for running backs, and all but five of the guys ahead of him are Hall of Famer bound (Adrian Peterson, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, Marshawn Lynch, and Corey Dillon). Peterson is a lock for Canton, and Lynch will likely get the call as well. There's a slew of running backs who didn't find paydirt nearly as often as Anderson who've also gotten the call.

"About 10-15 years ago, there was a push for me to get into the Hall of Fame... Parcells, Gibbs, Belichick, Vermeil all wrote recommendation letters to the Hall of Fame about having me considered," Anderson said. "Those people saw me play and appreciate my work. I don't know why they didn't take those Hall of Fame coaches' word and players who played against me who have definitely brought my name up quite a few times about my induction."

"I don't know what the criteria is and I have no idea how they based who they bring in, because it can't be about statistics. It can't be about character, I got one of the great characters. A gentleman inducted into the New York Giants' Ring of Honor. I keep saying, if I can make the Ring of Honor on the wall of the New York Giants, there's no way in the world I shouldn't make the Hall in Canton. So 'From the Wall to the Hall' should be my march."

Perhaps it's his lack of Pro Bowl selections (2). Maybe it's because the prime of his career happened in St. Louis, where he played in only one playoff game and the city eventually lost the team. But the overall stats back up Anderson's hope. There are far less accomplished running backs in the Hall of Fame, and if he gets into Canton, he wants to be able enjoy it.

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