This isn’t the play versus Lott, but it was a lot like it.
William Andrews legendary run through Ronnie Lott was a part of a recent conversation I had with NFL Films producer Greg Cosell. When I listened to Cosell’s thoughts on Andrews and added that to the litany of fans who revered the Falcons runner’s skill it only validated the most obvious of thoughts: Why isn’t William Andrews enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
I don’t think it takes much work to present a worthwhile case in favor of Andrews. I’m not going into the detail Tom Mackie did for Floyd Little. No disrespect to Little, but I don’t think Andrews needs such a case. Then again, it has been 25 years since Andrews has played a down of football and he’s not even mentioned as a finalist. I just think it’s pretty obvious that Andrews was a Hall of Fame talent with enough of a career to earn enshrinement.
Andrews technically had a six-year career from 1979-1983. He spent two years away from the game rehabbing a gruesome knee injury suffered in training camp in 198 before returning for a season as an RB/tight end in 1986. Not the same back due to nerve damage that caused numbness in his big toe, Andrews retired.
For the sake of argument let’s view Andrews career as one with essentially a five-year life span:
- Four 1000-yard seasons.
- No seasons under 4.0 yards per carry.
- Three seasons with at least 50 receptions.
- Four seasons with at least 270 touches.
- Four seasons where he was among the top four backs in total yards from scrimmage.
- Four consecutive Pro Bowl selections.
- Three years as first or second team All-NFL.
- No games missed prior to the knee surgery in 1984.
The first thing that catches my eye about Andrews from a statistical perspective is that he never had a season under 4.0 yards per carry – even post-injury. This average per run is more impressive when digging deeper into the numbers. Andrews was not a breakaway threat; he was a power back on a power running team that used the run to set up the deep passing game.
Andrews longest run of his NFL career was 33 yards. His average per carry wasn’t aided with huge plays. I think there’s an argument that Andrews yards per carry average was even more impressive when considering this fact.
Consecutive 1000-Yard Seasons
Andrews technically had three consecutive 1000-yard seasons. The 1982 season was a strike-shortened year. However, Andrews posted 1000 total yards in those nine games and with 573 yards rushing, he was on track for another 1000-yard year. If not for the strike, I believe we would have been saying Andrews had five consecutive 1000-yard campaigns.
Let’s compare Andrews 1000-yard years to other backs in the Hall of Fame:
- Gale Sayers never had consecutive 1000-yard seasons during the five seasons where had significant activity as a running back.
- Floyd Little played nine years and only had one 1000-yard season.
- John Riggins never had more than consecutive 1000-yard seasons. His case is greatly aided by longevity – a 14-year career with a 3.9 ypc and 9 seasons under 1000 yards
- Marcus Allen only gained 1000 yards in three seasons (1983-85) during his 16-year career. Once again, Allen’s case was aided by longevity.
I’m not saying Allen and Riggins aren’t deserving of enshrinement. They were great runners, but statistically their numbers probably seem more palatable to reporters looking at total stats as part of their analysis. When William Andrews played his yardage production was as good or better than these four Hall of Famers I mentioned, two of which played during the same era.
Total Yards From Scrimmage
Andrews was the second back in NFL history to gain 2000 combined yards rushing and receiving. Moreover he did it twice in his career: 2036 yards and 12 scores in 1981 and 2176 yards and 11 scores in 1983. In fact, in 1983 his 1,567 rushing yards and 609 receiving yards were 39 percent of the Falcons’ total offense. Andrews was actually on track for 2000 combined yards (1076) during the strike shortened 1982 season.
This stat seems to get overlooked because Eric Dickerson had 2200 total yard-seasons in 1983-84 and then another two over 2000 in 1986 and 1988. Walter Payton was the first to go over the 2000-yard mark from scrimmage in 1977 and then had three consecutive seasons from 1983-1985. And Marcus Allen had a 2300-yard total from scrimmage in 1985.
All three of these players had longer careers, which I’m presuming made a stronger impression on the selection committee. However, the fact that Andrews’ production wasn’t as up and down as Riggins or Allen (regardless of the non-playing reasons involved with those two) should work in the Falcons runner’s favor.
In fact, for 80 percent of Andrews “five-year” career, Andrews was no worse than 4th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. His 8,382 total yards from scrimmage between 1979-83 was better than any back in the NFL during that same time frame. This includes runners like Earl Campbell, Marcus Allen, and Walter Payton.
Andrews averaged 116 yards from scrimmage per game during his first five seasons. Payton averaged 111, Emmitt Smith averaged 96, and Barry Sanders averaged 119. This should be a strong indication to the selection committee that Andrews as an elite back.
For all practical purposes, Andrews saw his career come to an end prematurely due to a catastrophic knee injury (torn ACLs were not treated the same way they are today) that caused nerve damage and required two years of rehab away from the game. The short career has to be regarded as a damaging issue to Andrews’ case for Canton. However, the selection committee should take into account that Andrews never sustained an injury that caused him to miss time during the season.
Where it counted most – the field of play – Andrews as a highly durable runner. He was among the top 7 backs in the NFL in touches during four consecutive seasons (1980-83). His workload should be a testament to the assertion that he was a durable player.
Thoughts of Andrews’ Peers
“I feel like a guy who buys a Cadillac and finds out he can get 30 miles to the gallon.”
- Falcons head coach Leeman Bennett upon watching his fullback, a third-round selection who blocked for James Brooks and Joe Cribbs, run roughshod through the league as a rookie.
“He is just the best runner in the NFL. I know all about Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson and the rest. But Andrews is the best I’ve seen.”
- Former Buffalo Bills LB Jim Haslett (yes, the former Saints head coach and vaunted defensive coordinator) as told to Sports Illustrated’s Rick Telander.
“I ran 10 yards straight at him, as hard as I could. He didn’t see me. The whole time I was saying to myself, This is it! Then, boom. I slid off of him like butter. I hit the ground, and he didn’t go down. I was thinking, What?”
- Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott on his hardest hit, a head-on collision with William Andrews.
Personally, I think Andrews is the unsung great runner of the past 30 years . I hope to see him enshrined in Canton while he’s alive to experience it.