Neal Anderson is another former Chicago Bear whose
reputation was much maligned as his career was waning. Anderson's contirbution
to Bears history is clear-he replaced the legend Walter Payton and ended up the
second all-time leading rusher on a team with more great running backs than
Anderson was a steal when he was still on the board as the
Bears picked in the first round in 1986. It was a known fact that Walter Payton
would probably only play one more year, so the team needed a back to develop
before he left the game. Anderson made an early impression in '86, earning
all-rookie honors for his special teams play. Also to be remembered was his
66-yard run for a touchdown at Houston. As Anderson burst through the hole and
was 20 or so yards down the field, the network cut away to air a special report
on the Iran-Contra hearings. As the game resumed, fans found out that the run
had been called back on a holding penalty.
In 1987, Anderson was used in a very non-traditional way-as
a fullback. Chicago decided to use him as such in an effort to get him more
playing time, while still starting hall-of-famer Walter Payton. Anderson led
the team in rushing in the strike-shortened season.
Anderson then had a breakout year in 1988 after Payton's
retirement. He rushed for 1106 yards, caught 39 passes for 371 yards, made the
Pro Bowl, and scored the longest rushing touchdown in Bears' history, an
80-yarder against Green Bay. 1989 was even better, as he went to his second
consecutive Pro Bowl, rushed for 1275 yards, caught passes for 434, and was
named NFC Offensive Player of the Month in September.
By 1990, many were calling Anderson the "best all-purpose
back in the NFL", a tribute to his rushing, receiving and blocking skills.
Anderson became known for his ability to turn the corner with great speed,
often diving for the endzone and barely hitting the pylon in a graceful leap.
He rushed for 1078 yards in 1990, which turned out to be his last great season.
Prior to the 1991 season, Anderson's career was interruped
by family issues that were out of his control, and his production began to
drop. The 1991 season was filled with disappointments, as he was hampered with
a pulled hamstring all year. He missed three games with the injury, the most in
his career. Still, he performed magic on a 42-yard TD run, capped off by his
trademark end-zone dive, to win the game against the New York Giants.
Anderson's 1992 began well, as he scored twice in the
opening day victory over Detroit. But he couldn't seem to get untracked, and it
also didn't help that he was repeadedly benched in favor of developing
second-year back Darren Lewis. He wound up rushing for only 582 yards, but did
surpass Gale Sayers for second place on the Bears' rushing list on opening day.
Dave Wannstedt did keep Anderson on for the 1993 season, in
which he rushed for 646 yards and scored his 51st touchdown as a Bear.
Anderson's tenure came to an end as Tim Worley, a troubled RB from Pittsburgh,
received more playing time. Anderson decided to retire after the 1993 season,
and aside from playing in the occasional golf outing, has led a quiet
post-football life. However, his trademark endzone leaps, and bursts of speed,
will live forever in the minds of Chicago Bears fans.