Who: Walter Payton’s replacement as the Bears’ halfback
Breakdown: Throughout much of Walter Payton’s late career, there had been speculation over when he would be replaced. In 1986, the team used a first-round pick to selected Anderson, a breathtakingly fast halfback from the University of Florida. Suddenly, Payton’s days were numbered.
Pearlman’s Take: When I called Anderson, I expected him to be reverential toward Payton. He wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong—Anderson liked and respected Payton, and had nothing bad to say. But when he looked back at his arrival in Chicago, he was blunt and honest: He was there to take Payton’s job.
I liked Anderson, because he was straightforward and honest. Toward the end of his career, Payton wasn’t the same player he had been. Less speed, reduced power. Even now, few people admit such. Anderson, however, does.
From Sweetness: Florida’s all- time rushing leader in yards, touchdowns, and attempts, the twenty-one- year- old Graceville, Florida, native was the first top pick of the Bears to ever miss his introductory press conference in the name of academics. “He’s a scholar,” an irked Mike Ditka said in explaining Anderson’s absence to take two final exams.
Anderson further annoyed the organization by holding out for most of training camp. When he finally signed a four- year, $1. 3 million contract, Anderson reported to the Lake Forest complex and was ordered by the other running backs to fetch them doughnuts.
He steadfastly refused. As a freshman at Florida back in 1982, Anderson was told all first- year players were required to shave their heads. “It was a Gator tradition, but I wasn’t having it,” he said. “Some of the upperclassmen, these big linemen, broke into my room one night when I was sleeping. They had a pair of trimmers, and they decided they were going to hold me down and cut my hair. It didn’t happen. I had a knife, and I made some threats. It didn’t make me any friends, but I believe what I believe.”
With the Bears, Anderson once again stood his ground. Jelly, cream, chocolate sprinkled— didn’t matter. Neal Anderson would fetch no man a doughnut. “Even for Walter,” he said. “I’m a stubborn person, and it’s not my job to get you your morning sweet. It’s my job to play football.”