Originally created 07/30/00

Anderson set for comeback



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The company is called Jam Entertainment, the brainchild of rapid-talking Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson. Its purpose is to promote concerts and parties, with clients including the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync.

It is out of Jam Entertainment's marketing budget that Anderson printed up the black and red T-shirts and black and red hats that he's been wearing around the training camp at Furman University. All are adorned with the same "Y2J" logo and the message "The Return is Coming."

He is a man raised in the company of celebrities, and as a kid, would have Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard at his birthday parties. So if anything, the king of the Dirty Birds understands the idea of creating a little pomp and circumstance and doing what it takes to sequester the spotlight's attention.

All the buzz in Falcons Nation centers around Anderson and the eight-inch vertical scar on his right knee, the same knee that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the 19th carry a year ago.

He wouldn't want it any other way.

"I was numb the whole season," said Anderson of his 1999, injured in the first quarter of the team's second game, a Monday Night Football affair with the Dallas Cowboys.

"It was a trip. I was in a position where I could do nothing to help us out. A bunch of emotions ran through me, and all I could think about was rehabbing my knee and getting ready for this season. This will be my grand comeback."

In 1998, during the inconceivable run to the Super Bowl, there was Jamal, jamming with his end zone dances, rushing for 1,846 yards on an NFL-record 410 carries. He became the league's prototype big back: durable, sure-handed, able to milk clock and move chains in a single end sweep.

The Falcons rode his 30-inch thighs and cocksure approach to national acclaim. And no one enjoyed the attention more than Jamal.

Yet in a single attempt at cutting back on artificial turf, the limelight blacked out.

Oh, he used his time away from football to be a correspondent on FOX Sports. When the Super Bowl came to Atlanta, there was Jamal, providing studio analysis for ESPN. He even made a guest appearance on HBO's Arli$$, satisfying his need to feel Hollywood again.

"I'm a football player first," Anderson said. "That's something I'd like to do after when I'm done playing, but I'm not done, not by a long shot."

There is enough confidence in his walk and his talk to make you believe he'll be able to fully recover from the first serious injury of his career. But reconstructed knees are never the same, something that Anderson has painfully discovered during his rehabilitation.

He was not allowed to start running until December. He undergoes daily strengthening exercises, and he says he's had great progress there. But tendinitis and swelling keep occurring, limiting his work during the off-season passing camps and throughout Camp Furman.

"My knee's kind of a trip, you know," Anderson said. "Some days it feels perfect, and I think I can do anything I want to do. Other days it's like, yo, you're not supposed to be hurtin' this much and I've got to tone it down.

"It takes 15 months of rehab before an ACL fully heals. I'm trying to cram those 15 months into 11 months and be ready by Sept. 3 (vs. San Francisco). Here's what I've got to realize: I'm going to have a sore knee. I'm going to have tendinitis. It's going to hurt me on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It's going to be stiff. It's something I've got to deal with, and if I don't, then I'm never going to be the Jamal Anderson I was."

His coaches and teammates want the Jamal Anderson who posted three 1,000-yard seasons; the one who started the 1998 Pro Bowl; the energetic, lower-his-head-and-fight-for-the-extra-yard back.

So Anderson, against his wishes, has been limited to one practice during two-a-days. He did not play during the team's preseason game Saturday at Indianapolis, and coach Dan Reeves does not want to use Anderson against Dallas in Tokyo or in preseason games against Cincinnati or San Diego.

"The doctors have to let me know that Jamal's ready to go," Reeves said. "Jamal always thinks he's ready. He can be pretty stubborn about it. But we've got to do what's best for him and what's best for us. I want him ready for the opener, not for the preseason."

Reeves, a former running back himself, understands how vital Anderson and his health is. Without their bull, the Falcons dropped to 30th, last in the NFL, in team rushing, losing 915 rushing yards. Replacements Ken Oxendine, Byron Hanspard and Bob Christian, the latter two recovering from their own knee surgeries, failed to replicate Anderson's 1998 success as the offense sputtered with a lack of a dependable running game.

"We faced so many run blitzes on first and second down last year it was amazing," quarterback Chris Chandler said. "They couldn't do that with Jamal there, because with him, you had to respect the play-action a little more."

"The position has to be improved, not just me," Anderson said. "We rely on the running back to do so much for this offense. And I did all the stuff in '98, '97, '96, that when I was gone, I'm not the guys had as much confidence in the guys behind me."

Plus, he wasn't in the locker room, or at meetings, or on the practice field for much of the '99 season. Much to Jamal's chagrin, he became invisible to the football world.

"There's an intangible I think I'll bring back to the team," Anderson said. "The attitude, the belief, the chip on my shoulder when I play; these guys will feel that this year."

Anderson vows that Y2J will be the year Jamal reclaims his visibility. That's if his knee allows him to.

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.