Jamal Anderson: An Interview with the Atlanta Falcons' Original Dirty Bird

Jay SanzariCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2011

17 Jan 1999:  Jamal Anderson #32 of the Atlanta Falcons runs during the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings at the H. H. H. Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Falcons defeated the Vikings 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

At first glance, you might think that the title of this article is in reference to former “Dirty Bird” Michael Vick; however, that is not the case.

This article is about the original “Dirty Bird” himself, Jamal Anderson.

I’m sure all of you football fans out there remember this explosive running back, formerly an Atlanta Falcon. Recently, I received an opportunity to sit back and reflect with Anderson on his rather successful career.

How far back did we reflect? I took it all the way back to his draft day memories. That’s how I do it. One speed, one gear: Go.

When asked about how being drafted to the Falcons felt, Anderson said, “It was interesting because it was one of the teams that I didn’t have much interaction with during the draft process, so I was surprised. And to be honest, I’ve been a Raiders  fan and gone to school on the West Coast.”

He continued, “I didn’t really pay much attention to the Falcons, because they played so far away and didn’t get much traction in southern California. I was very, very surprised.

"Again, I didn’t have much interaction with them prior to the draft. It was surprising to me, but it was cool when I got there. I was just excited to have the opportunity.”

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If any of the athletes awaiting their selection into this year’s draft are reading this article, please take the time to consider Anderson’s draft day memory and think before you adhere to the NFLPA’s request to boycott the draft.

The draft is like the prom for football players. Don’t be the dork munching on Cheetos, playing Call of Duty with your orange-stained fingers while everyone else is out having the time of their life.

While Anderson went on to a lot of success in the NFL, one of his favorite moments was playing in the Pro Bowl.

“I was thrilled. You play this game to hopefully win a championship, but I was thrilled because you also want to be recognized as one of the best players to do it—and making the Pro Bowl is that recognition. I was excited.”

When asked about the current state of the Pro Bowl and its new format, Anderson was not shy about what he thought.

“I don’t really like it. I liked that the Pro Bowl was after the Super Bowl. You try to do something different and generate some excitement, but the only problem with it being the week prior to the Super Bowl is that you don’t get the opportunity for the star players in the Super Bowl to be in the game, that’s one big problem.”

Speaking of the Super Bowl, Anderson realized his childhood dream of playing in the big game. Obviously, his Falcons squad did not win the game, but it was still a dream realized and Anderson recapped how it is to play on the biggest stage.

“It was amazing. It would have been more amazing if we would have won. As an athlete, you just want to get an opportunity to play for a championship—and we had that opportunity. It was really the thrill of a lifetime.”

As for Anderson’s greatest accomplishment during his career, he did not let any kind of “me-first” ego get in the way of his response. Anderson told me his greatest accomplishment in his career was one of his team, which goes to show what an unselfish player he was.

“Winning the NFC championship the first time for the Atlanta Falcons was the greatest accomplishment of my career. That we actually won an NFC championship and have a banner hanging up here; that was exciting and that topped anything else from the NFL. Records and all of that stuff are great along the way, but to win a championship and be an NFC title-holder—that’s the kind of stuff that immortalizes you.”

While Anderson experienced his share of success in the NFL, he also had his fair share of injury and down time. One major contributor to Anderson’s injuries could be the massive workload that was placed on his shoulders in the 1998 season when he carried the ball 410 times (an NFL record at the time). Surprisingly, when asked about how his body handled it, Anderson almost seemed like he preferred the extra work.

“It’s a toll. I felt fine, I really did. But I think the wear and tear is something I think you have to consider. I got hurt the next year, but it was a knee injury—so unrelated to anything—in fact, the knee didn’t even hurt.” Anderson continued, “It just depends on the team and the organization and the situation. That’s what it called for that year for us. It certainly wasn’t something I thought was going to happen prior to coming into the season, but it did, and I was good with it.”

Of course one of the more notable things people still talk about to this day about Anderson is his infamous touchdown celebration, the “Dirty Bird.” Fans nowadays see a Dirty Bird here, a Dirty Bird there, but not many think about how it originated.

“We [Atlanta Falcons] were in New York about to play the New York Giants and we were trying to figure out a way to generate some hype for the football team. We were talking about ways we could celebrate big plays or sacks or touchdowns or whatever the case may be, it was something that we were excited to bring about, and that’s why I came up with the dance. I just started doing it. Obviously, it caught on and people got thrilled about it, so we went from there.”

I’m sure some of you may be thinking, “Why didn’t Anderson come back after his last injury if he experienced this much success and still had some gas in the tank?” Here is your answer.

“I had opportunities to come back and to play football again for several years, making a conscious decision to really focus on doing TV and radio work. I don’t really feel bittersweet, I’m excited about the moves that I’ve made the things I’ve been able to do outside of football since football ended.”

Anderson continued, “My dream, initially, was to play 10 years in the NFL. I wanted to achieve 10,000 [yards]. They were lofty goals, but I certainly thought I had the ability to achieve those, but you know I got hurt and then came back and then got hurt again—you just start looking for a different focus, particularly with considering having a comeback and maybe switching teams. When everything transpired with the Falcons, I just decided that I would rather try my hand in a different career, and that was doing TV and radio work.”

Now, some you fans reading this article may not realize something that is actually pretty interesting. Michael Vick’s rookie season with the Falcons was the last season Anderson played in the league. Unfortunately, due to his injury, no one saw what the full power of this explosive duo could have been. Looking back at that season and thinking about if things would be different had Anderson remained healthy, Anderson reflected on the possibility of winning a Super Bowl with Vick.

“I’d like to think so [winning a Super Bowl]. You know we talked about that for a number of years when I left and moved into TV. I’d like to think that we had a really talented team, in fact, when I got hurt in 2001, Mike’s first year, we had a pretty good football team that ended up doing decent, you know we were rolling until I got hurt, and things got much more difficult. The 2002 team was a good team; Mike came into his own. Even the 2003 team, there’s no telling what we would have done with two or three years together.”

However, that did not happen and life is not all about what would have or could have happened. Anderson made a career decision and working in the media industry is not a move he regrets, especially with all the work he has done.

“It’s been fun. I’ve done ESPN, I’ve done Fox, I’ve done TV shows on MTV, E!, Vh1, so it’s been fun to explore the opportunities and possibilities that football has allowed me to have talking about the game I love to play. It’s been a great experience, a great ride and I’m having fun along the way and look forward to continue doing it.”

All is not different in the game of football and the world of television and radio. Being a professional in both fields, Anderson was able to draw some similarities between the two fields.

“Interestingly enough, they have some parallels. Obviously, there is no comparison physically, but you know it’s tough; you have to be prepared on both levels. If you care about what product you put forth, whether it’s doing a TV show or doing something on the football field, you have to be prepared.” Anderson continued with a bit of a laugh at the last part, “If you have any pride in your craft, both of them have their own difficulties, but obviously going on TV is much easier because you just don’t hurt after.”

Unlike most pro athletes, Anderson’s whole life is not just about him. He is deeply involved in giving back to his community and helping the less fortunate. In fact, he has his hand in quite a few respectable charities.

“For a number of years I have had the Jamal Anderson Miracle Foundation which I am about to restart here next year, but I also do stuff for Children’s Miracle Network, American Cancer Society and Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. I do as best I can, as often as I can, to speak to different at-risk groups of children in different areas. I try to give back as much as I can.”

Football, TV, radio and charity work are not the only endeavors Anderson is involved with either. He is also involved in much more that the common fan does not know about. Anderson went on to briefly discuss other things he is involved with in his life at the moment.

“I have my Web site, jamalanderson.com. I was involved in a fitness equipment company for a number of years that we just sold. I also have my other company, Jam Entertainment, where we produce and promote concerts and specialty events. In fact, we are writing up a couple ideas for TV shows to pitch for different shows with sports entertainment backgrounds, so I am excited about those projects coming up in the future.”

After my interview with Anderson concluded, it became apparent to me that this former Atlanta Falcon was not the literal “Dirty Bird” he has been known for. This athlete, professional and philanthropist is a mold of how all athletes should live out their career. Do what is right for you and, at the same time, help everyone that you can possibly help. After all, just because you made a hefty paycheck achieving your life’s goals, the sky is still the limit. Even for a “Dirty Bird.”

To read more of Jay Sanzari's work, just click here. His other work includes his interviews with Albert Haynesworth and Gerris Wilkinson, amongst other articles by himself. His next interview on deck is with Marcellus Wiley, be sure to be on the look out for that.

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