During the glory days of the Atlanta Falcons, which amounts to a single year, the heart of the team was Jamal Anderson. The running back carried the ball more in the 1999 Super Bowl season more than any player in NFL history and led the league in rushing. He was good-looking and smart, funny and engaging, articulate and insightful.
He came from a strong family. His father provided security for Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Jackson, among many others. Celebrities were his friends as a kid, all inspiring him to make something of himself, he said. And Anderson did. Until a torn ACL sidetracked his career, he was an NFL star. After his career, Anderson held several television jobs as a host or analyst.
All that makes his pattern of arrests for drugs and driving under the influence almost staggering. Three weeks ago, on Nov. 21, Anderson was stopped on Interstate 85 near Atlanta in the early-morning hours, his car running, passed out. A Georgia State Trooper came upon his vehicle.
“I asked Anderson why he was stopped in the middle of the interstate, noting that it was extremely dangerous and asked him if he was trying to hurt himself,” the trooper said in the police report, acquired by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “He stated that he wasn’t trying to hurt himself and didn’t really have a good explanation as to why he had parked in the middle of the interstate.”
Anderson admitted to troopers that he had been drinking. But he refused to take a field sobriety test. He was arrested, charged with DUI and improper stopping in the roadway and booked into a local jail.
This would not be as disturbing if this were Anderson’s first case of driving while drinking. It, in fact, was the second time he had been arrested for driving while drinking and stopping his car in the middle of a highway. Anderson pleaded guilty to reckless driving in 2012 when he was found drunk in his car on Interstate 285 outside of Atlanta. His sentence included a fine, probation and court-mandated attendance at a drunk driving impact panel. That, apparently, was not enough of a deterrent.
But that’s not it. In February 2009, Anderson was charged with cocaine and marijuana possession after an off-duty officer said he saw the ex-star snorting cocaine off the back of a toilet at a bar in Atlanta. Somehow, those charges were later dismissed.
This run of legal troubles did not seem to fit Anderson’s profile and is hard to fathom by anyone who has spent time around him. Hardly has there been a player who was more well-liked, who was more confident and eloquent at expressing himself. A product of Los Angeles, Anderson starred at the University of Utah in college.
When he finally got his chance with the Falcons, he took advantage of it and became the king of the city. He executed the “Dirty Bird” dance on the platform in Minneapolis when they upset the Vikings to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. He was the darling of Atlanta.
“One of the most likable people you’d ever meet,” former coach Dan Reeves has said of Anderson.
Post-NFL life has been a struggle for many former athletes, but Anderson’s fall could not have been forecast. He was seemingly too smart, too together, for this. In 2013, he lost his six-bedroom home with a guest house to foreclosure. He recently paid off a $1-million tax lien.
Not sure what will come of Anderson’s latest arrest. If he’s as fortunate as Olympic record-breaking swimmer Michael Phelps, he will get another try. Phelps pleaded guilty to a second DUI and today was granted a one-year suspended sentence and no jail time. But based on his recent history, it is hard to think Anderson’s mug shot will not be plastered all over the Internet again in the near future. Sad, that.