ANDERSON GETS ULTIMATE PAYBACK

PASADENA, Calif. — Ottis Anderson hooked his fingers together and sighed. No rings. Not yet. It was a few days away from the Super Bowl, one of those mass interview sessions, and he gazed out from the concrete stands to the field below and the sea of reporters around Lawrence Taylor and the other Giants’ superstars. “Not too long ago,” he said, “I’d have had me the crowds like that, too.”

Glory to the bench. We don’t hear much about the support group in these Super Bowls, the guys whose uniforms stay clean, but they are football players, too. All of them high school stars, college standouts, some even NFL superstars who have crusted with age, lost their halos, lost their confidence.

Once upon a time, Ottis Anderson used to shake them down, whisper “see you later” as he burst out of the backfield. With St. Louis, he was one of the premier rushers in the game — nickname O.J. — The Man, the stud hoss, the guy who gets the ball when only one guy can get the ball. Thousands of yards rushing.

And now he is an insurance policy. Use only in emergency, or blowout. Did you even know he was with the Giants? O.J. Anderson?

THEY TRADED FOR him this season, after his production with the Cardinals had fallen off. “When I first walked in, a couple of the defensive guys here said, ‘Glad to have you, man. We’re tired of tackling your booty in St. Louis.’ “

Then reality set in. Joe Morris is the star here. Joe Morris, one of the most durable runners in the game. Joe Morris is The Man.

Ottis Anderson sat.

“Let’s face it,” said Anderson, 29. “I think like a halfback, I run like a halfback, I move like a halfback.” He looked over at Morris, and the crowd of reporters around him.

“We already have a halfback.”

So here, at the biggest of games, is the intersection of Me and Us. Who gets the right of way? Ottis Anderson did some amazing things with the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Cardinals never went anywhere. He has done little with the Giants, and yet the Giants made the Super Bowl.

The game means money — $18,000 for defeat, $36,000 for victory. It means history. It means glory. It means a ring. But what does it mean if you’re a bit player? What if the glory event catches you only on the way down?

What about it?

“Hey, you’ve got to understand something,” Anderson said, gesturing out to the football field, the TV cameras, the air of Super Bowl hysteria. “This is our payback. All of us. Everyone who plays this game.

“All the days we worked, all the days we got hurt. Every player that does it, does it just so he can get here one day.

“I put in my time. I’ve been playing eight years. I feel like I deserve everything that comes to me.”

He drummed a fist on his thigh. “It’s not about the team. It’s about the game.”

THINK OF THE odds against even wearing a Giants uniform. Think of every shoulder pad and every helmet of every guy who ever took the field with Anderson. Think of the dreams that have been dashed with one late hit. Think of the careers gone with a snap of a bone. Think of the litter from the rainbow, the sheer talent that was detoured with bad grades, bad advice, bad habits. Think of it.

All those bodies.

Does it really matter what team?

Ottis Anderson stretched his hands behind his head. He declared himself healthy and ready if needed. A radio reporter walked by with a tape recorder, and Anderson grinned. “Did you know I even had my own radio show in St. Louis? People knew me on the street there.”

“Were you ever, at your peak, the best in the game?” someone asked.

“I still think that,” he said. He looked at the reporter, who was respectfully silent. “I mean . . . I don’t think there’s anyone better at rushing the ball than me. . . . I don’t know. Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am. . . . “

Football players are not meant to sit, but some of them have to. It doesn’t stop the dreams.

OTTIS ANDERSON NEVER played in a major bowl game in college, at Miami
(Fla.). And the Cardinals had promise, but never results. There was a time when he thought he would never see a championship game of any kind. And now.
. . .

“Who knows,” he said that day, with a laugh. “I may do something great in the Super Bowl.”

He did. He scored from two yards out, the Giants’ last touchdown in their 39-20 Super Bowl victory. Ottis Anderson will take the ring, and he will take the memory. No apologies needed. The real glory, after all, is getting here.

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