A look back at former Chicago Bears RB Neal Anderson and his time with the team
In this segment and future segments, I’ll be discussing former Chicago Bears players that were underrated, undervalued, and/or under-appreciated for their contributions to the team, either on a team scale, league scale, or both. First up, the man that had the difficult, nearly impossible task of following Bears legend Walter Payton: Neal Anderson.
Neal Anderson was the total package
How Anderson fell to the Bears at the bottom of the 1986 NFL Draft was nothing short of a miracle for the team, especially in an era when the league still focused on workhorse backs that would pound the ball with 20-25 carries per game. The University of Florida star had good size (5′ 11″, 210 lbs.) and blazing 4.4 speed. He could get you the tough yard on 3rd and short or burst to the outside for the long run. He also possessed reliable hands as a receiver out of the back field and was a superb blocker.
Emergence following Payton’s retirement
Payton was still a force in Anderson’s first year, thus the youngster did not receive many opportunities. That changed in the strike-shortened season of 1987 when the Bears put him and Payton in the backfield together. He rushed for 586 yards and 3 TDs as a fullback. Payton retired at season’s end and 1988 saw Anderson become the feature back. He responded with 1,106 yards on 249 carries with 12 TDs. He also added 39 receptions for 371 yards. That season saw him receive the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl berths.
League dominance 1988 to 1990
From 1988 to 1990, Anderson was among the best and most complete backs in the league. He had over 1,000 rushing in each season with a career high 1,275 yards in 1989. He added over 370 yards receiving in each of those seasons as well. His career was full of some amazing highlights.
Career decline and eventual retirement
While missing a bit of time in 1990, injuries caught up to him in 1991 as he missed three games and failed to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time since 1987. 1992 and 1993 saw him fail to reach his previous heights and he retired following the 1993 season
Neal Anderson’s legacy
Neal Anderson finished his career with 6,166 yards rushing, 51 TDs, and a solid 4.1 yards per carry average. Had injuries not hampered him and shortened his career, it’s no stretch that he could’ve eclipsed 10,000 yards and 100 TDs. Since his retirement, he has kept a relatively low profile, which has led to the old out-of-sight, out-of-mind adage when it comes to his popularity. Those of us that watched him play though, will never forget the game breaker he was and the solid player that was a worthy heir to his predecessor.
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