Hey Falcoholics, I’m back with another edition of The Falcoholic’s Throwback Thursday series. This weekly segment highlights a former Atlanta Falcons player and discusses what they did for the franchise.
Whether you’ve been a fan since the inaugural season, or just became a fan recently, this series will give insight on players from the past. So, let’s begin.
Jamal Anderson was born in Newark, New Jersey on Sept. 30, 1972 to James and Zenobia Anderson. James Anderson, a former Newark police officer, worked security for many African-American sports professionals and entertainers, such as Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mike Tyson.
Jamal was the captain of the football team at El Camino Real High. In 1989, he was named to the CIF Los Angeles City Section 4-A All-City first team. Following high school, Jamal attended Moorpark College, before going on to play football for the Utah Utes. His senior season at Utah was very strong, finishing with 11 rushing touchdowns, 958 rushing yards, three receiving touchdowns, and an All-WAC conference selection.
With the No. 201 pick in the seventh round of the 1994 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected running back Jamal Anderson. Evaluators said he was a little too small and not fleet enough to qualify as feature back — boy, were they wrong!
Jamal didn’t do much during his first two seasons, as he waited for his opportunity behind another Falcons great, running back Craig “Iron Head” Heyward. Due to an injury to Heyward, Anderson finally got his chance to demonstrate what he could do. In his 12 starts that season, Jamal had 232 carries, 1,055 rushing yards, and six total touchdowns.
Even with Jamal breaking out, the Falcons finished 3-13 in 1996. In 1997, the organization hired a new head coach to turn things around, so in came Dan Reeves.
That season, the team moved to a more run-based offense and it showed. Even though the team finished 7-9, and Jamal was dealing with an ankle sprain, he still finished with 10 total touchdowns and 1,086 all-purpose yards.
Then came 1998, one of the greatest seasons in Atlanta Falcons history. The team was firing on all cylinders, from wide receivers Tony Martin and Terance Mathis both individually having over 1,000 yards receiving, to defensive end Lester Archambeau’s impressive 10.0 sacks.
The team had a nine-game win streak, and Jamal had one of the best single-season performances in Atlanta Falcons history, as he finished the year with 16 total touchdowns, 115.4 yards per game average, and 1,846 rushing yards, which is still a single-season franchise record.
During the Week 7 matchup against the New Orleans Saints, the “Dirty Bird” debuted. While breaking free from defenders, Jamal busted down the sideline, a Saints’ safety failed to get him out of bounds, and he dove for the pile-on. Jamal got up, and started flapping his wings, also known as the “Dirty Bird.” But if you don’t want to take my word for it, let the original “Dirty Bird” tell you:
We stomped the Giants. But I did NOT score. So I didnt get to celebrate what I was thinking about doing. Neither did OJ. Next week vs the I broke free, busted outside and drove for the pylon.... TD! 1st Dirty Bird EVER right here. pic.twitter.com/nalYQ2NqhY— Jamal Anderson (@jamthedirtybird) September 21, 2018
Heading into the playoffs, the 14-2 Falcons looked unstoppable. Their first matchup came against the Steve Young-led San Francisco 49ers. Jamal rushed 29 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns as the Falcons won 20-18. That victory sent them to the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings defense bottled Jamal up on the ground, where he had 23 carries for just 67 yards, but he scored a receiving touchdown, which — with the help of kicker Morten Andersen’s field goal — sent the Falcons to their first ever Super Bowl.
At the time of Super Bowl XXXIII, the Falcons had won 22 of their last 26 games. Unfortunately, the team went on to lose a heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos 19-34. Jamal Anderson went on to play for three more seasons, until he suffered a career-ending knee injury in 2001.
In his eight-year NFL career, Jamal totaled 5,336 rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns. Aside from being a Pro Bowler and AP First-team All-Pro selection in 1998, fans will always remember him as the original Dirty Bird.
Personally, Jamal was my favorite Falcons player growing up. When I was six years old, I attended my first ever Falcons game, a Week 2 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings in 1996. It’s special to me in hindsight because it was Jamal’s second start as a Falcon. I really admired his attitude on the field and how he fought for every yard. The first Falcons jersey I ever got was a No. 32 Jamal Anderson jersey, which I still have hanging in my closet to this day.
So let me know in the comments below some of your favorite Jamal Anderson memories. As always, you can find me on Twitter @EvanBirchfield. Additionally, make sure to follow @The_Falcoholic on Instagram for up-to-date news and information. Thanks for reading, Falcoholics.