Let’s go back to the early 80s. Rock n’ Roll is blaring on the radio, big hair is all the rage, and a young badass wearing the number 31 is rambling down the field for the Atlanta Falcons.
That kid sporting a neck brace and a bold red jersey is named William Andrews, and he’s the real deal. Andrews was drafted by the Falcons in 1979 in the third round. However, he ignored his late draft status, and made his impact on the field felt immediately. With a resume of 1023 yards, he found himself named to the 1979 All-Rookie team.
The concept of a “sophomore slump” never crossed Andrews’ mind. With the determination of a mother bear defending her cubs, Andrews rushed for 1308 yards and picked up 456 yards receiving. He earned a trip to the Pro-Bowl and the 1980 Atlanta Falcons earned a NFC West Division Championship with a record of 12-4.
The Falcons failed to make another playoff appearance in 1981 with a record of 7-9, but Andrews continued to be an unstoppable workhorse. He tallied his first season with over 2000 yards from scrimmage with 1301 yards rushing and 735 yards receiving, and scored a season high 12 touchdowns, earning himself another trip to the Pro-Bowl.
With the strike-shortened season of 1982, the Falcons managed an unimpressive 5-4 record and a first round elimination in the playoffs. Because of the loss of 7 games, Andrews only rushed for 573 yards. However, he still got a trip to the Pro-Bowl for his third consecutive year.
Andrews would have his best year in 1983. He rushed for an impressive 1567 yards, tallied 609 yards receiving, and scored 11 touchdowns. This would be his second season with over 2000 yards from scrimmage, making him only the second player in NFL history to have two seasons with 2000 yards from scrimmage (1st – O.J. Simpson). Andrews was named to multiple first team All-Pro lists and received a fourth consecutive trip to the Pro-Bowl to recognize his fantastic performance in the 1983 season. Unfortunately, the Falcons couldn’t capitalize on his stellar rushing, sporting a 7-9 record and a last place seat in the NFC West.
Expectations for Andrews were high coming into the 1984 season. He had the potential to set himself apart as one of the top backs in the league, but suffered a drastic knee injury in a pre-season workout. The bruising back worked hard to make a comeback, and eventually returned in the 1986 season. However, he couldn’t play at full strength and split his playing time between runningback and tight end, before ultimately retiring after the 1986 season.
Knee injuries seem to be the “career reaper” in the NFL, and unfortunately Andrews was no exception. If he could have come back from his injury at full strength or avoided his injury all together, he could have rushed his name right into Canton. Regardless, Falcons fans know the heart Andrews played with, and NFL defenders knew he was one of the toughest backs in the game from 1979 to 1983. Andrews retired with 5986 rushing yards for the Falcons, second only to Gerald Riggs. To commemorate his accomplishments, the Falcons retired Andrews’ number (31) and inducted him into the Ring of Honor.
Watch him run down the field and steam roll defenders here.
All stats are referenced from Pro-Football-Reference.