Sunday, August 8, 2004

He's a man of great size - and wisdom

Q&A with Willie Anderson: Lineman gives insight into how he has become the Bengals' guiding force

By Mark Curnutte
Enquirer staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Willie Anderson is the senior Bengal player who has not played for another team.

A first-round draft pick from Auburn in 1996, Anderson - who turned 29 on July 11 - has started 64 consecutive games, earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2003 after two consecutive years as an alternate.

He wears the biggest shoe in franchise history, 19-EEE, and has a heart and wisdom to match: He was the team's NFL Man of the Year nominee from 2000-02 because of his far-reaching charitable activities.

Between a practice and a meeting, Anderson sat for an interview for 30 minutes Friday at the team's Georgetown College training camp.

Name: Willie Anderson

Height: 6 feet 5   Weight: 338

College: Auburn   Age: 29

Experience: Entering his ninth season. Anderson has played in 126 games.

Notable: Anderson has 64 straight starts the past four seasons and made the Pro Bowl last season.

Quotable: "Being so big, you've got to always look good, because there is so much more of you to see."

Question: How would you describe your on-field role with the Bengals?

Answer: On the field, they kind of look at me, for the last four or five years, to be kind of the emotional leader of the offense - if you can have one on offense.

On defense, I think, you have a couple of guys who can be that. On offense, they want me to be a guy who gets the morale going without getting in the quarterback's way.

Q: What is your relationship like with coach Marvin Lewis?

A: I think it's good. It's a real good business relationship. He kind of came to me before he even knew me, that if he got guys like me and Rich Braham on board, other guys would follow.

I look at myself as a guy who can reach every group on the team. I hang out with the defensive linemen. I kid around with the defensive backs. My voice is kind of in each group. I get to know all the guys.

Q: If you weren't a professional football player, what would you be doing now?

A: I'd probably be running a business. The funny thing is, by being a professional football player, the money I've made has allowed me to do different things in business.

It was always in my mindset to be involved in a business and be in some form of humanitarian work with kids.

Q: When you look into the eyes of a poor kid, what do you see?

A: I kind of see what he's thinking. I remember being young and not having anything. I remember wishing somebody with some money would come by, like kids do, and hope he'd give me something. Then I wished he would tell me how they got where they are.

Q: Have you ever been scared on a football field?

A: I've been nervous a lot. I was scared once, my third year, against Reggie White. I knew he was the only guy I was going to face who was stronger than me.

I prayed the whole game that, "Lord, I know I'm not a preacher, I know I don't do things probably as good as Reggie does them, I know I'm doomed, but please help me." I did a good job on Reggie. He didn't get a sack.

Q: What's the best part about being such a big man physically and weighing 338 pounds?

A: Growing up as a kid, it was bad. You had no examples of anybody who was big and successful. Now everybody wants to be Shaq. Everybody wants to be 7-feet tall. Offensive linemen are now the third-highest paid group in football. Kids made fun of kids who played offensive line because you weren't the one with the ball.

Q: What's the hardest thing about being so large?

A: People are scared of big dudes because they don't know them. If you're out and don't have a smile on your face, you hear, "Oh, man, he looks like he's going to kill someone." People think we're monsters sometimes. Even dealing with females, if I'm not smiling out there, people think I'm crazy and scary.

Being so big, you've got to always look good because there's more of you to see.

Q: How big were you in eighth grade?

A: 6-4, 260, 13 years old.

Q: What's the source of your wisdom?

A: Mistakes, man, a lot of mistakes. The reason I talk to Levi (Jones) so much is I didn't have anyone to teach me about life, business and even women. People come into your life, and I came into the league as a 20-year-old man with a bunch of money, and you make mistakes. You become successful when you learn from your mistakes.

Q: Who is the best role model you had or have in real life?

A: My stepfather, he's dead, his name was Thomas Steele. He was born in 1923 and died in 1995. Just the tough love he gave to me, I didn't see it until I was older.

"Pull your pants up, you're too big to be looking sloppy."

He worked for Alabama Power Company for 42 years, eight months. So he could fix or build anything. I was the opposite. He was a man with a fourth-grade education, so he could sign his name and count his money. He could do anything.

I saw him come out of surgery on his leg. He was a diabetic. He was as tough as nails. Whatever had to be done to support his family, if he had to get on a roof, he did.

Q: How many people in your family?

A: Older brother, older sister, I had an older sister; she was seven years older than me who got killed. Then there's my younger sister.

Q: What happened to your sister?

A: She was killed in a go-cart accident when she was like 17 or 18.

Q: How did that affect you?

A: A lot, man. I was the first one in the family to see her body. That's around the same time I started stuttering; that's the time I started keeping to myself and imagining stuff. She was the person, my mother worked two or three jobs, she was the one who whipped me and disciplined me. She was the one who took care for me. To see her dead lying in the street, I was the first one to see her. It was tough on me.

I gave her my go-cart to ride because she was on me all day to let her ride it. My friend took me home on his go-cart. And the minute we got home, five of my friends came around the corner, telling me that a car hit her.

Q: What was her name?

A: Jackie, Jackie Anderson.

Q: At the gates of heaven, what are you going to tell St. Peter to let you in?

A: St. Peter. No (laugh) I'm going to tell God and Jesus that just to look at my life. That's something I always worry about. You don't get into heaven by what you say or believe. You have to be accountable for something.

God's going to ask me, "What have you done to please me?" And, hopefully, I've led a life - I'm not a perfect man - but I try to do things that please him and honor him. I know the more things I do in that fashion, in football, in my businesses, I don't think I can fail because my goal is to honor him with my time, my money, my work, my faith.

Q: After eight years in the NFL, has it grown old?

A: It's just getting better now. The only thing I regret is the season we had. People think I went to the Pro Bowl and got a big head. It's kind of embarrassing now to only have one because it's a team victory that gets you there.

Q: How much longer do you want to play?

A: Another eight, nine years.

Q: Do you want to stay with the Bengals?

A: I don't know. That's a good question, and it's coming up pretty soon.

Q: Will you be in a Bengals uniform in a Super Bowl?

A: I envision that. I ask myself why in the world did I stay here in 2000, but something kept edging me on. It was, "You're going to have to go through hell before you see the light."

Q: With the turnover on the roster, which former teammate do you miss most?

A: Takeo (Spikes). That's easy. You could probably ask a lot of guys, Brian Simmons for one, it's Takeo.

Q: Have you spoken to Corey Dillon?

A: No, but hopefully I will. I know Corey's pretty (mad) at me right now. I said what I said for the good of the team. When the Bengals needed to talk to Corey, they sent me to talk to Corey.

Like I said, though, when you see guys crying in the locker room (after the season finale in 2003) with surgically repaired legs and arms and (having) just fought to win one game, it hurt. And he's out there throwing his equipment in the stands. The other new veterans weren't in a position to say anything. It fell on me.

Q: Finish this sentence: The best thing about being a Bengal is?

A: This turnaround we're having. It's going to be huge for the city.

Q: If you could have dinner with one person in history, living or dead, who would that person be?

A: Jesus. I would ask him to take me back and show me my family. I would ask him to show me my life again. I know he could do it, show me the whole history of my family.

Q: How does a wealthy man stay interested in playing football and still want to reach people who are less fortunate?

A: I mad a pact with God when I was dirt poor that, if I ever made it, "this is going to be yours." I truly believe that's the reason I've been successful in football and my businesses. What's mine is his. God uses those who provide a source for his people.

Q: What was the Pro Bowl like?

A: As far as me, going to that Pro Bowl, opened up my eyes. I remember standing in that tunnel, and the three Patriots were introduced together. They just won the championship. And Ray Lewis started shaking his head and said, "There's no feeling like that."

Q: Is there something about you, despite your celebrity and how much people know about you, what about you would surprise them?

A: That I daydream a lot. I put myself in other people's shoes a lot, probably too much. I daydream that I'm totally somebody else.

Q: Who are you in your daydreams?

A: I don't really know; it's characteristics of people. It's having the integrity of some people. It's having the public speaking ability of some people. It's not being shy.

One of my favorite movies is the movie where Brad Pitt gets switched around. Fight Club. The guy, Ed Norton, you thought Brad Pitt was his friend, but come the end of the movie you found out Brad Pitt was his imagination. And he had thought up all this stuff about Brad Pitt. And Brad Pitt was who he wanted to be, wanted to talk like, everything. Everything you saw Brad Pitt doing was Ed Norton doing thinking he was Brad Pitt. Crazy, man. I just saw it for the first time this year. I loved it. I watch it over and over.

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