Col Blaik called Bob out of the barracks two nights before the Navy game and took him for a walk. Col Blaik told young Anderson he would be the key player against Navy. ”I was ready to run through a wall,” said Bob, who turned out to be the hero in a victory.
As a yearling, Bob eclipsed the old Army rushing record by rushing for 983 yards in a nine-game season. The following year, the media guide revealed that Tommy Bell, ’55 had gained more yards in a season, but it had been heretofore unreported. That diminished Bob’s status not in the least, as he is one of the greatest players in Army football history.
Comparing rushers today with Bob’s accomplishments is unfair for several reasons. One, Army only played nine games in a year. Two, there were not as many plays run in a game as there are today, because the clock was not stopped for first downs, and most college teams ran the ball more than they passed, thereby eating up the clock. Also, this was in the days before John McKay at USC decided to have his best back (O.J. Simpson) carry the ball on every play. Bob had to share running duties with other halfbacks, fullbacks, and even quarterbacks on option plays. Of course, players then were only permitted to play three years instead of four. And, there was one more thing. The Army offense then was designed to move only between the tackles. Carrying the ball a limited number of times in nine games and running in heavy traffic puts some perspective on Bob’s achievements.
Bob had some offers for baseball college scholarships. As a pitcher for Cocoa High School, Cocoa, FL he was an All-State baseball selection. His baseball accomplishments pale by comparison to his football feats. His older brother John attended Georgia Tech, and made sure the coaches knew about Bob. But they already knew about him. As a high school All-State, All-Southeastern, and All-American football player, every coach in America knew about Bob. On his official visit to Georgia Tech, Bob didn’t have to sleep in a dorm. No, he was the guest of the dean, and stayed at the dean’s home. Bob gave a verbal commitment to Georgia Tech. Then, the call came from Army, through a friend of the brother of Army’s head recruiter -“Gordon ‘Slim’ Chalmers”. Bob’s family wasn’t poor, but they weren’t rich either, and Bob considered the benefit to them if he went to Army and they didn’t have to pay for any of his education. He called Coach Bobby Dodd at Georgia Tech.
Coach Dodd was already a legend, and known for his class. He told Bob that if it was any other school than a service academy, he would hold him to his agreement, but since it was Army, he wished Bob the best of luck, and told him if he didn’t make it at Army, he was always welcome at Tech.
Bob played in the outfield for the Army baseball team, and even pitched a few games. He was a good baseball player, but it was in football that he would become a legend.
Bob was fast-very fast. And, he was cute, i.e. he could dodge and juke and swerve and cut with the best of them. He had that football player’s instinct that makes one react to the position and balance of defenders and use that information to instinctively chart his own course. But in the offense of Coach Earl Blaik, Bob’s role as a power runner running between the tackles was enormous. Bob just ran over people, and if he ran over a few and burst into the open, nobody could catch him. In the 1957 Army-Notre Dame game, Army returned the kickoff to the Army 16. Pete Dawkins gained three yards to the 19. Bob Anderson then took a pitch from Joe Caldwell running right on a sweep. The defensive end charged straight upfield to contain the sweep, and fullback “Vince Barta” took him outside. Bob cut inside the end, juked the safety, and roared 81 yards for a touchdown. As a yearling Bob was a consensus All-American.
In Bob’s 2nd Class or Cow Year, Army was undefeated. COL Blaik’s new pro-style offense opened things up and Army dominated most opponents. One of the big reasons for Army’s success was the play of Bob Anderson who lined up behind Army’s All American Bob Novogratz. Bob did it all. He shared the punting duties, exhibited efficient and sometimes vicious defensive play, blocked for the other halfback and fullback by piling the end, tackle, and linebacker up in the middle, caught passes, threw passes, returned kicks, and carried the ball with the power and skill for which he was known. He was the leading rusher on this undefeated team, and the other halfback Pete Dawkins won the Heisman Trophy. Pete would be the first person to tell you that Bob was a big reason for his success. Bob was a consensus All-American for the second straight year.
After the spring practice and before the players departed for summer training and leave, the coaches sent out letters to each player telling them what they needed to work on during the summer, like stance, blocking, receiving, etc. In spite of Bob’s success and undeniable ability, the coaches knew he had one glaring weakness. They told him he passed the ball poorly with his left-hand. (Bob is right-handed). The coaches knew you can’t improve on perfection, and they had a sense of humor about it. On summer leave, Bob hung a tire from a clothesline, and practiced running to his left and passing left-handed. He didn’t develop his skill to any great extent, but got so he could deliver the ball with accuracy at ten yards or so. On the first day of practice, Bob asked Joe Caldwell to pitch him the ball running left, and he told end “Don Usry” to run a ten yard out pattern. Having completed the only left-handed pass of his career, Bob returned to the huddle, and asked “Tom Harp”, offensive backfield coach, “How’s my left-handed passing now?”
Following Army’s successful 1958 campaign, a preseason ranking of number two was widely publicized. Illinois, in our second game, scored early with an offense previously unseen. But Army came back after being down 14-0. Bob fielded a punt, and started up the field. Illinois’ great linebacker, Bill Burrell, zeroed in on Bob, and Bob set him up. With the balance of Burrell to his left, Bob could easily cut back to his left and beat the tackle. When Bob set his foot, something bad happened in his right knee and he was unable to cut. He took a hard hit, but the damage had been done before the hit. Bob played the rest of the game, but it was his injury that cost Army the game. Late in the contest, trying to receive a punt, Bob suddenly collapsed when his knee locked, and the ball inadvertently hit him. Illinois recovered and won the game, 20-14.
The diagnosis on Bob’s knee was a torn cartilage (medial meniscus), and the treatment at that time was an open surgery that was season-ending. The alternative was just running on it and grinding it up. Bob elected the latter. He missed just one game, Penn State, but was back again for Duke, where he was instrumental in the win with his solid all-round play.
Bob finished the year playing with incredible pain and injuries that would sideline most players. But he was more than effective even though he was hurt. Deprived of a third All-American berth, Bob nonetheless played in the North-South Shrine game in Miami with his teammates Joe Caldwell and Bill Carpenter – Army’s Lonely End. He returned to West Point for a knee operation, and then a second before graduation.
If you were going to build a great running back from scratch, you might want to start with Bob Anderson. He was 6’2″, 220 lbs., with a bull neck, big shoulders, slim hips, and powerful legs. Those slightly bowed legs meant the boy could run.
In the autumn of 1960, Bob was preparing to start Ranger school at Ft. Benning, when he met a sergeant who was a member of the cadre, and they made a bet on the World Series. When Bill Mazerowski hit a home run for the Pirates, Bob was out ten bucks. The following day, during testing to see who would be admitted to Ranger school, the same sergeant demonstrated the dodge, run and jump, and did it within the qualifying time. He then asked Bob if he wanted to get his money back. Answering in the affirmative, the sergeant said, “Then, beat my time”. Bob dodged the first obstacles and leaped over the six foot ditch to the obstacles on the other side. When his right foot hit the ground at the end of his leap, his right knee collapsed, and he was through for the day. Told by the Ranger School Commandant that he would have to join the next class, Bob said if he couldn’t go through the class with his classmates, he would forget about Ranger School. The Commandant offered a deal. Just successfully complete the mile run the next day, and he could proceed to ranger training with his class. Running at the back of the formation, Bob completed the run in spite of the pain, then passed the rigorous training and got his Ranger tab.
In the summer of 1962, Bob was with his Rifle Company from Ft. Campbell, helping to train cadets at Camp Buckner. The Commandant of Cadets, BG Richard Stilwell approached Bob and asked him how his knee was doing. Bob told him it wasn’t doing very well, although he had been to the docs at Ft. Campbell six times and they could find no problem. That afternoon, Bob got a call from General Stilwell’s aide who said that Bob had an appointment at the West Point hospital as soon as he could get there. Diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), Gen. Stilwell had Bob reassigned to West Point. Bob had been jumping out of airplanes, training in the field and functioning well as a junior officer for two years with a torn ACL Following the surgery, Bob was assigned to the football team under Coach Paul Dietzel, helping to coach, and doing his rehab along the way.
On one occasion, Dietzel sent Bob to a high school in Haverstraw to speak. Also speaking was Frank Gifford. Gifford asked Bob if he was interested in playing for the New York Giants. Bob had not heard from the Giants since graduation three years before. Receiving a call from the Giant’s owner, Wellington Mara, they planned to meet at the Giant’s office after Bob’s duty on Saturday. Bob and Mara were the only ones there, and Bob expressed his doubts about playing, because he had been out of the game for almost four years, and had had three knee operations since he last played. Also, Bob didn’t know if he could get out of the Army, and he was expecting orders for an airborne brigade in Germany any day. After a crude and comical negotiation, Bob signed a one year, no-cut contract for more than six times his Army pay. Mara assured Bob that the contract would be torn up if Bob’s resignation was not accepted, but it was accepted and Bob was a New York Giant.
Training camp went well for Bob, and he scored a touchdown in an exhibition game against the Rams. Still, he wasn’t getting as much playing time as he had hoped. Then, he read in the newspaper that the Giants had traded for Hugh McElhenie, an aging former great running back. That night after practice, Coach Allie Sherman met with Bob and assured him that he was still “their guy”. Relieved by Sherman’s assurance, Bob practiced hard all week and was released at the end of it. He was no longer a Giant. His years away from football and his knee problems had been too much to overcome.
Some players show flash and savagery that makes them stand out in the crowd. But that was not Bob. Bob simply did everything well. He carried the ball better than anyone else, he blocked everyone he was supposed to block (and some others, too), he punted well, passed well, caught passes well, and excelled at returning kicks. When Army decided to add a quick kick to their arsenal, there was no doubt who would do it. Bob practiced taking the direct snap, but the plan was never called for. On defense, he tackled with certainty at every opportunity, and no one caught any passes in his territory. He just did his job better than anyone else. Every time.
Above all else, Bob was (and is) a nice guy. He was helpful to all the young players, never criticized a teammate, and was friendly, modest, and self-effacing. And boy, could he play football.
By Tom Culver ’62 a Team mate
as depicted by sport’s cartoonists
News articles posted by Russ “Skip” Grimm – Class of ’76