ATLANTA — He comes out of the mean streets of Vallejo’s Country Club Crest, comes off the unemployment couch and off the scrap heap, running ever so mean to another Super Bowl Sunday not even he could possibly have imagined.
If Todd Gurley is the scatback, C.J. Anderson is the fatback, and now the Rams send this two-headed monster into the teeth of Bill Belichick’s Patriots defense and try to keep Tom Brady on the sidelines for as long as possible.
Anderson was cut in November by the Panthers, then lasted six days with the Raiders, then was summoned by Sean McVay and somehow showed up resembling a sawed-off Jim Brown, showed up remembering he was once a Pro Bowl back at a desperate time when Gurley (knee) was hobbled.
“He still looks hungry to me,” John Beam was saying over the phone. “I think that extra weight is probably helping him run even more physical, right? … C. J. likes his sweets now. It’s one of those things that he’s gonna always have to deal with, right? He’s not that tall. But again, does it look like it’s slowing him down playing? So maybe he needs to be a bigger back, right? Pair him with Gurley, it’s a better combination maybe with him being bigger like this.”
Beam was Anderson’s coach at Laney College, his academic pit stop before Cal.
“He’s running way more physical than I ever remember him running here, and I think it’s all that aggression, that energy, like, ‘You ain’t taking this from me again, right?’ ” Beam said. “I think he’s trying to prove to everybody he belongs in the NFL.”
Anderson is a 5-foot-8, 225-pound-or-more clenched fist with bad intentions. His first three games as a Ram: 20-167-1 TD rushing against the Cardinals, 23-132-1 TD against the 49ers, 22-132-2 TDs against the Cowboys.
“We were walking in at halftime of the Arizona game and I said to him, I go, ‘How on earth were you available?’ ” center John Sullivan said. “Because you get a guy Week 16 like that, you think, ‘OK, he must be injured, or something must be going on.’ Clearly, it was just a matter of circumstances, and as a player it’s always been insane to me ’cause C.J. would make every single team in the NFL better. And somehow he was on the street Week 16. Why somebody didn’t have him on the roster already is beyond me.”
Anderson isn’t interested in playing the part of The Little Engine That Could Again in any public forum, or revealing much of himself.
Ask him what his emotions were when the Raiders discarded him, and he says: “No emotion at all. Just keep pushing. Keep moving forward.”
Ask him if it bothered him, and he says:
“Nah. You don’t know how I grew up, dawg. You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
Ask him to tell you what he’s been through, and he says:
“Nah, not in front of these people. If you want to know, you can come down to Vallejo, California, whenever you feel like it. We can have a talk at Momo’s Cafe.”
Asked how growing up where he did — drugs and violence everywhere — shaped him, and he says: “Tough.”
Asked to elaborate, and he says: “Look up the definition of tough. You’ll have your answer.”
Or you can just watch the tape.
“Obviously he’s not the top-end speed guy,” Sullivan said. “When he gets in the open field, he’s not necessarily gonna break an 80-yard touchdown run, although he definitely has that ability if the circumstances are right. But he’s an efficient runner. He’s gonna hit the holes where he’s supposed to hit ’em, read things out the right way, he’s gonna fall forward, he’s gonna TRUCK people, which we’ve been seeing this entire time. You’ll see it early in games, he’ll go out of his way to run somebody over, and people don’t want that. Defenders have to bear the brunt of that.”
Gurley is supposedly ready to rumble, but Anderson, who lasted five years in Denver as an undrafted free agent, won’t retreat to the sidelines without a fight.
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“It’s not like basketball where [Kevin] Durant and [Steph] Curry and Klay [Thompson] can all get 15, 20 shots a game,” he said. “You gotta take advantage of your opportunity when you see fit.”
He rushed for 72 yards in the Broncos’ 2015 AFC Championship win over the Patriots, and 90 yards in their Super Bowl 50 victory over the Panthers. He was a bit player in the Broncos’ Super Bowl XLVIII loss to the Seahawks.
“This is my eighth time playing ’em and I think you always have an edge whenever you play a team multiple times,” Anderson said. “But one thing about the Patriots, they change a lot of things up.”
The Broncos precipitated his nomad football life when they released him last April. “Stability is always fun,” Anderson said. “Staying on one team is just what the goal is. You watch the Kobe Bryants, and even Tom Brady, who’s gonna retire with one team, that’s a goal that you have. Obviously things change. LeBron changed teams.”
Anderson, 27, has a foundation that encourages young C.J. Andersons the way his mother and grandmother encouraged him growing up. All of them are expert bowlers. “Maybe not a lot of material things, but a lot of the love that you get from a mom and grandmother,” Beam said.
The name of the foundation: Dreams Never Die.