The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Week burst on the NFL scene 30 years ago with two great performances to start his career and spent five seasons as an elite runner before a devastating injury ended his career.
The Atlanta Falcons found one of the gems of the 1979 NFL Draft when they selected William Andrews in the third round of the draft out of Auburn University.
In his NFL debut, Andrews rushed for 167 yards to lead the Falcons to a 40-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The following week, he rushed for 121 yards as Andrews and St. Louis Cardinals rookie Ottis Anderson became the first rookies in NFL history to start their careers with consecutive 100-yard games.
Andrews went on to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with 1,023 yards in 15 games.
The following season, Andrews was a key component as the Falcons registered a 12-4 record and won the NFC West. He earned the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances while rushing for 1,308 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
In 1981, Andrews gained 1,301 yards and added a career-high 10 rushing touchdowns. A multi-purpose threat, Andrews ranked fourth in the NFL with 81 receptions for 735 yards. His 2,036 yards from scrimmage led the NFL.
Only the player’s strike of 1982 kept Andrews from continuing his streak of 1,000-yard seasons. In nine games, Andrews rushed for 573 yards and caught 42 passes for 503 yards.
The 1983 season proved to be the finest of his career as Andrews was second in the NFL with 1,567 yards rushing. He also caught 59 passes for 609 yards. Overall, he finished second in the NFL with 2,176 yards from scrimmage.
Just when it looked like Andrews had reached his peak and would solidify a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame over the next several seasons, he suffered a serious knee injury in the 1984 preseason and missed the next two seasons.
When he returned in 1986, Andrews was only a shell of his former self and carried the ball only 52 times for 214 yards in 15 games.
He retired after the 1986 season with 5,986 rushing yards and an average of 4.6 yards per carry. At the time of his retirement, Andrews ranked 24th in NFL history in rushing yards. He still ranks 69th all-time on the NFL rushing list despite gaining most of his yards in just five seasons.
In recognition of his great career in Atlanta, the Falcons retired his number 31.
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