What A Catch! Flipper Makes Colts Debut Tonight

In 1995, when the internet was young, I was a sports reporter for WRTV-TV in Indianapolis, Indiana and covered the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. In addition to my normal TV duties, I was also putting regular team news and updates online in a rudimentary website, what you’d recognize today as a blog. Those files survive, and I’m reproducing them here from time to time for posterity.

When did turning 30 qualify you to be a wise old man?

For Willie “Flipper” Anderson, it happened March 7, when he left his twenties and his Los Angeles address behind and signed a five-year, $8.5 million free agent contract with the Colts after seven years with the Rams.

Think youngsters like Aaron Bailey (23),Sean Dawkins (24),and Brian Stablein (25),can learn something from a guy with 259 career NFL catches?

“Yeah, because he has all those years, and I’m just a young kid still,” said Dawkins with a grin.

“I’m not a big talker,” said Anderson after a recent practice, “but I try to lead through example. I think I’m teaching (the young players) a lot of things, and they don’t believe I’m 30, but I am.”

“I gotta be honest with you,” said QB Craig Erickson. “When I first came to camp, and I was looking over the roster, I thought I had heard Flipper Anderson’s name when I was in high school, and I think I did.”

“The guy can still run,” said Erickson, who graduated from Cardinal Newman High in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1987.”He is a great player, and it’s a tribute to what he does: he takes care of himself, on and off the field, and when you do that, you can play in this league a long time.”

Anderson has played in this league since 1988, when the Rams made him a second-round draft pick. He only caught 11 passes as a rookie, but his yards-per-catch average was an eye-popping 29.0. It was the beginning of a trend that has made Anderson one of the best long-ball receivers in NFL history. His 20.25 career average ranks third all-time. Is there a secret?

“Just getting an offensive coordinator to call the right plays,” Anderson admits. “Getting the deep balls called for you, and coming down with them. A lot of guys can go down there and run, but a lot of them can’t come down with it.”

Anderson can do both. The man who received the nickname “Flipper” from a babysitter who thought his infant cries sounded like a Dolphin’s squawks is as fast on land as his namesake is in the sea.

“I don’t know if they’re surprised,” said Anderson of teammates who weren’t aware he was still a speedster. “They haven’t seen me as much as the other guys, (playing) on the west coast, but I’m pretty confident in my speed, and I think I still have the speed to get by anybody.”

Put third-year cornerback Ashley Ambrose in that group. In his first practice, Anderson blew by Ambrose in a one-on-one drill, leaving the youngster to marvel,” Man, you got some WHEELS!”

“He hasn’t lost a step at all,” Ambrose said after that practice. “If he was any faster than that (before), he was blazing.”

Now, Anderson will try to blaze a trail through AFC East secondaries, with the Colts hoping to follow his lead to the playoffs. Tonight against the Bengals, though, he’s just looking forward to showing Colt fans that life can begin at 30.

“I can’t wait to go out there and see the fans,” said Anderson.” and give them a good show.”

NFL CAREER LEADERS: YARDS PER CATCH

(Minimum 200 receptions)

AveragePlayerTeam(s)YearsRec.-Yds
22.26Homer JonesNYG, CLE1964-1970224-4,986
20.83Buddy DialPIT, DAL1959-1966261-5,436
20.25FLIPPER ANDERSONRAMS1988-present259-5,246
20.24Harlon HillCHI, PIT, DET1954-1962233-4,717
20.06Paul WarfieldCLE, MIA1964-1977427-8,565

2024 Update: Anderson caught eight passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns in two games in 1995 before blowing out his knee in the season’s second game. He was released at the start of training camp in 1996, and spent some time with Washington and Denver, but never caught another pass in the NFL. He left the game with a career average per catch of 20.1, tied with Paul Warfield for fourth-best all-time.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

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