William Andrews was at the top of his game when the Falcons hit training camp in 1984. In 1983, he had passed the 2,000 yards from scrimmage milestone for the second time in his career. Also, the punishing running back had only missed one game in his five-year career. Then, 12 days before the start of the season, Andrews took the ball around end and during the play, felt his left ankle roll and his knee give out.
He had suffered a Joe Theismann’s leg, Willis McGahee’s knee, Danny Amendola’s elbow, cringe-worthy injury that brought his season, and the possibility of being remembered as one of the all-time great running backs to an end. The injury was so horrific that the practice film taken that day was destroyed. Every ligament in his knee was destroyed and there was extensive nerve damage.
Andrews was selected by the Falcons in the third round of the 1979 NFL Draft, after 15 other running backs had been taken. By the time the 1979 season started though, where he had been taken was forgotten. In his first NFL game against the New Orleans Saints, Andrews carried the ball 30 times for 167 yards and one touchdown.
He finished his rookie season with 239 carries for 1,023 yards and three touchdowns. Andrews also added two more touchdowns through the air.
In 1980, Andrews made the first of four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances after rushing 265 times for 1,308 yards. He added 51 catches for 456 yards to that total for 1,764 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns. In 1981, he led the NFL with 2,036 yards from scrimmage with 12 total touchdowns.
At that point in his career, most defensive players had discovered that taking on Andrews one-on-one was not a desirable place to be. If you doubt it ask Steve Wilson of the Denver Broncos or Ronnie Lott of the San Francisco 49ers. Lott still says Andrews delivered the hardest hit that he ever experienced.
Andrews attempted a comeback in 1986 but he wasn’t the same player. He could only manage 52 carries for 214 yards and five catches for 35 yards. He retired after the season.
Andrews was inducted into the Falcons’ Ring of Honor in 2004 and is one of only four Falcons players to have his number retired, No. 31. That proves that for five seasons, William Andrews was one of the greatest running backs Atlanta has ever seen.