Through it all no member of that team handled himself with more class than Neal Anderson. "Charley Neal" as many of us referred to him never lost his infectious smile through the ordeal and never lost sight of what the mission of the players was… to win ballgames.
I sat down with Neal Sunday for my local radio show and we talked for close to an hour. What follows are excerpts of my conversation with one of Florida's all-time best players and best people.
LV: So what are you up to these days
NA: I kid with people and tell them my biggest job is being a dad. I've got three kids: my son T.C. is six years old, my daughter Camille is four and daughter Brianna is 13 months and that's my biggest thing and I absolutely love it. I'm at gymnastics two or three times a week with the other mothers and I'm coaching my son's baseball team and he was fortunate enough to make the all-star team so that's the main thing I'm doing. I'm involved in some businesses including a farm where we grow between three and four thousand acres of peanuts.
LV: Neal, the post-career life for athletes varies so greatly. You played your pro ball in Chicago but you came back here to raise your family. Does that make it easier to be a regular guy, a regular dad that you aren't still where you played as a pro?
NA: I think so. People here are familiar with me from my playing days at Florida but it's not like the pros. I think it helps me that I knew the end the day I was even drafted. I told them I was playing eight years if I was fortunate enough to last that long and that was it. And that made the media laugh because they had heard it before (Walter Payton said he'd only play five) but I finished my eighth season and that was it. I hung it up and never thought about it again.
Neal Anderson in his Chicago Bears days...
NA: Never thought about it again.
LV: That's amazing because you were still young, still productive, still healthy. It makes me wonder what was magical about eight years?
NA: Well back then contracts were pretty standard four years. The first one, obviously being a first round pick was pretty lucrative and after that I was fortunate to be the highest paid running back in the history of the game ---- at that time. My goal was to get through those two contracts if I was able to and get out of the game while I was still healthy. It was easy for me because while I loved to compete, I never absolutely loved playing football. I was blessed with talent to play it, so I played it all the way going back to high school. I know some guys who think about it all off-season and can't wait to get back out there. I didn't have those issues
LV: Talk to me about Charley Pell. What was your relationship with him like?
NA: I really liked him a lot, the type person he was. I like the type of person that's a straight shooter. I might not agree with him, or anyone, but you always know where you stood with that person and that I could respect. He let you know exactly what he thought at all times and it wasn't always positive. But to me it's gotta be fair. He could come down on me hard but if I'm busting my butt and doing my thing he never came down on me. I wasn't perfect by any means but he always knew I was working hard and giving it my best.
LV: What do you remember about Coach Pell?
NA: The thing about Coach Pell was you knew he was coaching football, but he also felt he was coaching people. One of the things I still take with me now is that I'm very punctual. And that was one of the first things I took from him was that nothing else would be accepted. He said it was "C.P." time and that meant Charley Pell time. If the bus was going to leave at three and he was on board ready to go at five till, you better be there because the bus was going to be pulling out.
LV: What was the home visit like during recruiting?
NA: It was something, but to be honest, it didn't compare with when Bear Bryant came. Graceville is in the panhandle but a lot of us call it "L.A." for Lower Alabama because it's so close to the Alabama line. To have Bear Bryant coming down my family went into debt. We didn't have a lot of money but we went out buying things so everything would look nice in the house. You hear about players getting things during recruiting … well we did it the opposite. We lost money while I was being recruited because my mom and dad wanted to make sure everything looked respectable.
LV: So you're fixing up the house for the biggest legend in the history of college football…. How the heck did you say no to him?
NA: It was tough because he came down a couple of times and they recruited me very heavily and they were very good at it. But in the end, Alabama had won so much … all those championships … I felt like if I went there and won, so what? The primary reason I came to the University of Florida was up to that point they had never won a Southeastern Conference Championship. My thought was I could be part of the first team to do that, and that was what pushed me over the edge to choose Florida. I had to call Bear Bryant and tell him, and it was tough.
LV: But you got that ring in 1984
NA: Still have it … actually my dad has it.
* **In part two, Neal talks about some former teammates and Coach Urban Meyer's outreach to former football players at UF.*: