'Golden Palomino': Donny Anderson

The year was 1965. Tensions ran high as AFL and NFL negotiators dueled feverishly for the best players in college football. The big prize that year was a blonde-haired, ruggedly handsome country boy from Stinnett, Texas — a 6-foot-2, 215-pound running back named Garry Don (Donny) Anderson.<p>

Anderson was regarded at the time as the best all-around player to ever come out of the Southwest. In three years at Texas Tech, Donny racked up 2,280 yards rushing, 1,327 yards receiving and 28 touchdowns. He was also an outstanding punter (a 68 yarder in 1963 set a Southwest conference record) and dangerous kick returner.

In a classic tug-of-war, the Packers and the Houston Oilers each drafted him number one as a "future" pick in 1964 as league rules of the day allowed. The Oilers dangled big money — more than Green Bay — and a chance to play in his native Texas. But Anderson focused on more than money.

"I wanted to play for the best team and I thought the Packers were certainly the best team," Anderson recalled recently. "They were the World Champions and, even though I was a Texan, I felt that my chances of being a better football player — I made this quote then (that it would be) ‘like playing for the New York Yankees.'"

Anderson played out his senior year, leading the Red Raiders to the Gator Bowl and being named Southwest Conference Back-of-the-Year for the second straight time. He led the conference in scoring (102 points), ranked first in kickoff returns (541 yards in 22 returns), and tied for first in pass receptions (60 for 797 yards and 7 touchdowns). Still, many an eyebrow was raised when the Packers plunked down $650,000 in bonus money for Anderson and another $350,000 bonus for their other first round pick, fullback Jim Grabowski of Illinois.

As the "Gold Dust Twins" in the '66 training camp, Anderson and Grabowski could have been exposed to a lot of pressure to replace the legendary Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor. But Vince Lombardi would not allow that to happen.

"When Coach Lombardi brought us in, he sat us down and made the statement that we were on the team, not to allow a bunch of pressure within ourselves," says Anderson. "He said, 'Don't worry about it. Just learn to play pro football.' He sheltered us a lot."

By 1967, Taylor was off to New Orleans and Hornung retired. To this day, Anderson and Grabowski wish they could have played more as rookies. "We both felt we should have played a lot more than we did in our rookie year. I think it would have helped me fit into the system. We turn the page and there was Grabo, me and Elijah Pitts. Basically, that was it and two of us didn't have a lot of experience."

Still, a smile races across Anderson's face as he recalls living and playing in Green Bay. "I was raised on a ranch as a kid in west Texas so I wasn't around the big city," he says. "Wearing the green and gold, and the Packer fans — playing in Green Bay, knowing the people and them knowing you — I can't imagine having a better atmosphere for a professional athlete. We were the World Champions and Lombardi taught us to be proud and handle ourselves proud and we did. It made it a very special time in my life."

October, 1966. On a sunny afternoon against the Falcons in Milwaukee, Anderson had his 'coming out' party. With Hornung out because of a neck injury, Anderson scored two touchdowns, first on a 5-yard run and then with a 77-yard punt return. The expansion Falcons never had a chance, as the Packers administered a 56-3 whipping.

Later that year, Anderson became part of Super Bowl folk lore by running over the Chiefs' loquacious Fred Williamson (a.k.a. "The Hammer") and knocking him out cold in Super Bowl I. "He (Williamson) doesn't like to reminisce the Kansas City-Green Bay game," Anderson chuckles. "Freddy knows when he sees me. He made a big deal before that game that he was going to knock Dowler and Dale out and he was going to walk away with the Super Bowl. But that's the way things happen."

Lombardi's impact on Anderson was lasting, genuine. "He was a very serious, very high integrity man," Anderson said. "The thing that stands out with me more than anything else was 'make no mistakes. We will win because we are in better shape in the fourth quarter and we will not make mistakes.'"

Perhaps the defining moment in Anderson's Packer career occurred in the 1967 NFL title tilt with the Cowboys, the Ice Bowl. Ridiculous, freezing weather. Fourth quarter. Down 17-14 with only minutes left. Anderson made three clutch catches to keep the Green Bay's drive to destiny alive. With just 54 ticks left on the clock, Anderson lunged to a first down at the goal line. He remembers the next play all too well.

"A lot of people don't realize — and it's not important — but on first down I actually scored. I was across the goal line. And Vince said, as we watched the films, 'Well, son, it looks like they might have taken one away from you.' (Cowboy linebacker) Lee Roy Jordan knew I scored because the ball was laying across the goal line. Vince did put his arm around me and said, 'You know, son, today you became a man', which was a really nice way that Vince did things. He didn't give you a lot of compliments but when he did they were strong."

When Lombardi quit coaching, Anderson stayed for three disappointing seasons under Phil Bengtson and one under Dan Devine. Devine ended up trading Anderson to the St. Louis Cardinals which was the low point in Donny's career.

"Unfortunately, Dan Devine made a decision that he didn't like the way I played football. I was a fixture in Green Bay. Sure, I would have loved to have finished my career there." After three seasons with the Cards, Anderson retired.

These days, Anderson lives in Dallas where he runs a telecommunications company and also plays a lot of golf on the Celebrity Tour to raise millions of dollars for a variety of children's charities. He's also co-authored a book entitled "Winners For Life", a goal-setting book for teenagers. The book is so popular, it is now in its fifth printing and has spawned the Winners For Life Foundation. Corporations pay to distribute the book to needy kids.

Ask Donny Anderson how he'd like Packer fans to remember him and he responds slowly, thoughtfully. "I played every game as a Packer. If I look back, I think that's one of my prouder moments - that I suited up and I gave everything I had, whether I was hurt with broken ribs, fingers, knee problems and all kinds of things. But I suited up and I played. I'll have lot more memories of Green Bay than the people there will probably have of me."

Editor's note: This story was published in the March, 2001, issue of Packer Report.

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