Kelvin Anderson remembers his first days with the Calgary Stampeders, back in the spring of 1996.
He remembers walking into an impressive huddle, a rookie from South Bend, Indiana, that played his college football at Southeast Missouri State University. He’d spent two or three weeks in 1995 practicing with the Birmingham Barracudas and didn’t like what saw, so he packed his bags, got in his truck and drove away.
Calgary was different.
There was Jeff Garcia at quarterback. Allen Pitts and Terry Vaughn pulling in Garcia’s passes. Anderson saw players on offence, defence and special teams. This, he thought, was big. These players were great. So he had to be, too.
“I knew I was good. I knew I could play the game. I just needed the opportunity. I wasn’t shocked at that part,” Anderson says.
“I was shocked at the other talent that was around me that was so good. I was shocked at Allen Pitts, Dave Sapunjis and Terry Vaughn making plays and I was in the huddle with Garcia. I looked at these guys and said ‘These guys could play ball, so you’ve got to step it up and let them know that you belong in this huddle.’”
A five-foot-eight running back taking the handoff from Garcia, Anderson showed that he belonged in the CFL. He was a key part of a 13-win team that year, rushing for 1,068 yards and running away with the rookie of the year award.
Twenty-one years later, on the verge of entering the Canadian Football Hall of Fame with a rushing record that still stands in the CFL, it’s that huddle, that team and that year that stand out to Anderson.
“Being in that huddle that I was in, with probably two or three hall of famers that were on that roster at the time and for me to continue making plays, playing alongside them,” he says, “that was a great accomplishment for me.”
It was far from his only accomplishment. Anderson rushed for 1,000-plus yards in eight consecutive seasons; something that hasn’t been done since he retired after the 2003 season. He won Grey Cups with the Stamps in 1998 and 2001, and was a three-time CFL all-star. In his eight-year career, he only missed two games.
He credits his durability to getting wiser with age.
“A lot of luck and knowing when to fall,” he says.
“When I came to this game I never was a guy that ran out of bounds or fell to the ground. You had to literally take me down. But as you play the game (you learn) that it’s not about that. The extra yard is not that important. You want to live to play the next game and so you have to learn how to fall and to sometimes just run out of bounds.
“Through college and high school I never ran out of bounds. I always took them head-on. When you get paid to do this you have to live to fight the next day. It took a lot of luck but it also took hard work too. I pride myself on the shape I was in.”
Now Anderson has one more big accomplishment. He’s going into the Hall of Fame.
“It was unbelievable to me,” he says of his induction. “I was just playing football, I wasn’t playing to get into the Hall of Fame. I guess my hard work paid off. It’s a great achievement.”
It’s also an achievement he’s a little uncomfortable talking about. On the field, Anderson let his gold tooth and his play provide all of the respective flash and talk about him. He struggled to put into words what he thinks his selection says about him.
“I just played. I just love the game. I don’t do a lot of talking,” he says. “I let the play speak for itself. I’m not the guy to walk around bragging and boasting. I never did that, never will.”