Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another in the Long Line of Anderson Championships

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
Part of our "Minnesota Wrecking Crew" Series
Championships come in many forms.  But you normally wouldn't think of the College Football National Championship when you think of Anderson family championships.

Mid-Atlantic and Georgia tag team titles? Certainly. NWA world tag team championships? Most definitely. But a college football national championship?

Yes, indeed.

Add the 2015-2016 National College Football Playoff title to the long and storied list of Anderson family championships.

Gene Anderson
Pro-wrestling legend Gene Anderson, head of the famous Anderson wrestling family and founder of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 52 -- way too young -- and several years before his son Brad's three boys would be born. 

He would have been proud of all of his grandson's various accomplishments in school and athletics, but he would have been extremely proud of one particular recent accomplishment.

Blaine Anderson, the oldest son of Gene's only son Brad Anderson, was a high school football standout at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC. After graduation, he left home to attend college at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and probably felt his football days were behind him.

But his desire to play football, a sport he truly loved, continued to gnaw at him. And so Blaine Anderson worked up the courage to do something most would never have the guts to even consider: walk-on at one of the top college football programs in the nation, a team that has its pick of the best high school players in the country. What were the odds, one might reasonably ask. The Alabama Crimson Tide is arguably one of the two or three most storied programs in all of college football history.

Blaine tried out his sophomore year. "The day before school started I found out I didn’t make the final roster," he told Rick Bonnell in the Charlotte Observer. But Blaine's's ability and determination had apparently caught the eye of someone in the program. "My junior summer I was told they wanted me back if I still wanted to come back."

He did, and this time Blaine made the team.

"It took a lot of willpower not to quit with all the running and conditioning," he told the Charlotte Observer. Yet he persevered.

His contributions as a defensive back were mainly on the scout team. But anyone in football will tell you what a critical role those on the scout team play in a team's preparation for their next opponent, especially when your team is gunning for a national championship. Blaine did so well in that role, he dressed for four of Alabama's home games in his senior year, as well as the two college football national championship playoff games against Michigan State and Clemson. Members of the scout team don't always get to dress for games. So it was a particular honor to be chosen to dress for the two games in the National Championship play-off.

Blaine's resolve and hard work earned him further recognition from his coaches and teammates. It even earned him a championship belt. And as you know, championship belts are something very familiar to Andersons. 

Blaine won the "Ball Out" award three times in training camp, a special team award given to the outstanding defensive player of the week. That recognition went along with a custom championship belt he would hold until the next time it was awarded.

Championship belts. Anderson tradition.

Blaine's high school friends and teammates back home in Charlotte were happy to read about him in the hometown newspaper the week leading up to the National Championship playoff game between Clemson and Alabama.

But many of those friends were not aware he had a famous grandfather in professional wrestling, a grandfather that established a wrestling dynasty, and a grandfather Blaine never got to meet. But Blaine knew of the stories of Gene and Ole Anderson, their tag team championships, and the legendary history of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew.

Blaine's father Brad, himself once a pro-wrestler, instilled in him such a degree of pride in the Anderson wrestling tradition that Blaine had the image of his grandfather's wrestling boots tattooed on his left shoulder. And not just any boots. These were the famous maroon-and-gold striped boots that were a trademark of the Anderson tag-team. All the Andersons -- Gene, Lars, Ole, Arn,  - - were famous for wearing those boots.

Anderson boots. Anderson tradition. 

On Monday night, January 11, 2016, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide squared off against the Tigers of Clemson University with college football's top prize at stake.

One fall. Sixty minute time limit.

Alabama prevailed in a tough battle and hoisted the national championship trophy, its fourth national title in 7 years.

"I can't begin to describe how proud and excited I am," Blaine's father Brad wrote me recently in a hand-written letter. "My Dad would be beside himself. He never missed any of my sports games, and definitely would be screaming from the mountain top that his grandson was a national champion." 

And now with a national championship ring on his finger, the third generation of the Anderson family had just added one more championship to the Anderson family trophy case.

Roll Tide. 

Blaine Anderson (41) of the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide
(Screen capture from the ESPN broadcast.)
Blaine Anderson (middle) with his brothers Forrest and Carter. 
The New Wrecking Crew?