May 16 marks Donny Anderson’s 74th birthday. Few players have come into the league with more fanfare than Donny Anderson, one of the “Gold Dust Twins” with fellow first round pick Jim Grabowski, in 1966. In the last year of separate NFL and AFL drafts, the two “twins” signed three-year rookie contracts that were valued at $1-million combined, and they were seen as the soon-to-be-heirs of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor in the Green Bay backfield. Anderson, the “Golden Palomino” out of Texas Tech was slated to replace Packer “Golden Boy” Hornung, and Donny’s $600,000 contract emphasized his predicament. No one was going to replace the celebrated Hornung, and Anderson’s huge contract just made the differences between the two blonde playboys more obvious.
What was missed and caused Anderson to be an underrated Packer is that, like Hornung, Anderson was an outstanding all-around football player. Neither he nor Hornung ever came close to a 1,000-yard season, but Donny did gain over 750 yards on three occasions, while Paul never did. Anderson also was a decent blocker, but Hornung was a fearsome one. Both were excellent receivers whose average yards-per-catch was in double figures. In fact, the Packers often considered shifting Anderson to receiver. Both halfbacks added to their team value with their feet, but Hornung’s placekicking put points on the scoreboard, while Anderson’s booming, high hang-time punts were less noticeable to a game’s outcome. The point is that, even though Anderson did not quite have Hornung’s Hall of Fame career, he was a damn fine winning ballplayer.
The 6’2” 215 pound Anderson played little as a rookie except as a return man, but saw more action from the middle of 1967 on after Elijah Pitts got hurt. Anderson, of course, was outstanding in the final drive in the Ice Bowl, catching three passes and running four times in that historic drive. Furthermore, anyone looking at the film will conclude that Donny actually scored the winning touchdown on a second down run from the three with about a minute to play, but the referee inexplicably marked the ball at the one, despite taking the ball from Anderson as he lay in the end zone. Not quite as dramatic as Starr’s sneak with 16 seconds to play, but a heroic moment nonetheless. Lombardi famously told him after the game, “Today, you became a man.” He followed that by scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl II victory over Oakland.
Anderson was named to the Pro Bowl for the 1968 season when he led the team with 761 yards rushing and caught 25 passes for 333 more yards. Coach Phil Bengtson tried to get more playing time for halfbacks Travis Williams and Dave Hampton in 1969, and Anderson’s numbers dwindled, but he again led the team in rushing in 1970 with 853 yards. Under new coach Dan Devine in 1971, Anderson teamed with rookie John Brockington for close to 2,000 rushing yards, but was traded to St. Louis for MacArthur Lane in the offseason. Lane was similar in size and style to Brockington, and the pair led a pounding two-fullback attack in 1972, but Lane tailed off appreciably after that.
Anderson played three years in St. Louis and then went to training camp with the Dolphins in 1975, but retired when he realized he no longer had the speed to get outside. Donny deserves his due as a very good football player on championship teams.
(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)
College All-Star custom card is colorized.