Former Northwestern running back Damien Anderson will host an interactive Q&A session with fans at the Allstate Tailgate Tour before the Wildcats take on the Fighting Illini in the Allstate Wrigleyville Classic at Wrigley Field on Saturday, Nov. 20.
Anderson, who played for Northwestern from 1998 to 2001 and is the school’s all-time leading rusher, will be signing autographs and fielding fan questions from 1 – 2 p.m. at the Allstate Tailgate Tour, located at Wildcat Way at the intersection of Addison and Sheffield. The Allstate Tailgate Tour will be open from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Saturday.
On the eve of the big game, I had an exclusive with Anderson where we discussed all things college football, and the incredible journey that has been his life.
By Paul M. Banks
On his autograph session/Wildcat Alley on the 20th:
If you just want to come experience Wrigleyville in purple, it’ll be great to meet old Northwestern players. Given my transition to the NFL and my professional career, I haven’t had enough time to give back to Northwestern like I would really want to, so it’s a great opportunity for me to connect with the fans that supported us throughout my career there; as well as now with the new excitement that Pat Fitzgerald and Dan Persa have been bringing to the Northwestern family.
On the in-state rivalry with Illinois:
It means everything. When I was played it was the last game of the year and it can make or break your season. Whether it was for a bowl game, or finishing out your Big Ten season, or that push going into next year. They disrespected put flags in the middle of our field, and it was an atmosphere that we never wanted to feel again.
A majority to the guys on both sides are from Illinois, and now with this game being at Wrigley Field, everyone’s going to go: mothers, fathers, brothers, cousins, everyone’s going to be paying attention including the national media: people like yourself. So you know both teams are going to bring their “A game.”
On the hype and attention surrounding the Northwestern program and how that buzz can be sustained
I think you sustain the publicity with production. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has been somewhat of an unheralded hero. Since he took over he’s done nothing but win and beat some big time opponents. It comes down to this team being recognized and you gain respect by beating quality competition.
In the past it’s been a question of consistency, now they’re consistently doing it. Beating Iowa, Wisconsin. Now you have Gameday coming, all this attention. In order to continue the attention you talked about, you have to continue to be productive, and that’s winning ball games.
Anderson corresponds a lot with Zak Kustok, he’s very close with. We talked about the tragedy which recently struck the Kustok family, and about NU’s homage to the tenth anniversary of the 2000 title team. Which coincidentally occurred just days after the Anita Kustok murder:
Zak has a strong bond with his sister, and his wife has been exceptional throughout this experience, the tragedy of losing his mother and to have his father being held in court, questioned. But to have his extended family around him, it definitely allowed him some escape and we were there with a warm embrace.
And it was good to see him smile, knowing that he was going through a trying time. And we were just there for him. No one really talked about the incident.
We just told ’em that we loved him and if he needed anything, we’ll be there for him. And if ever needed anything, he can come out and hang out and chat. I think that’s what sports does, what football does, it allows you to escape, be there with your family. No matter the circumstance, because you’re always going to be loved and accepted.
On his recovery from a traumatic car crash in 2004:
I was in a 17 day coma, I fractured my eye socket, broke several ribs, went into a drug-induced coma because I was unable to breathe on my own. Yet I was still able to play that following year thanks to my wife, and my family. And as we mentioned before, similar to Zak Kustok’s tragedy, where everyone rallied behind him, the support was overwhelming, Coach Walker the Northwestern commuity, the NFL community provided that support to me, my wife, my family, and my son to help that transition back into life.
And sometimes when you’re dealing with adversity, you know who your friends and family are. And I can tell you what Paul, I had a lot of friends and family that cared about me so I will be forever indebted to them for being so supportive and allowing me to play football and to be a husband and a Dad, and a brother and a son again.
His NFL Career:
It flew by, was a great opportunity to play for the Arizona Cardinals. I had a great opportunity to play with Emmit Smith, one of my life-long heroes in how he played the game, how he conducted himself. I had an opporunity to start against the #1 defense down in Carolina and we won, and I had some instrumental plays in that win.
Having the opportunity to live my dream and knowing that I can play, getting the respect of my teammates as well as the National Football league, I didn’t take anything for granted and I was able to walk away from the game with a sense of closure because I knew that I had left it all on the field.
Post NFL life and Education:
I just took some time off re-evaluated what I wanted to do and then I started work as an analyst with Fox in Phoenix as well as part of the Arizona Cardinals broadcast teams, and I finish my MBA from the University of Phoenix in April. I also do some hosting on “Calling All Sports 1060 The Fan here in Arizona, I do a podcast on Sundays.
I’m enjoying every minute of it. I’m loving being around football and especially the fact that I don’ t have to get beat up. I get to see a majority of the NFL team that come in, and you still have to be a student of the game, understanding nuances and preparation. I still get a rush from being on tv, being on radio and knowing that people are listening knowing that you are to accountable for what you say.
The education of life experience:
I just want to reiterate the importance of school. Just like I told the players and my son, although you want to be a professional football player and although it’s your life now, football will one day end. However, learning will never stop, and always continue in that direction. Every little thing matters. Every degree matters.
I would have never imagined in a million years that having my MBA I would have that in common with the COO of the Arizona Cardinals, one Ron Mittiger and that would lead to conversation and networking. And although you will have opportunities through football, it is your knowledge and your learning that will keep you young and create opportunities for you. Football is a blessing for now, but education is forever.
For an exclusive with Darnell Autry go here.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
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