Top 50 Falcons: No. 4, William Andrews/Warrick Dunn

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 4 is a tie between running backs William Andrews and Warrick Dunn.

Years played for Falcons: William Andrews was selected from Auburn in the 1979 NFL Draft, 79th overall, in the third round. Andrews played from 1979 to 1986 with Atlanta. It started at Thomasville High School in Andrews’ hometown. As a junior, he led the Bulldogs to a 13-0 record and a memorable Class AAA state championship win over Wheeler, 40-35. In his senior season, Thomasville faced Lakeside-DeKalb in the finals and won 26-20. Warrick Dunn was the 12th overall pick in the 1997 draft and played his first five seasons in Tampa Bay after starring at Florida State. Dunn signed with Atlanta in 2002 and played with the Falcons through the 2007 season before returning to Tampa in 2008. He retired a season later.

Jersey number: William Andrews wore 31, Warrick Dunn wore 28.

Their impact on the team: Andrews made his first of four straight Pro Bowl appearances in 1980. He joined an elite club of running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in his first three seasons, which included Otis Anderson, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell and John Brockington. His best season came in 1983 when his 1,567 rushing yards ranked second in the league. He also had 59 receptions for 609 yards and was named All-Pro for the fourth time. But in the preseason of 1984, he sustained a knee injury that included extensive nerve damage and it kept him out of action for two full seasons. Andrews was operated on by renowned Birmingham orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, the two becoming very close through his recovery. He came back for one last season in 1986, getting only 52 carries while also playing tight end before retiring. Andrews broke 19 Falcons team records and was just the second running back in NFL history to have two 2,000-yard (combined yards) seasons. The first was O.J. Simpson. In his first five seasons, Andrews had more total yards (8,382) than any other player in the league. He was inducted into the Falcons Ring of Honor in 2004, his No. 31 was retired by the team, and he also is in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1996). Andrews currently ranks third all-time in Falcons rushing yards with 5,986.

Warrick Dunn didn’t only enjoy his best seasons as a pro in Atlanta, but he also changed the franchise with his off-the-field contributions. Dunn established the Homes for the Holidays (HFTH) program in 1997 and started Warrick Dunn Charities (WDC) in 2002 as a way to grow programs and services. The HFTH program rewards single-parent families for reaching first-time homeownership. HFTH recipient families are chosen through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity affiliates and WDC with complete home furnishings and down-payment assistance.

Falcons running back Warrick Dunn gains ground against the 49ers on Nov. 4, 2007. CURTIS COMPTON / Staff

He received a Giant Steps Award in civic leadership from former President Bill Clinton for his program. In 2005, Dunn was presented with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dunn challenged all NFL players, except for those who play for the New Orleans Saints, to donate at least $5,000 to the effort. The effort resulted in over $5 million in contributions.

On the field, Dunn rushed for 1,000-plus yards in three straight seasons (2004-2006). In 2005 he was selected to his third and final Pro Bowl after rushing for a career-high 1,416 yards. Dunn ranks fourth all-time in Falcons rushing yards with 5,981.

On Andrews’ rookie season with the Falcons: “So I got my chance to be the main back and took advantage of it. I was so much more of a complete back when I got to the NFL. Also, we had some really good blocking when I was with the Falcons. I had a lot of big holes to run through.’’

On Andrews playing in the backfield with Gerald Riggs: “Gerald was a complete player — speed, power and good moves. We didn’t get out of the field very much together but when we did, it was pretty awesome.’’

On Andrews’ knee injury that eventually ended his career: “It was tough because there was a lot of nerve damage in the knee and it takes a long time for the nerve to grow back. I had a great doctor in Dr. Andrews and it was big just getting back on the field. But after 1986, the Falcons said I could stay and take a diminished role and I didn’t want that. I saw the handwriting on the wall so I retired.’’

Andrews on the current Falcons team: “They have gotten off to a great start and when they get a few more players to fill in a slot here and there, they are going to be really good. I really like Devonta Freeman. He reminds me of having the speed of Warrick Dunn and the brute strength of Gerald Riggs.’’

On what Andrews does these days: “I really enjoy time with all my grandkids. They keep me busy and I get a big kick out of telling them what I used to do and showing them old films. I am lucky.’’

Dunn on giving back to the community: “I always treat people the way I want to be treated and that is with respect. I have learned a lot from my experiences and want to give back to the community. I was helped by many at a very young age. I just don’t want to talk the talk. And these homes that we are helping single mothers with, it is not just the house, it’s helping rebuild their lives. I can look at these people and see the difference we are making. When I lost my mom that early, I knew what her dream was and that was to help put our family in a position where we would be successful long-term. I want that for a lot of families.”

Dunn on his legacy: “I am thankful I have had the platform to help advance the lives of individuals, but sometimes that is good and bad. People sort of recognize me as the philanthropist and not the football player. But I do want to be recognized on the field because I think I could argue I had a pretty good career and was one of the elite players at one time. I always had to prove that I could play at the highest level.’’

Where they are now: Along with his wife Gladys of 17 years, Andrews, 60, lives in Alpharetta. He has six children, five boys and one girl: Kevin, Michael, William Jr., Micah, daughter Khea and Justin. William Jr. played football at Gardner-Webb while Micah played at Wake Forest. Dunn, 40, continues his charitable work across the country. Via his nonprofit, Warrick Dunn Charities, Dunn recently provided his 147th home to a single mom.

The countdown to the Top 50 players in Falcons history runs through the end of the season.

Top 50 Falcons Countdown

50: Chuck Smith

49: Michael Haynes

48: Jonathan Babineaux

47: John Zook

46: Ken Reaves

45: Lynn Cain

44: Justin Blalock

43: Bobby Butler

42: Tim Mazzetti

41: Buddy Curry

40: Scott Case

39: Jeff Merrow

38: Elbert Shelley

37: Matt Bryant

36: Alge Crumpler

35: Michael Turner

34: Ray Buchanan

33: Chris Hinton

32: Terance Mathis

31: Devin Hester

30: Don Smith

29: Greg Brezina

28: Chris Miller

27: John James

26: Bob Whitfield

25: Rolland Lawrence

24: Alfred Jenkins

23: Billy Johnson

22: Chris Chandler

21: Morten Andersen

20: John Abraham

19: George Kunz

18: Jamal Anderson

17: Keith Brooking

16: R.C. Thielemann

15: Tony Gonzalez

14: Andre Rison

13: Julio Jones

12: Roddy White

11: Steve Bartkowski

10: Michael Vick

9: Bill Fralic

8: Gerald Riggs

7: Matt Ryan

6: Jesse Tuggle

5: Jeff Van Note

4: Warrick Dunn and William Andrews

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