During the 1984 NFL preseason, Atlanta Falcons running back William Andrews was on top of the world.
In his five seasons with the Falcons after being drafted in 1979 out of Auburn University, Andrews had reached four Pro Bowls, helped guide the team to the NFC West title and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each season — except the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.
Then it all came crashing down with a knee injury in that preseason. He missed the next two seasons before attempting a comeback in 1986. He retired at the end of that season.
However, in his brief time with the Falcons, he became a fan favorite and area supporters of the state’s NFL franchise had a chance to see Andrews up close on Thursday. Along with a pair of current Falcons cheerleaders, Andrews took part in a mid-day autograph and photo session at Home Depot in Dalton.
Fans brought old trading cards, pictures of Andrews in action and one fan even brought a picture of his wife and Andrews at a formal dinner for season ticket holders in 1980. Loy Phelps, who married his wife Elizabeth in 2007, said she has been a lifelong season ticket holder and Phelps has been a longtime fan.
“It brings back a lot of good memories to see him again,” said Loy Phelps, who was on the field in the end zone for player introductions this past Sunday night’s game.
For Andrews, seeing fans like Phelps and the dozens who came out for the session warms his heart to know that he had an impact.
“Talking with fans at things like this, I think the biggest this is that it is nice to be remembered and to be remembered for more than just football,” he said. “It surprises me that people keep the things they do from their youth or just as fans. It is heartfelt recognition for me that they would remember these things and bring them.”
Lynette McKinney, who coordinated the event for the Falcons, said this was the eighth trip to Home Depot locations outside of Atlanta for fan events. Falcons owner Arthur Blank co-founded Home Depot before retiring from that business in 2001, but the company is still a major sponsor of the Falcons.
“It is probably something we will be doing more frequently because of the success of the events,” she said. “We want to be available to all of our fans.”
Andrews was accompanied by cheerleaders Rie and Ariel. For security reasons, NFL teams do not release the full names of their cheerleaders. The pair said they do more than 20 fan events throughout the season.
“It is fun and it is good to see people excited about the Falcons and see them one-on-one at events like this,” Ariel said.
Andrews remembers those times with the Falcons for the support and the fan interest generated for a franchise that lacked much success before the 1980s.
“We were a team that was going places,” Andrews said. “We figured out that we could play well together and gave the fans something to look forward to. We were serious about what we did.”
Now, Andrews said most of his time is involved with being a grandfather.
“Life is good,” he said. “I think I have some athletes coming up in the second generation, and I love being with my grandchildren.”