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Stopped In Mid-stride
Rick Telander
May 19, 1986
Felled by an ominous knee injury, Atlanta running back William Andrews is attempting a comeback after missing two seasons
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May 19, 1986

Stopped In Mid-stride

Felled by an ominous knee injury, Atlanta running back William Andrews is attempting a comeback after missing two seasons

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But it was O.K. with Andrews. He had never chased fame. "I don't fit into the star role," he says. "After surgery I was relaxed, because I knew what was wrong and what I could do to get better."

It was harder for Lydia. She bought needlework for herself and William to work on to pass time together. Some of their efforts—depictions of shells, a boat, a lighthouse—hang in their bedroom now. Sometimes at night Lydia would stare at her husband. One night she just started crying. Andrews consoled her. "I'll get better," he said. "I promise."

Andrews himself spent hours staring at his left foot and comparing it with his right. "I would look at my toes and say, 'Move.' And my toes would say, 'You're crazy. We can't.' "

"One day he came in and told me, 'Look, my toes are wiggling,' " says Garrett. "And it was very sad for me to tell him, 'No, they aren't.' "

Before Christmas that year Andrews and teammate Billy (White Shoes) Johnson took a group of kids they were sponsoring at a halfway house for battered children to a local mall and bought them presents. Johnson had just had knee surgery, too, and the two players cut strange figures with their long white casts and crutches. When they returned to the halfway house they found that some of the other children had been stood up by their sponsors. Andrews and Johnson went back to the mall with this new group and bought them presents, too. Not long after that Andrews got his own present—his left little toe moved.

Since that time he has shown steady improvement. By last fall his knee joint was fairly sound, and his thigh and calf muscles were almost back to normal strength. At the end of the '85 season he even ran practice plays with the team, a brace stabilizing his knee.

But he had to cut back on his jogging this spring—his weight has been up as much as 15 pounds—because of fluid buildup in the joint. "If they have to drain it every week, hey, fine," he says.

Last summer Garrett said, "Think of the nerve cables as a whole series of TV sets. Right now half are plugged in, and half are not. William's going to need the vast majority plugged in before he can play again." Most are plugged in now, Garrett notes, but if Andrews comes back he will have missed two entire NFL seasons because of one injury. No NFL running back has ever come back after doing that.

When the Falcons' minicamp opened last weekend, it was still uncertain whether the real William Andrews would ever be seen again. His knee began to swell on Sunday, the second day of drills, and he was forced to miss the afternoon workout.

Hurdles are everywhere. Garrett sighs, "Now you're seeing the effect of not playing for so long, as well as age [Andrews turned 30 last December]. Plus, there's a new kid on the block."

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