PITTSBURGH -- Jamal Anderson was walking through the front door at the Island Sports Center hockey rink, a seemingly out-of-the-way destination for the former star NFL running back, when an alert fan spotted him.
"Hey, Dirty Bird, what’s going on?" the fan said, referring to the nickname of the signature celebratory dance Anderson performed while playing for the Atlanta Falcons.
"My son’s here playing hockey," Anderson said. "This is a great hockey town, and we didn’t want to pass up this opportunity."
This isn’t an ordinary youth tournament that Anderson’s son, Dexter, is participating in this weekend in Pittsburgh, either. Dexter is playing for Team Utah in the USA Hockey America’s Showcase, a premier event involving 22 teams from across the country that runs through Sunday.
A few hours after Dexter’s team played Arizona on Friday, some team members -- as well as Jamal Anderson -- landed tickets to the Lightning-Penguins NHL playoff game at Consol Energy Center.
The Dirty Bird and the Penguins? Seems like a perfect match.
Anderson, once the NFL record holder for most carries in a season, became interested in hockey shortly after Dexter, who grew up in Utah, began skating at age 5. Dad learned how to skate so he could take part in father-son skating and hockey events.
"Dexter’s mom and grandma loved to be on the ice, and his uncle played hockey, so he wanted to get out and skate," Anderson said. "When he got out there, he moved around pretty good, so he naturally wanted to play hockey. He’s competitive as all get out."
Dad is, too. So rather than pulling on shoulder pads, Anderson, who once was a standout baseball player, regularly puts on hockey gear to skate with his son and help advance his hockey career.
And a 40-second shift in one of those father-son games? Anderson said they’re much harder than carrying three or four times in a row during a drive in an NFL game.
"The only equivalent to hockey would be one time where I carried three times in a row against the Dolphins, the last one for 40 yards," said Anderson, who is 38. "I was hoping they’d call a pass play so I could catch my breath. Let me tell you, hockey is tough. Hockey’s no joke."
Anderson, a former player at Utah, carried a then-record 410 times for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns during the 1998 season, when the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. He ran for 96 yards in that game.
The former Pro Bowl back played eight seasons for the Falcons, running for 5,336 yards, catching 156 passes for 1,645 yards and scoring 41 touchdowns. He career ended when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in 2001. He now splits his time between residences in Atlanta and Utah, and regularly makes various TV appearances as a football analyst.