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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma football hero Jerry Anderson honored by hometown

by Berry Tramel Published: August 1, 2014
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The street sign for Jerry Anderson Drive in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo provided)
The street sign for Jerry Anderson Drive in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo provided)

Barry Switzer called Friday morning. He had just heard some interesting news. Not big news, really, in the grand scheme of things. But interesting. Dear to Switzer’s heart.

Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Friday named a city street after Jerry Anderson, its hometown hero. And Anderson was a hero in every sense of the word.

Anderson, a big-hitting cornerback on Switzer’s 1975 national title team, drowned in 1989, trying to save two boys who had fallen into the rain-swollen Stones River. “He gave his life in that roaring flood,” Switzer said.

"SOONER SANDWICH---Kansas running back Laverne Smith, dark jersey, is sandwiched between Oklahoma's Duane Baccus, bottom, Zac Henderson (19), Obie Moore (57) and Jerry Anderson (17), who are on top of Smith during Saturday's game at Lawrence.  Oklahoma beat Kansas 28-10.
   Staff photo via AP taken 10/16/76; photo ran in the 10/18/76 Oklahoma City Times.
File:  Football/OU/OU-Kansas/Zac Henderson/1976
"SOONER SANDWICH---Kansas running back Laverne Smith, dark jersey, is sandwiched between Oklahoma's Duane Baccus, bottom, Zac Henderson (19), Obie Moore (57) and Jerry Anderson (17), who are on top of Smith during Saturday's game at Lawrence. Oklahoma beat Kansas 28-10. Staff photo via AP taken 10/16/76; photo ran in the 10/18/76 Oklahoma City Times. File: Football/OU/OU-Kansas/Zac Henderson/1976

The Murfreesboro City Council voted May 15 to rename a street in Anderson’s honor. The ceremony took place Friday afternoon, with Anderson’s family and friends.

“Jerry Anderson was a hero on the field of football, but more importantly he was a hero in the bigger game of life,” said mayor Shane McFarland. “As citizens of Murfreesboro, we honor his heroism and should be proud that someone who demonstrated true courage in action called this city his hometown.”

Anderson graduated from Murfreesboro Central High School. After his OU days, Anderson played in the NFL for the Buccaneers and the Bengals.

On May 27, 1989, Anderson took two young boys finishing. Two other boys also fishing nearby fell into the water while attempting to cross a dam spanning the river. Anderson jumped into the river trying to save them; he helped the boys to shore but succumbed to the river himself.

Councilman Ron Washington told the Daily News Journal that Anderson, three or four years his senior, became his mentor: “A lot of us didn’t have dads, so he was kind of like a brother, uncle and dad for us … taught us some resolve, how to be men, things your mother couldn’t teach you. Those are the kinds of role models we need in the community today. I was devastated when he died, inconsolable. And I wasn’t alone.”

Washington said that when Anderson would return to Murfreesboro in the summers or after football season, “He came back and sought you out, made sure you were during what you were supposed to do and encouraged you to make something of yourself.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

In 1990, the NAACP began to celebrate the Jerry Anderson Hero/Humanitarian Award. Mary Wade, who has served as part of the nomination committee for several years, told the Daily News Journal said she knew Anderson well: “He was an easy-going kid growing up and a great athlete. He’d promised those boys he’d take them fishing and he heard then hollering for help. He was a great swimmer, so he was comfortable around water. It wasn’t anything for him to jump in and try to help them.”

The Daily News Journal said that just as Anderson rescued the two boys, he went underwater two or three times and never resurfaced. Rescue workers pulled him from the river and transported him to a hospital, where Anderson was pronounced dead.

“Jerry was a hero,” Wade said. “We’ve always tried to give the awards to someone who’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. Maybe they didn’t physically save someone’s life, but they’ve done something to help make another person’s life better. That’s the type of person Jerry was.”

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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