Born: March 7, 1965
Willie Lee Anderson Jr. was born March 7, 1965, in Paulsboro. He was an only child, but was raised primarily by his grandparents—along with nine other children. As a baby, his cry sounded like a dolphin’s call. As long as he can remember, he was called Flipper. Shy and soft-spoken, Flipper expressed himself best in athletic competition. He played sports with his young uncles and by the time he got to high school he was already one of the best athletes in town.
Flipper made the Paulsboro High varsity as a freshman. The star of the team was Kevin Ross, who would go on to become one of the NFL’s great pass defenders. The Red Raiders won the Colonial Conference championship that season, and repeated as champs in 1982 and 1983, Flipper’s junior and senior years. He was a high-flying fleet-footed receiver who also played defensive back, and filled in as a quarterback senior year. As a junior, he had caught 51 passes and had 7 interceptions on defense. Flipper also played basketball, ran track and competed in the high jump and long jump. He had a vertical leap over three feet.
Flipper was one of the most highly recruited prep athletes in the country. He essentially had his choice of schools, and visited Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Georgia. He decided to head west in the end, accepting a scholarship from UCLA. The receiver-rich Bruins red-shirted Flipper his first year, and he saw limited action in his second. Flipper got his chance to start as a sophomore when wideout Mike Sherrard was injured.
Flipper finished the 1985 season with 21 catches and played in the Rose Bowl. In 1986, he reeled in 36 passes for 675 yards. In 1987, he and Troy Aikman connected for over 900 yards, as Flipper caught 48 passes and scored 6 touchdowns. The Bruins beat Florida in the Aloha Bowl and finished the year in the Top 10.
Flipper entered the 1988 NFL Draft despite a wealth of world-class receivers. He was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the second round, after Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Irvin and Anthony Miller. The Rams featured an aggressive passing offense led by quarterback Jim Everett and wideout Henry Ellard. Flipper’s role was to stretch the field and catch the long ball. He averaged nearly 30 yards a catch in limited action as a rookie, and then led the NFL in yards per catch with 26.0 in 1989 and 21.5 in 1990.
In a 1989 game against the Saints in 1989, Flipper caught 15 passes for 336 yards to set a new NFL record. In the playoffs that year, the Rams defeated the Eagles in the Wild Card game, and then defeated the Giants in overtime. Flipper caught a pair of TD passes in that game, including the game-winner. After catching a 30-yard pass in the end zone he kept on running into the tunnel and into the locker room.
Flipper played seven years for the Rams and caught 259 passes for 5,246 yards and 26 touchdowns. He finished his career as a bench player for the Colts, Redskins and Broncos and retired after the 1997 season. Later, he focused his attention on his son, Dres, who followed in his footsteps as a highly recruited receiver at Riverside High School in California. However, Dres chose Utah over UCLA. His nickname is—what else?—Little Flipper.