Steelers' Mr. Automatic Doesn't Blame Bills' For Releasing Him

PITTSBURGH - He's the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, hasn't missed a field goal in five exhibition or regular-season games this season and last missed a chip-shot attempt . . . oh, let's see, about four years ago.

What Rick Barry was to free-throw shooting, Gary Anderson of the Steelers is to field-goal kicking. He's a statistical anomaly, an athlete so accurate and so proficient that he rewrites the standards by which his profession is judged with each swift kick of his right leg.

"We call him Mr. Automatic," Rod Woodson said.

Of all the kickers in NFL history - Jan Stenerud, George Blanda, Jim Turner, Garo Yepremian, Lou Groza - only one, the Chiefs' Nick Lowery (.790), has been more accurate than Anderson (.775). And inside the 35, where kickers are expected to be nearly perfect, Anderson has been even better.

Considering how many things can go wrong - bad snap, missed block, poor hold, a slip on wet turf - Anderson's string of 52 successful attempts inside the 35 is one of pro football's more remarkable statistics. He hasn't missed since Sept. 20, 1987, a span of 63 games over five seasons.

"I'd even say that's kind of amazing," Anderson said. "That's not one mess-up in 50-some attempts. That's a lot of good blocking and good snapping and good holding. When those guys do their jobs, I expect to make those."

What's intriguing is he could have been making them for the Buffalo Bills.

He is 13 for 13 in 1991, including all nine of his exhibition attempts, and was 4 for 4 in last Sunday's 26-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers despite kicking with a pulled back muscle.

Think a few Bills executives haven't kicked themselves for releasing Anderson in September 1982?

Anderson has never blamed the Bills for waiving him - he missed all five of his field-goal attempts that summer - or for giving him the chance to kick for the Steelers.

But last January, as he and millions of fans watched Scott Norwood's 47-yard field-goal attempt sail wide right to let the Giants beat the Bills in the Super Bowl, Anderson found himself wondering: What if Buffalo hadn't cut me? Would I have made it?

"I've thought about it, was conscious of it," Anderson said. "I was drafted by the Bills and Buffalo's a good team. With a field goal they could have won the Super Bowl . . . everybody knows that."

Interestingly, the Steelers cut the Giants' kicker, Matt Bahr, in 1981 to keep Dave Trout, only to waive him a year later when Anderson became available.

Still, Anderson will have no thoughts of revenge, no intentions of proving himself again to the Bills when the Steelers play in Buffalo today.

"That was a long time ago," Anderson said. "I wasn't very good when I was there. I've never blamed them. I've been happy in Pittsburgh and it's worked out well for me."

The Steelers were three years removed from their last Super Bowl when they signed Anderson the week of their 1982 season opener, and they've often seemed eons removed since.

Anderson has kicked in just three playoff games in the 10 seasons he's been in Pittsburgh, so his success might have escaped the attention of the casual fan. But not Coach Chuck Noll.

Anderson's been so good for so long, the Steelers haven't bothered taking another kicker to training camp for several years. And Noll acknowledged that if Anderson's injury hadn't allowed him to kick Sunday, he had no replacement.

"I would have asked, `Anybody ever kicked before?' and asked for a show of hands," Noll said. "With some, there's no back up. They have to be iron men."

Or at least have an iron leg.