DENVER (AP) -- Reflecting on a season replete with unforeseen accomplishments, Mike Anderson admitted he never expected to be Rookie of the Year. Neither, apparently, did many of the opposing defenses who failed to stop him.
The Denver Broncos running back, who went to training camp with a goal of merely making the team and playing on special teams, vaulted from third-string to starter because of injuries and finished his rookie season with 1,500 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
On Monday, Anderson's remarkable odyssey culminated in his selection as The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL, Anderson received 40 votes. Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis got 10.
"I'm kind of speechless," Anderson said. "This award, it just sums up what kind of season it has been."
Quick to credit his line and the rest of the Broncos' offense, Anderson added, "It's a team thing. We did this together. When you're racking up those yards, you can't do it by yourself. It takes 11 guys to move the ball."
Anderson's 1,500 yards, which ranked fourth in the NFL this season, represented the fifth-best performance ever by an NFL rookie. Against one of the league's best defenses on Dec. 3, Anderson ripped New Orleans for 251 yards rushing -- an NFL rookie record and the fourth-best single-game performance in league history.
He quit his high school football team during preseason drills his freshman year after a coach tried to convert him into an offensive lineman. Instead, he played drums and marched in the band in Fairfield, S.C.
After graduation, he spent four years in the Marines, where he took up football again. Then came two years of junior college and two years at Utah. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards all four seasons.
A sixth-round draft choice, Anderson trailed Terrell Davis, a 2,008-yard rusher in 1998, and Olandis Gary, a 1,159-yard rusher in 1999, on the Broncos' depth chart.
"Just making the team was a realistic goal," Anderson said.
When both Davis and Gary went down with injuries, Anderson started the second game of the season and promptly rushed for 131 yards and two TDs against Atlanta. The following week he had 187 yards against Oakland. Later, he ripped Seattle for 195 and 131 yards in a three-week span, sandwiching his record-setting effort against the Saints.
"I really didn't believe I could win this award," Anderson said. "I was going against some great competition, against guys who were much better known than I was. They were being talked about before the draft and I wasn't even really mentioned. It goes to show if you just dedicate yourself to something and you put a lot of hard work into it, it pays off in the end."
Anderson is the first Broncos player to win the award. Last year's winner was Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James. St. Louis' Marshall Faulk, Tennessee's Eddie George and the New York Jets' Curtis Martin also have won it.
"That's great company," Anderson said. "You're talking about some of the best backs in the game. To be listed in the same breath with them, I couldn't ask for anything more."
The postseason was much kinder to Lewis, who rushed for 110 yards on 30 carries Sunday as Baltimore beat Denver 21-3. Anderson was held to 40 yards on 15 carries. But the rookie voting covers only the regular season.
Lewis had a major knee injury in 1998 at Tennessee, but the Ravens made him the first rookie taken in the draft, fifth overall, 184 spots ahead of Anderson. After a slow start, Lewis came on strong, running for a Baltimore single-season record 1,364 yards in 13 starts.
"There were things we saw in Jamal that I guess the rest of the world is now seeing: his size, his speed, his power, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
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