It's hard to say with any certainty what the exact criteria for an NFL player to be deemed "Hall of Fame" worthy. Currently, there are so many players both in and out of Canton that it's hard to make sense or logic on the voting. Every summer before the NFL season commences, we seem to have the same discussion about a former Bengals great. As we've made it known many times before, we believe that former quarterback Ken Anderson is a player whose bust should be in the Hall and he has recently been relying on the Senior Committee to find his way in.
There have been many arguments for and against Anderson going into the Hall of Fame, with voters like Sports Illustrated's Peter King claiming that he belongs in the "Hall of Very Good". Still, there are some media members in Anderson's corner, making the case that he should have been enshrined long ago. Jason Lisk at Big Lead Sports is one of them.
Lisk (via Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com) uses the compelling argument of Anderson not playing with many Pro Bowlers on the squad. Check out these stats that Lisk throws out for our digestion:
But what of those teammates? Here is a quick comparison of Ken Anderson’s career versus every current Hall of Famer that started at least eight seasons since the merger. It shows the average number of other offensive pro bowlers on the roster each year, and then the league-adjusted passer rating score for that quarterback’s career. (those league adjusted numbers are on a scale where 100 is league average, and a higher number is better).
Anderson played with fewer pro bowlers per year than any of them, but still was in the middle of the Hall of Fame group in career passing efficiency. The other twelve averaged 2.4 offensive pro bowl teammates for their career, exactly double Anderson.
Even though Anderson did play with Pro Bowlers Bob Trumpy, Isaac Curtis, Cris Collinsworth and the Bengals' lone Hall of Fame player at this point, Anthony Munoz, there still wasn't an overwhelming amount of consistent talent for Anderson to work with. Throw in the fact that Anderson's era was a run-dominated period in the NFL and Anderson didn't have a great back to lean on like many others in his era.
The case for Anderson in the Hall is one where someone would have to really look hard at numbers and maybe even take an unconventional approach to compare Anderson against many other great quarterbacks who are in Canton. For instance:
Every time I look at historical passing numbers, Anderson figures prominently and continually serves as a reminder that narrative can sometimes be wrong. For example, one of my colleagues at Pro Football Reference, Neil Paine, whipped up a measure of best seasons by reverse-engineering Football Outsiders’ "Yards Above Replacement" to old individual box scores, and then ranking quarterbacks by their six best seasons.
No. 1 on the list? Kenneth Allan Anderson, just ahead of Johnny Unitas. While you may think that is crazy, I think it should also cause you to re-evaluate Ken Anderson. The interesting thing is this: Ken Anderson was selected as league MVP once, in 1981, the year that Cincinnati went to the Super Bowl. That actually shows up as his fourth highest-rated season. Don’t worry, though, Anderson would take his 1981 season over any other as well.
The problem is that Anderson was vastly under appreciated and should have won multiple MVP awards. 1982 was third on the list, when Anderson set the completion percentage record only recently surpassed by Drew Brees. In the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield moment, a kicker was selected MVP in the strike-shortened season. Dan Fouts probably should have been the MVP, and Anderson was right there as well, but a kicker? One of the most bizarre decisions in the history of sports awards.
Ahead of those two seasons, though, were two earlier ones in 1974 and 1975 where Anderson was snubbed by being selected for only one pro bowl, and in not winning a clear MVP award. If the veteran’s committee wants to give an honest look at Anderson’s career, they need to re-assess that 1975 season. For seasons since 1960, it ranks only behind Bert Jones in 1976, Dan Marino in 1984, Peyton Manning in 2004, Tom Brady in 2007, Ken Stabler in 1976, and Dan Fouts in 1982. All of those others were selected as MVP except Stabler (and he was correctly behind Jones that year).
A lot to digest here, but you get the point. Lisk also continues with an interesting point when comparing Anderson to Fran Tarkenton. The bottom line is that many other quarterbacks had much more help than Anderson. That's not to say that the Bengals team that took the field with him wasn't a talented bunch, but many former teammates of Anderson have rushed to his side claiming that he was the big reason for the team's success during his tenure.
In a time where so much consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame relies upon Championships, it's that balck mark that has kept the gates closed for Anderson's entry. Yet when Lisk and others stack Anderson up against other quarterbacks in Canton who haven't won a Championship, i.e. Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, etc., he stacks up right there in many season and career statistics. So, the question remains if Anderson is being jobbed out of the Hall or are we just wearing orange and black-colored glasses?
For those of you who weren't privileged enough to be able to witness Anderson's greatness in the 1970s and 1980s, I'll end on this nugget from NFL legends Paul Brown and Bill Walsh on their thoughts on Anderson:
Paul Brown, one of the legends of this game, told others after he first saw Anderson, "He’s our whole future. He’s out there throwing the football right now. Go out there, and see for yourself." Bill Walsh, who developed the incorrectly named West Coast offense in Cincinnati, and later used practice videos of Anderson’s technique to teach all of his future quarterbacks, said that "Kenny was perfect, the way I see it. Before it’s over, Kenny will be on top."