It has been 31 years since Ken Anderson retired from the NFL. 35 years since the last of his four Pro Bowl appearances. 36 years since he led the Bengals to their first AFC Championship and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, offensive player of the year, and comeback player of the year. 42 years since he led the league in passing yards for two consecutive years. 46 years since he began a career that saw him throw 4,475 passes for 2,654 completions, 32,838 yards, 197 touchdowns, only 160 interceptions, and set numerous Bengals passing records, 31 of which still stand today.
But, Anderson never won a Super Bowl, which is the top reason many believe—including himself—why he has still not been enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Then again, there are plenty of great quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame who never won a Super Bowl. Guys like Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Fran Tarkenton, and Warren Moon are the kind of company that he keeps both in terms of comparable stats and lack of Super Bowl success in their playing careers. Why, then, are those four in the Hall and Anderson is not?
“I don’t know,” Anderson said on SB Nation Radio’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast when asked why he’s still awaiting enshrinement. “I guess because we didn’t win the Super Bowl. I’ve heard a lot of people say that; that had we won the game against San Francisco (Super Bowl XVI) maybe my chances would have been a lot better. Other than that, I don’t know.”
Anderson did offer some other possibilities; ones we know about all too well as Bengals fans.
“I’ve heard that maybe (it’s because) we play in a small market, and we weren’t exposed to the New Yorks, the Chicagos, the Washington, D.C.’s on a regular basis. I don’t know, and, to be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.”
Still, the journey to the Super Bowl defines Anderson’s career, as he explained when asked what the best memory of his career is.
“I think it would be taking the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in franchise history,” Anderson said of his favorite Bengals memory. “Something that had never been done. I think, the way that we got there, playing the Chargers in the AFC Championship, when it was 59 below, our team played well under those circumstances.”
Without a Super Bowl victory, Hall of Fame voters seem to find it difficult to justify putting a quarterback in Canton.
“I think it’s more pronounced when you look at who’s in the Hall of Fame, perhaps, or who may go in when they talk about quarterbacks and championships,” Anderson said. “And I think they talk about that with the quarterback position more than any other position. Of course, when you start talking coaches I think it’s that way as well.”
Thinking about his Hall of Fame snub wouldn’t help Anderson’s efforts to get in anyway. In the long run, respect for his playing career doesn’t seem to be something he worries about. It seems that Anderson’s fans are more worried about his induction into the Hall than Anderson himself.
“Certainly the guys that are in … I always say, ‘Who’s the greatest quarterback of all time?’ They talk, of course, Brady now with his number of Super Bowls. And Montana and Bradshaw. But I go back to Otto Graham. What was he in the last game of the year? Ten times and won seven? Nobody compares with that.”
In the 31 years since Anderson took his last snap, he spent seven as a color analyst for the Bengals, nine as a coach with the Bengals, and seven as a coach with the Jaguars and Steelers before finally leaving the NFL all together. It was his final year as a coach in the NFL when he received a Super Bowl ring as the quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Maybe, one day, that might be enough to help him get into the Hall of Fame.