There is only one Cincinnati Bengal player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but there should be at least one more. Former Bengals quarterback from 1971-1986, Ken Anderson, earned four Pro Bowl appearances (1975, 1976, 1981, 1982), one first-team All-Pro nomination (1981), two second-team All-Pro nominations (1974, 1975), as well as NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and NFL MVP in the Bengals’ magical 1981 season. For all those accomplishments, he was recently named the second greatest player in Bengals history, (among retired players) behind only Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.
“I am just honored to be number 2. You just kind of picture yourself and remember back,” Anderson told Mo Eggar on ESPN 1530 of his inclusion on the Bengals First 50 list. “Great memories are brought back with so many of my former teammates being on that list.”
Throughout his playing career, Anderson had the pleasure of working with many Pro Bowlers and two Hall of Famers. However, it was the impact he received from the legendary coaches who started it all for which he has the fondest memories.
“I think back to my first training camp in Wilmington, Ohio. Paul Brown gets to be my first head coach, and Bill Walsh is my first quarterback coach,” Anderson said. “Coming from the standpoint of knowing nothing, going up there and making the team. I ended up playing for 16 years, I like to go back to the beginning.”
Throughout his career, Anderson led the NFL in passer rating four times (1974, 1975, 1981, and 1982), and passing yards twice (1974, 1975). He recorded 2,654 completions on 4,475 attempts for 32,838 yards, 197 touchdowns, 160 interceptions and a career passer rating of 81.9.
For all those accomplishments, he is remembered very fondly in Bengals lore as a legend. That is why Bengals fans and the media voted enough to honor him with the No. 2 all-time distinction, paying tribute to him over almost everyone else. For Anderson, however, the honor is primarily an excuse to reminisce with his former teammates and see how they have grown since their days in the league.
“I think it’s a lot of fun. Since I’ve retired from coaching, I’ve been around a little bit more,” Anderson said, which is true, he even traveled with the Bengals to London last season. “These guys are tremendous people. I go back to my teammates, as great as they were football players, they’re better people, they’re better citizens, they’re better husbands, they’re better fathers. To be around these guys, and the fun that we have and the stories that we tell, it’s fun. Now, to have something like this come up, which is another excuse for us to get together, a big celebration, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Speaking of former teammates, only one player in Bengals history was ranked higher on this list than Anderson, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz. Anderson made no bones about attributing so much of the success of his Bengals to Munoz’s presence.
“Anthony was the X-factor,” Anderson said. “You take that defensive end and Anthony and you cross those two guys out, you could take the other four offensive linemen and figure out ‘alright, how do we help out anyone we need to help out, because we don’t need to help out Anthony.’”
That said, there were players whom Anderson felt were snubbed from the list.
“Essex Johnson,” Anderson said, when asked who he thought should have made the list. “He was dynamic as a runner, as a pass receiver,” Anderson said. “You could have done a lot with him, and he hurt his knee in our playoff game against Miami in 1973. He was never quite the same. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Essex.”
However, ultimately, Anderson had few qualms with the Bengals First 50 and mentioned how proud he was of the fans and media for doing their due diligence in creating the list.
“Going through the list, I was really impressed with the media and the fans, the thought they put into this thing and their selections. There’s not a lot of modern day players on the list,” Anderson said. “They did their homework. I think the most current guy was Robert Geathers, and I think he was 50-41. He was here until 2014, that’s the most current guy. Chad Johnson, 2010 was his last year. Justin Smith and Willie Anderson were 2007, right around in that area. So, I give credit to the voters.”
In all fairness, forgetting Bengals legends like Munoz, Anderson, Tim Krumrie, Boomer Esiason, and so many other older players on this list would be pretty difficult for Bengals fans.