The Bengals only truly have one player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While wide receivers Charlie Joyner and Terrell Owens were Bengals at one point, nobody ever thinks of them as Bengals. Legendary left tackle Anthony Munoz is the only real Bengal in Canton. Could this be the year that changes?
This year the NFL turns 100. In celebration, the Hall of Fame will be inducting 10 senior candidates who have been retired for more than 25 years. This could open the door for a couple of Bengals who have been overlooked for too long.
Whenever there is a conversation about players who were overlooked by the hall of fame, the name Kenny Anderson comes up.
Anderson is currently 39th in all-time passing yards. This doesn’t sound very impressive, but keep in mind that Anderson retired in 1986. At that time, less than half of the players in front of him had ever played a down in the NFL. In fact, eight of the top 20 players are still playing. It really is a different game.
Over 16 seasons Anderson threw for 32,838 yards and 197 touchdowns. Anderson was the league’s passing champion four times. In 1981, he led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl and was named NFL MVP.
Unfortunately, the Bengals lost that game to Anderson’s former offensive coordinator Bill Walsh and the rest, as they say, is history. It was Anderson, however, who was the first quarterback to run the ‘west coast” offense at a high level when he stepped in for Virgil Carter.
Here is a highlight video for those of you who only know Anderson by reputation.
While Anderson’s name comes up all of the time, Ken Riley is not mentioned nearly enough in these conversations.
After playing quarterback in college, Riley (or The Rattler) spent 15 seasons with the Bengals as a cornerback and his 65 interceptions leaves him tied for fifth in NFL history to this day. He recorded nine interceptions in 1976 and eight interceptions at age 36 in 1983, his final season. He also recorded three interceptions in a single game twice in his career.
Riley had a long career and was considered one of the league’s best throughout it. He may be even more deserving of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame than Anderson.
Having been an infant in Riley’s final season, I never got to watch him play live. If you are like me, the linked video will give you an idea of the kind of player he was.
Those seniors probably have the best shot this season, but there are some strong modern candidates as well. Defensive end Justin Smith and linebacker Takeo Spikes may have a chance, but like Joyner and Owens they aren’t really Bengals. Both were first-round picks for Cincinnati, but Spikes left for Buffalo and Smith went on to great success in San Francisco.
Of course, there are some true Bengals who are great candidates
Willie Anderson played 13 seasons in the NFL, 12 of them with the Bengals. Unfortunately, he started with the Bengals in 1996, so he played on some of the franchise’s worst teams (present company excepted). Having said that, he still managed to establish himself as one of the league’s best offensive linemen and was truly elite at the right tackle position.
While Corey Dillon won a Super Bowl and had his best season in New England, he had the majority of his best years in Cincinnati. Dillon is 20th on the all-time rushing list with 11,241 yards (although LeSean McCoy is gaining on him) and ran for 82 touchdowns. In Cincinnati he broke the NFL record for rushing yards in a single game by running for 278 yards against the Broncos in 2000. That record has since been broken, but that performance still folds the 4th all-time slot and his 1997 246-yard performance against the Tennessee Oilers is the 16th best rushing performance of all-time.
Dillon was an incredible running back who could take over games. He deserves to be in the Hall.
In 11 seasons in the NFL including 10 with the Bengals, Chad Johnson had 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. Johnson, or Ocho Cinco as he likes to be called, was not only known for his play on the field, but his one-liners off the field and his celebrations in the end zone (Most notably putting on a gold jacket that said “Future H.O.F. 20??”). His best game was a 260-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers in 2006.
Hall of fame voters... kiss the baby.
We started off by talking about one quarterback, and we will conclude by talking about another: Boomer Esiason. In 14 NFL seasons Esiason amassed 37,920 passing yards and 247 touchdowns while leading the Bengals to a Super Bowl on the strength of his left arm.
Speaking truthfully, Esiason is a pretty big reach to make the hall given the modern competition. Willie Anderson and Dillon are the Bengals best bets among the modern nominees.
Anderson, Dillon, Johnson, and Esiason were among 122 players named modern nominees in September.
That list will be cut down dramatically this month, going to 25 and will later be cut to 15.
Eventually, five will get their gold jackets next summer. They will be joined by three contributors, two coaches, and 10 seniors this time around, including potentially Kenny Anderson and Riley if the voters get it right.