Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, the Bengals accidentally leaked what very much looked like the start of a Ring of Honor. After 50+ years since their inception and 40 years since their first Super Bowl run, it’s about time the club honors its greatest and most influential people.
In this series, we will highlight players we feel are either well deserving of a spot, or will be worthy very soon. The list has grown fairly sizable with how long Cincinnati has hosted the Bengals, and they have plenty to catch up on with the potential installation.
Not every franchise can say they rostered the best player at a position for the better part of a decade. Our next candidate helped keep the Bengals escape the 90s and finally received recognition as soon as the team became relevant again.
Willie Anderson (No. 71)
- Height: 6-5
- Weight: 340
- Position: Right tackle
- Bengals Career: 1996-2007
- Drafted: 1st round, 10th pick (1996)
A Bengals Ring of Honor induction shouldn’t be the only thing awaiting Willie Anderson during his retirement. The Pro Football Hall of Fame included him in their list of 25 semifinalists for the first time ever this past November. Canton, Ohio almost always becomes the eternal home of the best football players of past eras.
“I’m shocked he’s not there,” said Clark Judge, Hall of Fame voter for Sports Illustrated’s Talk of Fame Network. “Not only is he a great right tackle, but it’s past due for the Cincinnati Bengals to get recognized. Because he was the best right tackle of his era and Michael Strahan had spoken so fondly of him, I thought he was a cinch. It’s a lesson to me not to count anything before it happens.”
Before Anderson became a 173-game starter for Cincinnati and a Hall of Fame snub, he left an illustrious legacy at Vigor High School in Prichard, Alabama. In 1992, Anderson became the Bobby Dodd National Lineman of the year and the 6A player of the year during a time when the 6A level was the peak of Alabama high school football.
Not only was Anderson Alabama’s No. 1 player in the 1993 recruiting class, he was the No. 3 player in the entire country. Anderson stayed in state and chose Auburn University over University of Alabama, the defending national champions at the time. Three years of continued improvement with the Tigers made him a lock for the first-round in the 1996 NFL draft. The Bengals selected the 20-year old Anderson with the 10th overall pick that year and the rest was history.
Not only was Anderson a consistently excellent right tackle for nearly his entire professional career, he shut out any and all competition he faced. It’s now common knowledge amongst Bengals fans that Anderson played 15 games against nine of the top 11 all-time sack leaders, and Bruce Smith was the only one to register a sack against him. Some even question the legitimacy of that lone blemish on Anderson’s resume.
Anderson was the pinnacle at his position when he played. There wasn’t a single thing he couldn’t do. His exemplary work in pass protection is only matched by his road-grading dominance in the run game. Corey Dillon can thank Anderson for most of his 8,061 career rushing yards in Cincinnati.
The end of Dillon’s run with the Bengals happened to coincide with the beginning of Anderson getting league-wide recognition. Anderson was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2001 and 2002, but made four-straight Pro Bowls from 2003-2006. He was a First-Team All-Pro from 2004-2006 as well when the Bengals won a combined 27 games and an AFC North crown.
Not to belabor the point, but Anderson’s career will always be Hall of Fame-worthy. It’s up to the voters to recognize that right tackles deserve as much credit as left tackles, and it’ll be an uphill battle until then for Big Willie.
It’s been over a decade since Anderson’s retirement following the 2008 season and a one-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens, but the 45-year old is keeping busy. He founded the Willie Anderson Lineman Academy and works with young offensive linemen around the country.
Ring of Honor Resume
- Four-time Pro Bowler (and two-time first alternate)
- Three-time All-Pro
- Allowed one sack against nine of the top 11 all-time sack leaders in NFL history
- Didn’t allow a sack from 1999-2001
- Just 13 career holding penalties
- 173 career starts (fourth in franchise history)
- Started 117-straight games from 1999-2007
There’s simply not many former Bengals that deserve this honor more than Anderson. He was an incredible player that exhibited longevity, on-field excellence, and he’s become a well-known and candid ambassador for his position and the Bengals as a whole. If Anderson never gets past the semifinals for Canton, the least the Bengals could do is enshrine him in their own Hall of Fame. After all, he may’ve had something to do with its creation.
According to @ChickLudwig 53 @Bengals have passed away ! Mr Brown Please before you leave us We want this to be a part of your Legacy with us! We all know Uvalue History &I know about the things you’ve done for your players behind the scene who needed help! This would be huge!— Willie Anderson (@BigWillie7179) June 8, 2020