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Bengals Ring of Honor candidates: Ken Anderson

There’s no doubt that one of the inaugural members of a Bengals Ring of Honor should be the greatest quarterback in franchise history.

Editor’s note: A couple weeks back, 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.

While the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t achieved as much championship success as many other NFL franchises, that’s not to say that they haven’t fielded some of the greatest players the league has ever seen. In fact, the team has largely had a solid track record finding franchise quarterbacks.

Before there was Joe Burrow, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer and even in the days preceding the great Boomer Esiason, there was Ken Anderson. The original No. 14 wrote a fairytale of a professional career that should be inscribed within the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio, but Anderson has sadly had to wait for that day to come.

Hopefully, the installation of Anderson into a potential Bengals Ring of Honor could bring the needed tap on the shoulder to the folks situated to Cincinnati’s northeast in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ken Anderson (No. 14)

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 212
  • Position: Quarterback
  • Bengals Career: 1971-1986 as a player; 1993-2002 as Cincinnati’s quarterbacks Coach and offensive coordinator
  • Drafted: 3rd round, 67th pick (1971)

In just their third year of existence as an AFL/NFL franchise, the Cincinnati Bengals were already in need of another franchise signal-caller. Greg Cook, the 1969 AFL Rookie of the Year and rising star with the Bengals, ended up tearing his rotator cuff in that inaugural campaign.

Cook was never the same and the team then had their eyes on Anderson from tiny Augustana College in 1971. Paul Brown and then-assistant coach Bill Walsh saw many of the innate tools in Anderson, making him the perfect pet project for the NFL geniuses.

What ensued was a marvelous career, filled with notable statistics, career comebacks and the spearheading of one of the best seasons in team history. Even so, Anderson has unfairly been overlooked for other quarterbacks in his era, including Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Ken Stabler, Roger Staubach and Dan Fouts, despite many of his numbers and accolades being on par with those Hall of Fame names.

After playing sparingly in his first season behind Virgil Carter, Anderson started to get a stranglehold on the starting position in 1972. The following year was when things really began to click, as No. 14 led the Bengals to an AFC Central title.

While he was a Pro Bowler in 1975 and 1976, it was that magical 1981 season that was the culmination of Anderson’s career. After being benched during Week 2 that year, Anderson went on to throw for 3,754 yards 29 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions en route to a win in the iconic “Freezer Bowl” AFC Championship Game and an appearance in Super Bowl XVI against his old coach in Walsh. Oh, let’s also not forget a league MVP award that year, as well.

Anderson hung it up a couple of years after Esiason was drafted in 1984 and ended up coming back to Cincinnati as an assistant coach for a decade. Jeff Blake’s outstanding 1994 and 1995 campaigns and Esiason’s electric final half of 1997 to end his own stellar career were some of the finer points in the era of Anderson’s Bengal tutelage from the sidelines.

When Anderson finally decided to hang it up, he held every major Bengals career passing mark. Even with the great careers of Dalton, Palmer and Esiason, Anderson’s 32,838 yards are still tops in franchise history.

Ring of Honor Resume

  • Bengals career passing leader with 32,838 yards
  • Four-time Pro Bowler
  • 1981 First-Team All-Pro (two-time Second-Team All-Pro)
  • 1981 NFL Most Valuable Player
  • Four-time NFL Passing Rating Leader
  • Two-time NFL Passing Yards Leader
  • Three-time NFL Completion Percentage Leader
  • Seventh-highest Super Bowl Single-Game Pass Completion Percentage (73.5, former record-holder)
  • Super Bowl XLII Champion (as quarterbacks coach with Pittsburgh Steelers)

We asked Anderson about his Hall of Fame snub on The Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast last summer, and, as expected, he gracefully pointed to others he played with (Ken Riley, Bob Trumpy and others) as also deserving of Canton worthiness.

Still, Anderson is confident in the quarterback he once was, proclaiming that, though they didn’t work the shotgun formation back in his day, he’s certain he could have learned it and been successful. “I had the size, I had the speed, I had the arm strength, I had the release, they thought—especially Bill Walsh—they could mold me into the quarterback that he wanted me to be,” Anderson told us last month on a re-appearance on the program.

When one looks back at NFL history and thinks of Walsh, one’s mind automatically connects the dots to Joe Montana and the greatness of that duo. However, in the pre-Montana days (and even during), Anderson was running the “West Coast Offense” with similarly-excellent results to pave the way for the system to be engrained into the NFL lexicon.

Anderson was an extremely productive and successful passer during an era dominated by running backs and “ground-and-pound” styles of play. Most of his major career numbers sit right with or surpass the above-mentioned Hall of Fame contemporaries who played in his generation.

Heck, there was even a book titled “The Art of Quarterbacking” by Jack Clary written in the 1980s, with help from Anderson to write about the nuances included in the position. That’s how respected he was at his craft.

Even with all of the on-field accolades, Anderson is still an extremely active figure in charitable endeavors. Playing into his 1975 NFL Man of the Year-type of character, Anderson’s spearheading of The Ken Anderson Alliance has made a huge impact on the community, helping adults with developmental disabilities obtain gainful employment and other positive opportunities. You can learn more about the organization and/or donate at www.kenandersonalliance.org.

When talking about a “Bengals Mount Rushmore”, Anderson’s name is almost always one of the first mentioned. If/when the Bengals decide to make a Ring of Honor, he’ll be one of the first ones to be honored.

Let’s just hope Canton’s call follows from there.