It took less than a month after Ken Anderson joined the Twitter universe for him to demonstrate he had mastered the art form, if we can call it that.
A four-time NFL passing champion, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, the winner of the 1981 league MVP trophy and the 1975 recipient of what is now known as the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, Anderson posted a tweet in May wondering why his account had yet to be verified.
“Starting to feel like something else I’ve been waiting for … is this about not having a Super Bowl win?”
Eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1991, Anderson has been snubbed 30 times, and still he has maintained his sense of humor and perspective. He does not need the Hall to validate him, but the Hall needs Anderson in order to justify itself as complete.
“I don’t think twice about it, to be honest with you, except those times of year when it comes time for the election and somebody will call and say, ‘What do you think?’” Anderson told Sporting News. “Other than that, it doesn’t cross my mind.
“I guess the only time I was disappointed was the first time I was eligible, and I got into the final 15 and didn’t make it, and then it was disappointing. After that, I guess when you come from my background and grow up in a small town and go to a small high school and then go to a small college, you never dream about those things. My dream was fulfilled when I got a chance to play professional football for 16 years.”
Anderson told SN he joined Twitter not to revive interest in his Hall candidacy but rather to help promote his foundation, the Ken Anderson Alliance, which is involved in helping adults with developmental disabilities. He is scheduled to conduct a fundraising golf tournament Oct. 12 in conjunction with Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham at Maketewah Country Club in Cincinnati. Several planned spring events to benefit the foundation had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anderson’s arrival onto the social media scene did serve as a reminder, though, of what a tremendous vacancy exists among the Hall’s populace with Anderson absent. The Pro Football Hall of Fame website states its selection committee “is charged with the vital task of continuing to be sure that new enshrines are the finest the game has produced.” In Anderson’s case, those in charge of ensuring this mission statement be fulfilled failed at the task.
As happens periodically with all sports halls of fame, the committee blew every chance it had to present Anderson with the honor his career achievements warranted. Now out of the game more than 25 years, he is eligible to be selected by the “seniors” committee. That crew had 10 chances this past year alone – for the special “Centennial Class” the Hall chose to honor – and botched that one, too.
Lance McAlister is host of the nightly Sports Talk program on Cincinnati radio station WLW, whose powerful signal can be heard at night in much of the continental U.S. The 50,000 watts powering his voice, however, have not been successful moving the needle toward Anderson’s election.
“I’ve been back in town since 1997, and I’d say it’s been one of those staples of what I do,” McAlister told SN. “There’s always been talk of Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame, but close behind that has always been why, how, how can you explain Ken Anderson not being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? To me, it’s just always been frustrating. I find it hard to take the process seriously if you consider the process that has led to him not being in at this point. It pulls back the curtain on the politics of the process, the lack of context being offered in the process and, I think, the lack of awareness in the process.
“I don’t know why it doesn’t bother more voters or leave them feeling embarrassed that, as a whole, they’ve missed on this.”
Now 71 and retired after nearly two decades as an NFL assistant coach, Anderson joined the Bengals in 1971 as a third-round pick out of Augustana College in Illinois, no more a big-time football power then than it is now. The school has produced only two NFL players in its history. Anderson was able to make four starts as a rookie, then take over the quarterback job for good and hold it for the next 13 years.
He led the Bengals to double-digit victories in three of his first four seasons, a period that happened to coincide with the ascent of the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl dynasty. The Bengals were in the same division as the Steelers, then called the AFC Central, and finished second behind them for three of those four years despite an average record of roughly 10-4.
In 1981, though, Anderson’s Bengals broke through to a 12-4 season in which he led the league in passing for a third time and reached the Super Bowl with a 27-7 destruction of the Chargers in what is known as the “Freezer Bowl,” played in temperatures of minus-9 degrees that didn’t stop Anderson from throwing for two touchdowns on 64 percent completions. The Bengals lost there to Joe Montana and the 49ers’ nascent dynasty by a narrow decision, 26-21.
Five points, not even a single touchdown, separated Anderson from a Super Bowl ring. That’s fair. That’s how the game works. But the Hall of Fame, too?
“I was the Cincinnati selector on the 44-person Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee for 10 years,” former Dayton Daily News sportswriter Chick Ludwig told SN. “I wrote several letters on behalf of Ken to fellow selectors, but I couldn’t convince them to have Ken be a modern day finalist. Now that he’s in the morass of senior candidates – with a fate in the hands of the seniors committee – I pray he’s not forgotten.”
It is curious the absence of a championship weighs so heavily on quarterback candidates. Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Kevin Mawae all made it in the past two years without league titles. But there are six quarterbacks from the Super Bowl era who made it without a ring, and Anderson measures up well enough to merit a place.
Dan Fouts made it easily, though he never even played in a Super Bowl – he quarterbacked San Diego in the Freezer Bowl — was barely above .500 as a starter and made only two more Pro Bowls than Anderson. He was a statistical marvel, leading the league in passing yards four times and touchdowns twice, but Anderson has numbers that flatter him, as well.
In addition to leading the league in passer rating four times, his career mark in that category is better than three of the six non-Super Bowl winning QBs who are in the Hall. His passes were intercepted less often than four of the six. He led the league twice in passing yards and three times in completion percentage, including a 70.6 mark in 1982 that stood as an NFL record for 27 years, until Drew Brees surpassed it in 2009.
This fact alone should have gotten him into the Hall years ago: There are seven quarterbacks in NFL history who have led the league in passer rating three times or more; their names are Steve Young (six times), Bart Starr (five), Roger Staubach (four) and Sid Luckman, Sammy Baugh and Peyton Manning (three each). Oh, and Ken Anderson, who did it four times.
Seriously? Think somebody flukes his way into a list of legends like that?
“Most quarterbacks of my era would love to play in this time,” Anderson told SN. “If you go back to the 70s, if you lead the league in passing it was probably around 2,200 yards you threw for. If you had 18 touchdown passes, that probably led the league. If you completed 50 percent of your passes, that was about the norm. Now it’s 5,000 yards, it’s 40 touchdowns, it’s a 4-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, it’s 65 percent.
“But it was kind of fun coming up through then. My first five years were with Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense, and we were hitting a lot of those 60 percent-plus seasons. Bill had a unique offense, and it was fun being a part of that.”
Bengals history, and NFL history, was dramatically altered when the great Paul Brown retired and installed Bill Johnson as his successor rather than Walsh. When the Bengals reached the Super Bowl in 1981 and 1988, it was Walsh’s 49ers who beat them.
Now more than 50 years after they entered the league, the Bengals have had only one player who played a significant portion of his career in Cincinnati honored by the Hall of Fame: tackle Anthony Munoz. Of the other 15 teams that launched in the 60s and 70s, no one else has fewer than three, and the average is eight.
The Bengals had some dreadful teams between 1992-2002, after Mike Brown took control of the team following his father’s death and gambled on young Dave Shula as head coach. But the team has won nine division championships, made 14 playoff appearances and twice reached the Super Bowl.
“Maybe it’s because of what happened lately with the franchise. It doesn’t get a lot of respect,” Anderson said. “But you go back to the 70s and 80s, and I think we were as good as anybody in the league. Unfortunately, the Steelers with one of the great teams of all time happened to be in our division. And we ran into the San Francisco 49ers a couple times in the Super Bowl, with one of the great dynasties of all time.
“I look at some of the players on our team. Kenny Riley, a great defensive back on our team, is very deserving. You look at a guy like Isaac Curtis, I’ll take him over any other receiver you can name … It’s just the numbers were different. I think we’ve had a lot of very, very good players on our teams.”
You’ve got to be great to make the Hall of Fame, of course. Ken Anderson was all of that. The numbers are there. The results were there. The votes have not been. We have seen that voters sometimes make mistakes, sometimes huge. This is one that should be rectified.
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