Ken Anderson’s last season in the NFL was 1986; he has been eligible for induction and, over those 30 years, has been snubbed every time. What’s the reason? Hard to tell; you have the age-old he never won a Super Bowl, but that losses all traction when you look at an example like Dan Fouts. Fouts never even got to a Super Bowl, and his career accomplishments fall way short of Anderson’s. Fouts actually played against Anderson’s Bengals in 1981 for the right to go to the Super Bowl, and Anderson dominated that matchup in a record-cold NFL game. Many people tell me the weather is why Anderson won, but people forget that two months before the Bengals went to sunny California and beat the breaks off Fouts Chargers 40-17.
He changed the game
The Bengals offensive coordinator in 1970 was Bill Walsh, and Walsh changed the Bengals offense because of an injury to star-Quarterback Greg Cook. The backup was Virgil Carter, and to say Carter did not have a strong arm would be a huge understatement. So the origin of the West Coast offense was actually in Ohio with the Bengals. The Bengals made the playoffs in 1970 and then drafted an unknown Quarterback out of Augustana with the third pick in the 1971 draft. Anderson’s break-out season came in 1973 as he led the Bengals to a record of 10–4 as a starter and threw for 2,428 yards while having 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and had a 54.4 completion percentage, with Anderson helping to lead them to the AFC Central Division title with a six-game winning streak. In the playoffs that year, they were tasked to play the defending champion Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Special teams helped negate a bad start on offense that meant the Bengals only trailed 21–16 at halftime. However, the Dolphins pressed the Bengals for 13 unanswered points to win 34–16.
In 1974 the Bengals struggled through injuries but, Anderson still threw for a league-high in completions, completion percentage (64.9), yards (2,667), and passer rating (95.7) while going for 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Still, the Bengals went 7–6 in his thirteen starts. In 1975, Anderson had his best year yet, and so did the Bengals. Anderson threw a league-high 3,169 yards while throwing 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions for a 60.5 completion percentage. In addition, he had league highs in yards gained per pass attempt, yards per game, and passer rating while being named to his first Pro Bowl and leading the Bengals to a 10–3 record (John Reaves started and won a game without Anderson). One of his finest performances of his early career was in a Monday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills in November 1975; Anderson passed for a franchise-record 447 yards while the Bengals racked up a franchise-record 553 offensive yards in a 33–24 win. The Bengals would lose a first-round playoff game in Oakland to the Raiders 31-28, but it wasn’t Anderson’s fault as he had an excellent game going 17-of-27 for 201 yards for two touchdowns. Head Coach Paul Brown retired after the 1975 season and turned the reigns over to assistant coach Bill Johnson instead of Bill Walsh, thus ending Walsh and Anderson’s relationship on the football field. Think what might have been if Walsh would have been named the Head Coach.
The Bengals were still a good team after Walsh left, but they were not as good as they were with him. The Bengals would miss out on the playoffs by one game in each of those two seasons. 1978 and 1979 were disasters in Cincinnati and included an injury in the 1978 preseason that would cause Anderson to miss the first 4 games of the 78 season. Overall, Anderson’s time as a big-time starter seemed to be coming to a close. That was especially true when in the 1979 NFL Draft, the Bengals seemed to draft their quarterback of the future in Jack Thompson.
The resurrection began with the hiring of former Green Bay Packers legend Forrest Gregg; Gregg was a non-sense type of coach who immediately brought toughness to a Bengals team that was sorely lacking it. Now, 1980 was not a great year for Anderson, but the Bengals won 3 of their last 4 games, and that one loss was on the last day of the season when they lost a hard-fought game to the Cleveland Browns. So 1980, when you could tell the tide was turning for Cincinnati, the only question now was who would start the 1981 season at Quarterback?
1981 was the year that Anderson’s resurrection took place after 3 less than stellar years. The start of the 81 season was really the last hurrah for Anderson’s career. Unfortunately, that last hurrah started as bad as it could have possibly started. Game 1 Anderson was horrible, and the Bengals trailed 21-0. Gregg pulled Anderson and brought in third-string Quarterback Turk Schonert because backup Jack Thompson was hurt. Schonert rallied the Bengals to a huge second-half comeback, and now the question in Cincinnati was who will start in game 2?
Gregg decided to go with Anderson, and the Bengals offense took off in New York against the Jets, and Anderson never looked back from there. Anderson threw for a career-high 3,754 yards while having 29 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while leading the league in touchdown/interception percentage along with passer rating (98.4). He also gained another 320 yards and one touchdown on the ground. This performance earned him both the Associated Press and Professional Football Writers of America NFL Most Valuable Player Awards and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. The Bengals went 12–4 and won the AFC Central and the #1 seed in the American Football Conference. Anderson first faced the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional round. He went 14-of-21 for 192 yards with one touchdown as the Bengals narrowly outdueled the Bills 28–21, with Anderson’s touchdown pass to Cris Collinsworth with 10:39 remaining being the winning score. Anderson and the Bengals had their first postseason win and thus were slated to host the AFC Championship Game. Facing off against future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers, the game was referred to later as the Freezer Bowl, owing to −9 °F in Cincinnati on gameday. Anderson lived up to the challenge on the tundra, passing 14-of-22 for 161 yards for two touchdowns as the Bengals led for the entire game and won 27–7.
The Bengals would lose Super Bowl XVI to the Bill Walsh-coached San Francisco 49ers 26-21. However, Anderson had a solid performance, going 25 of 34 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions while having 14 rushing yards and a touchdown on five rushing attempts. At the time, his 25 completions and 73.5% completion percentage were both Super Bowl records.
In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Anderson led the Bengals to a 7–2 record, good for third overall in the AFC. He threw for 2,495 yards with 12 touchdowns to 9 interceptions while leading the league in completions, completion percentage (70.6), and passer rating (95.3). In the playoffs that year to the New York Jets. Again, Anderson’s set an NFL record for completion percentage in a season, completing 70.6% of his passes.
Ken Anderson finished his career with 197 touchdown passes, 32,838 yards, and a quarterback rating of 81.9. This may not sound that impressive compared to what we see today. However, for the ’70s and ’80s, they are pretty remarkable. The NFL was much more of a run-based league back then. Anderson completed over 60% of his throws for five straight seasons. This is long before the shotgun formation was a thing and check-downs were an offensive staple. And in the mid-70s, not many quarterbacks were completing over 60% of their passes thrown for a season.
Anderson had the league’s highest passer rating in four seasons during his career. This was in an era with Terry Bradshaw and Dan Fouts, who are both in the Hall of Fame. Many other great quarterbacks played during this era whose faces reside in Canton that, at least by some measures, cannot boast a better statistical career than Anderson.
It is absolutely ridiculous that Anderson does not have a bust in Canton yet. Anderson had a far superior career to other members that are in the hall, names like Fouts, Namath just to name a few. Matchup Anderson’s numbers up to Stablers, and you will see just how stupid the selection process in Canton is. Ken Anderson led the NFL in passing 4-times and was the MVP of the league. He is also a selfless man that gives so much to the community, and no, that’s not a reason to be in the Hall of Fame, but Anderson was a tremendous player with great character. Answer me this with two minutes left 80 yards from the endzone in a big game. Are you trusting Anderson or Fouts to win you the game? I trust Anderson, and when you break down the numbers, he needs to be in the hall!