by Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
Nearly 50 years ago, a shy, respectful kid from Batavia, Ill., wrote the football coach at tiny Augustana College in Rock Island, asking if he would allow him to try out for the team when he arrived on campus. Fortunately for pro football, Ralph Starenko agreed.
That kid was Ken Anderson, who would set every passing record at Augustana (while also scoring 1,000 points for the basketball team in his spare time) before the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him on the third round in 1971. Pro football has never been as reliant on statistics as major league baseball to define individual greatness but sometimes numbers can provide the strongest argument for a man. Over 16 years with the Bengals, Anderson put up those kind of numbers.
When he retired after the 1986 season, Ken Anderson was ranked sixth all-time in passing yardage (32,938), had gone to four Pro Bowls, was a league MVP, a Super Bowl quarterback and so productive that nearly 30 years later he remains 31st all-time in career passing yardage even though the passing game has changed radically since his retirement.
Anderson was both the NFL's MVP and its Comeback Player of the Year in 1981, when he led Cincinnati to a Super Bowl XVI showdown with Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. There he ended up with an odd distinction: his team became the first in Super Bowl history to gain more yards and score more touchdowns than its opponent and still lose (26-20). That was through no fault of Anderson, who passed for 300 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third while setting then Super Bowl records for completions (25) and completion percentage (73.5%).
The following season Anderson, who was one of the most accurate passers of his time, set an all-time, single-season completion percentage record (70.60%) that stood for 27 years, until Drew Brees finally broke it in 2009 (70.62%).
Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yardage, which is more than 14 of the 23 Modern Era Hall of Fame quarterbacks accomplished. He led the league in completion percentage three times, which is better than 18 of the 23 Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and led the NFL in passer rating four times. Only two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Steve Young (five times) and Len Dawson (six times in the AFL) exceeded that. To put that latter accomplishment in perspective, Joe Montana and Dan Marino combined did it only three times.
In 1974, Anderson led the NFL with a quarterback rating of 95.7 at a time when the league average was 64.2, beating the average efficiency of his day by nearly 40%. Yet he was more than a passer.
Anderson was an agile and elusive runner who rushed for 2,220 yards and 20 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on nearly 400 rushes. That rushing total ranked 8th all-time among quarterbacks when he retired.
He was a Hall of Fame finalist in 1996 and 1998 but entry eluded him. To finally cross that Hall of Fame threshold, he must now walk the same long road he did to get to the NFL after having moved into the Senior Candidates' pool.
That is Ken Anderson's last shot at pro football immortality. He deserved a smoother - and a shorter - road to Canton.
Photo courtsey of Cincinnati Bengals