Ken Anderson hit the big time as an NFL quarterback in 1975.
It was his fourth season as a starter but the first time he had been elected to the Pro Bowl – which was no small feat in a conference that included Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Bert Jones and Ken Stabler. He led the NFL in passing that season and got to quarterback the first Monday Night Football game ever in Cincinnati – a 33-24 victory over O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills.
Anderson recalled that game as this week’s visitor to the Talk of Fame Network’s “5 Games” podcast. This is the second installment of Anderson’s “5 Games.” He revisited his debut NFL start as a rookie in 1971 in the first podcast and he’ll also be back to discuss his Super Bowl appearance, the Freezer Bowl and another of his 400-yard passing games.
Simpson rushed for 197 yards that night – but he wasn’t the best player on the field. Anderson, arguably the best quarterback not in the Hall of Fame, enjoyed the finest game of his career, passing for 447 yards and two touchdowns to sink the Bills.
“Everything kind of looked open in the game,” Anderson recalled. “We had a lot of weapons throwing the football. It was just one of those nights that everything kind of clicked.”
The 1975 season was notable for Anderson for another reason – it was his last season with Bill Walsh as his quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. Paul Brown would step down as head coach of the Bengals after the 1975 season and he picked another of his assistants (Bill Johnson) to succeed him, so Walsh left.
“What a great teacher that he was,” Anderson said. “At that point Bill was a little bit ahead of the time. The depth of the wide receiver’s drop was timed out with the depth of the quarterback’s drop. We had a lot of timing routes, combination routes. We used the whole field not only vertically but horizontally. He was a great play caller as well. The fundamentals he taught me in those first five years lasted me not only through my playing career but my coaching career as well.”
Johnson would coach the Bengals for three seasons before his dismissal. Walsh would go on to become offensive coordinator with the Chargers, then head coach at Stanford, then a Hall of Fame coach with the 49ers, winning three Super Bowls in the 1980s.
“Any success that I had in my career always traces back to Bill,” Anderson said. “It was very disappointing that he left. But I remember at that in point in time, when the decision was made, I felt Paul Brown made the correct decision. I felt Bill Johnson was the guy most ready to be the head coach. He was a tremendous coach. I wish we could have kept both. Obviously, in retrospect, I wish the decision would have been differently.”
Anderson also talked in this podcast about the organizational skill of Paul Brown, the unique skills of his Pro Bowl wide receiver Isaac Curtis and the thrill of playing Monday night football.
“That was the only game the whole week that the whole league of players got to watch,” Anderson said, “For Cincinnati, which is not one of the NFL’s major markets, to have Monday night football… To have Don Meredith and Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell come into town… it was an entourage. To see the way the city lit up for the game and the electricity at Riverfront Stadium is something I’ll never forget.”
You can listen to this podcast – as well as “5 Games” podcasts with Hall of Famers Jerry Kramer, as Charles Haley, Jam Ham, Mike Haynes, Willie Lanier and more – at VokalNow.com or by subscribing to our podcasts at iTunes. Click the links below.