Injustice in Canton: the Case for Ken Anderson

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 16, 2011



By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Potentate of Pigskin
 
One of the most successful passers in NFL history stands on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame. And in the steely eyes of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, the exclusion of former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson (1971-86) is the greatest injustice to hit Canton since the Opium Wars.
 
The Cold, Hard Football Facts once named Anderson the most underrated quarterback in NFL history. But they are no longer alone in their praise for this largely forgotten great. There is a growing groundswell of fans, observers, analysts, media and former teammates who wonder why history – so far – has passed Anderson by.
 
"Once I got into the Kenny Anderson Hall of Fame research, it was like a great book that you did not want to put down," said David Kubicki, a Cincinnati real estate developer leading the Anderson-for-Canton charge. "You learned something new every day. I now more than ever believe Kenny belongs."
 
Kubicki has enlisted the aid of former Bengals greats such as Cris Collinsworth, Boomer Esiason and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz to make the case. And, yes, he's enlisted the Cold, Hard Football Facts, too. He knows we believe that Anderson's production and his impact on the game have been largely overlooked by fans and Hall of Fame voters.
 
More importantly, he knows the Cold, Hard Football Facts can prove that Anderson deserves a shiny bronze bust in Canton.
 
Certainly, the necessary Hall of Fame qualifications are all there:
  • Anderson boasts statistical achievements that stand the test of time and, more importantly, stack up quite forcefully against those of almost every single Hall of Fame quarterback.
  • Anderson had a large but largely unappreciated role in the evolution of the modern passing game, the quarterbacking canvas upon which the so-called "West Coast Offense" was first painted in Cincinnati by Paul Brown and Bill Walsh in their pastels of pigskin.
  • And finally, the organization for which Anderson played enjoyed its greatest success when he was at the helm of the offense. And, with one or two exceptions, that organization has largely floundered in the quarter century since he retired.
But enough words. Let's dive into the Cold, Hard Football Facts, which prove Anderson's Hall of Fame cred.
 
Part 1: The Statistical Case for Ken Anderson
There are 23 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame from the two-platoon era – roughly speaking, quarterbacks who played since World War II.
 
The easiest way to make the case for Anderson is to show you, in irrefutable statistical terms, that his career stacked up quite nicely to almost every one of those 23 quarterbacks already enshrined in Canton.
 
We conducted two very simple but enlightening statistical experiments. First, we compared how often Anderson, and the 23 modern Hall of Fame quarterbacks, led the NFL in various passing indicators. In other words, how often was each quarterback statistically the best in a given season?
 
Second, the most basic but most telling experiment, we simply stacked up his career numbers against those of every HOF quarterback.
 
They were very illuminating experiments that shine light on the fact that Anderson is a Hall of Fame-caliber  quarterback.
 
First, we see that Anderson was consistently the NFL's leader in several key indicators of passing success, at a level that rivals or exceeds that of every Hall of Fame quarterback.
 
Anderson vs. Hall of Famers (years leading NFL in various passing indicators)
QB (seasons)
Att
Comp
%
Yards
TD
INT
YPA
Rating
Aikman (12)
0
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
Anderson (16)
0
2
3
2
0
0
2
4
Blanda (26)*
4
4
0
2
1
4
1
1
Bradshaw (14)
0
0
0
0
2
1
2
0
Dawson (19)*
0
0
6
0
4
0
3
6
Elway (16)
2
1
0
1
0
0
0
0
Fouts (15)
2
2
1
4
2
0
3
0
Graham (6)**
1
1
3
2
1
1
2
2
Griese (14)*
0
0
1
0
1
0
0
1
Jurgensen (18)
3
4
2
5
2
2
1
1
Kelly (11)
0
0
1
0
1
1
0
1
Layne (15)
2
1
1
2
1
2
1
0
Marino (17)
5
6
0
5
3
1
1
1
Montana (15)
1
0
5
0
2
0
1
2
Moon (17)
2
3
0
2
1
2
0
0
Namath (13)*
2
2
0
3
1
4
2
0
Starr (16)
0
0
3
0
0
0
2
4
Staubach (11)
0
0
0
0
1
0
2
4
Tarkenton (18)
2
3
2
1
1
1
0
1
Tittle (17)
1
2
2
0
3
2
2
1
Unitas (18)
4
3
1
4
4
2
3
3
Van Brocklin (12)
1
1
1
1
0
1
4
2
Waterfield (8)
1
1
1
0
2
2
2
1
Young (15)
0
0
5
0
4
0
5
6
* Includes years leading the AFL; ** NFL stats only (does not include AAFC years)
 
We don't need to go any further to prove that Anderson's exclusion from Canton is a great statistical injustice. Oh, we will go further. And we do below.
 
But we shouldn't have to. The chart above proves in no uncertain terms that Anderson's onfield performances put him in elite Hall of Fame company. For example.
 
Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards – more often than Aikman, Bradshaw, Dawson, Elway, Griese, Kelly, Montana, Starr, Staubach, Tarkenton, Tittle, Van Brocklin, Waterfield and Young.
 
Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards per attempt, our preferred indicator – more often than Aikman, Blanda, Elway, Griese, Jurgensen, Kelly, Layne, Marino, Montana, Moon or Tarkenton.
 
The deadly accurate Anderson led the NFL in completion percentage three times – more often than Aikman, Blanda, Bradshaw, Elway, Fouts, Griese, Jurgensen, Kelly, Layne, Marino, Moon, Namath, Staubach, Tarkenton, Tittle, Unitas, Van Brocklin or Waterfield.
 
The coldly efficient Anderson led the NFL in passer rating an incredible four times – in the entire history of pro football, only Steve Young led the NFL in passer rating more often than Anderson (Dawson never led the AFL in passer rating six times, but as we've reported in the past, the passing numbers in the AFL were terrible compared to those in the NFL of the 1960s). In other words, Anderson was one of the most efficient passers in the history of football, especially given the context of his time. More on that below.
 
Meanwhile, pay special attention to our two preferred measures of passing success: yards per attempt and passer rating. We like these indicators because they are functions of effectiveness and efficiency, respectively, and not functions of meaningless volume. Throwing the ball often does not make you a great quarterback. Throwing it well makes you a great quarterback.
 
Anderson was the most effective passer (highest YPA) in the NFL twice; consider that all-time greats Marino and Montana combined to lead the NFL in YPA just twice between the two of them.
 
Anderson was the most efficient passer (highest rating) in the NFL four times; consider that all-time greats Marino and Montana combined to lead the NFL in passer rating just three times between the two of them.
 
No, we're not arguing Anderson is better than Marino and Montana. All we're saying is that Anderson clearly put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers over the course of his career.
 
There are no two sides to that debate. Repeat after us: Anderson's numbers are Hall of Fame worthy.
 
Now let's look at Anderson's overall career numbers vs. those of all 23 modern era Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
 
Anderson Career Stats vs. all Modern Era Hall of Fame Quarterbacks
Player
Att
Comp
Comp%
Yards
YPA
TD
INT
Rating
Aikman
4715
2898
61.5
32942
6.99
165
141
81.6
Anderson
4475
2654
59.3
32838
7.34
197
160
81.9
Blanda*
4007
1911
47.7
26920
6.72
236
277
60.6
Bradshaw
3901
2025
51.9
27989
7.18
212
210
70.9
Dawson*
3741
2136
57.1
28711
7.67
239
183
82.6
Elway
7250
4123
56.9
51475
7.10
300
226
79.9
Fouts
5604
3297
58.8
43040
7.68
254
242
80.2
Graham**
1565
872
55.7
13499
8.63
88
94
78.1
Griese*
3429
1926
56.2
25092
7.32
192
172
77.1
Jurgensen
4262
2433
57.1
32224
7.56
255
189
82.6
Kelly
4779
2874
60.1
35467
7.42
237
175
84.4
Layne
3700
1814
49.0
26768
7.24
196
243
63.4
Marino
8358
4967
59.4
61361
7.34
420
252
86.4
Montana
5391
3409
63.2
40551
7.52
273
139
92.3
Moon
6823
3988
58.4
49325
7.23
291
233
80.9
Namath*
3762
1886
50.1
27663
7.35
173
220
65.5
Starr
3149
1808
57.4
24718
7.85
152
138
80.5
Staubach
2958
1685
57.0
22700
7.67
153
109
83.4
Tarkenton
6467
3686
57.0
47003
7.27
342
266
80.4
Tittle
4395
2427
55.2
33070
7.52
242
248
74.3
Unitas
5186
2830
54.6
40239
7.76
290
253
78.2
Van Brocklin
2895
1553
53.6
23611
8.16
173
178
75.1
Waterfield
1617
814
50.3
11849
7.33
97
128
61.6
Young
4149
2667
64.3
33124
7.98
232
107
96.8
* Includes AFL statistics; ** NFL stats only (does not include AAFC years)
 
Wow! Anderson's statistical resume certainly stacks up nicely against the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
  • Anderson ranks 15th out of 24 in average per pass attempt (7.338 YPA), just 4/1000th of a yard per attempt behind the great prolific Marino and well ahead of Live Ball Era hall of Famers such as Elway (7.10 YPA) and Aikman (6.99 YPA)
  • Anderson ranks 15th out of 24 in TD passes (197)
  • Anderson ranks 12th out of 24 in passing yards (32,838), just 104 yards behind Troy Aikman (who needed 240 more attempts to get those 104 yards)
  • Anderson ranks 11th out of 24 in completions (2,654)
  • Anderson ranks 11th out of 24 in TD-INT ratio (1.23 to 1), well ahead of notable contemporaries such as Fouts (1.05 to 1).
  • Anderson ranks 8th out of 24 in career passer rating (81.9), one of the highest marks of any quarterback who played all or part of his career in the Dead Ball Era, and ahead of Live Ball Era Hall of Famers Aikman, Moon and Elway.
  • Anderson ranks 6th out of 24 in completion percentage (59.3) – the most accurate passer on the list among those quarterbacks who spent all or part of their careers playing before the Live Ball Era (1978-present).
Remember, this is not how Anderson stacks up against a random collection of quarterbacks. This is how his statistical resume stacks up against the 23 greatest quarterbacks since World War II, those 23 already deemed worthy of immortality in Canton.
 
A statistical decade ahead of his time
When marveling at Anderson's Hall of Fame-worthy stats, it pays to remember that he spent much of his career playing in the depths of the Dead Ball Era (1970-77), when scoring hit its post-war low and quarterbacking was harder than ever.
 
Anderson, for example, led the NFL with an incredible 95.7 passer rating in 1974. Modern football fans might scoff at that number by today's gaudy standards. But consider that the league-wide passer rating in 1974 was a miniscule 64.2, one of the lowest league-wide ratings of the last 50 years.
 
In other words, Anderson's 95.7 passer rating bested the league average in 1974 by nearly 50 percent.
 
You might look at Anderson's 1977 season (69.7 rating) and say, "wow, that guy wasn't so good." But consider that 1977 was the absolute bottom of the Dead Ball Era. The average team in 1977 scored just 17.2 PPG, the lowest scoring average the NFL has seen since 1942. 
 
Naturally, scoring moves in lock-step with passing success. So it's no surprise to realize that it was extraordinarily difficult to pass the ball in 1977. In fact, the league-wide passer rating in 1977 was just 60.7, the most difficult year to pass the ball since 1956. So even with his humble 69.7 passer rating in his down year of 1977, Anderson was well ahead of the league average.
 
For a little perspective, the league-wide passer rating in 2010 was 82.2. But Anderson was putting up modern-looking numbers (four passer ratings above 90) at a time when the average passer was posting a passer rating in the mid-60s.
 
Anderson in other words was, statisticaly speaking, 10 or 20 years ahead of his time.
 
An Ominous Statistical Specter
A large shadow hung over Anderson's career that makes his modern-looking performances appear all the more impressive when studied through our long lens of statistical history.
 
Twice each year, Anderson battled the greatest pass defenses in modern NFL history: the dynastic Steel Curtain Steelers.
 
The 1973 Steelers, for example, fielded the greatest pass defense in modern NFL history, with a frighteningly miniscule 33.1 Defensive Passer Rating. In othe words, the average quarterback posted a pathetic 33.1 passer rating against the Steelers that year.
 
The Steelers also ranked among the 20 stingiest pass defenses in modern NFL history in 1974 (44.3), 1975 (42.8), 1976 (45.2) and 1977 (43.8). To put those incredible numbers in perspective by modern standards, consider that the Packers led the NFL in 2010 with a 67.2 Defensive Passer Rating.
 
Anderson was often the one quarterback the mighty Steelers struggled to contain. For example, in a game at Cincinnati in Novemberr 1974, Anderson shredded the Super Bowl-champion-bound Steel Curtain defense by completing an incredible 20 of 22 passes (90.9%) for 227 yards and a 109.7 rating in a 17-10 Bengals victory.
 
It was the most accurate passing performance by any quarterback in the first 73 years of NFL history (min. 20 attempts) and has been surpassed just three times since, in the very quarterack-friend league in modern times, by Vinny Testaverde (21 of 23 at L.A. Rams in 1993), Kurt Warner (24 of 26 at Jax in 2009) and Tom Brady (26 of 28 vs. Jax in 2008).
 
Testaverde completed more than 90 percent of his passes against the 5-11 L.A. Rams in the quarterback-friendly Live Ball Era. Warner and Brady, meanwhile, completed more than 90 percent of their passes against the same pathetic Jaguars pass defense in the space of three games (Jax 2008 playoff loss and second game of 2009 season). And both did it here in the cozy, quarterback-friendly confines of the Live Ball Era.
 
Anderson, meanwhile, completed more than 90 percent of his passes in the very stingy depths of the Dead Ball Era, and he did it against the greatest, most legendary and most feared pass defense in modern NFL history: the mighty Steel Curtain in its first championship season.
 
Of course, accuracy was always one of Anderson's many strengths: he completed 70.55 percent of his passes in 1981. It stood as the single-season accuracy record until surpassed in 2009 by Drew Brees (70.62%).
 
Among all the quarterbacks whose careers spanned the Dead Ball (1970-77) and Live Ball (1978-present) Eras, Anderson's career passer rating of 81.9 is second only to Roger Staubach's 83.4.
 
Of course, Staubach did something that Anderson failed to accomplish: Staubach won Super Bowls, two of them in fact.
 
So that's always been the knock against Anderson, that he never won a championship. Of course, nor did Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Fouts, Sonny Jurgensen, Dan Marino or Warren Moon.
 
Anderson, like Marino, at least carried his team to a Super Bowl. Hall of Famers Fouts, Jurgensen and Moon never even competed for an NFL championship.
 
And Anderson, like Marino, lost his one Super Bowl game to Bill Walsh and Joe Montana – a defeat in the case of Anderson filled with countless layers of irony, as you'll soon see.
 
Part 2: Ken Anderson, Bill Walsh and the rise of the West Coast offense
The so-called "West Coast offense" is widely considered one of the great evolutions in the history of football – a time when the primitive long-ball passing attack of old first stepped out of the primordial oceans of pigskin and began to walk on land, giving us the brutally efficient style of passing offense we recognize today.
 
The West Coast offense stretched defenses horizontally as well as vertically. It emphasized shorter, higher-percentage, lower-risk passes over the daring, high-risk, high-reward deep-ball attack that defined the passing game in the 1950s, 1960s, and then into the 1970s.
 
Statistically speaking, the West Coast offense did little to change average per attempt, and it reduced quite dramatically the relatively useless indicator of yards per completion. But it did produce higher completion percentages, higher passer ratings and better TD-to-INT ratios – the latter two in particular critical indicators of team-wide success throughout all of NFL history, as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven many times.
 
The offense rose to fame, and earned the name "West Coast offense," when coach Bill Walsh and quarterback Joe Montana rode it to three Super Bowl titles together in San Francisco. The franchise added two more West Coast offense-fueled championships under head coach George Seifert.
 
Yes, the offense rose to fame in San Francisco. But it proved its worth in Cincinnati, where Walsh was an assistant from 1968 to 1975 and offensive coordinator from 1971 to 1975.
 
It was there in Cincinnati that Ken Anderson became the first quarterback to successfully execute and prove the viability of what we now call the West Coast offense.
 
Anderson, in other words, made a critical contribution to the history of the game, a sizable feather in his Hall of Fame-caliber cap. NFL Films has produced a number of nice segments on the history of the West Coast offense, naming it "one of the top 10 things that changed the game."
 
And they do give credit where credit is due:
 
"The seeds of the west coast offense were planted by Bill Walsh in Cincinnati to create a passing game that was an extension of the running game," said Chuck Ludwig of the Dayton Daily News on NFL Films.
 
"To call it the West Coast offense is almost funny, because the plays were the same (that we ran in Cincinnati)," said former Bengals lineman Dave Lapham. "The 'Midwest offense' might be a better moniker for it."
 
Loyal maize-and-blue-bleeding Michigander Rich Eisen of NFL Network struggles to give Ohio credit for anything, but even he quips that Walsh's attack should be called "The Midwest Coast offense."
 
Reporter Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com says, more specifically, "It should be called the 8th Street Viaduct offense," a reference to the location of the team's practice field for much of its history.
 
Students of pigskin pathology here at Cold, Hard Football find it very easy to spot the statistical DNA of the West Coast offense when you compare Anderson's career numbers to those of the quarterbacks most closely associated with it: Joe Montana and Steve Young.
 
All three posted extraordinarily high completion percentages – Only five quarterbacks in history completed more than 70 percent of their passes in a single season: Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh (1945), Hall of Famer Young (1994), Hall of Famer Montana (1989), potential future Hall of Famer Drew Brees (2009), and, yes, as-of-yet-not-Hall of Famer Anderson (1982).
 
Baugh was the first to do it, playing eight of 10 games in 1945. It should be noted that Anderson played just nine games in the strike-shortened season of 1982. But in either case, there's an obvious correlation between the West Coast offense and high completion percentages: Anderson, Montana and Young were the players who popularized the system, and Brees accomplished his feat of accuracy under head coach and West Coast offense disciple Sean Payton.
 
In other words, of the five players in history to complete more than 70 percent of their passes in a season, four did it in the West Coast offense, and the other is no less than the Pigskin Messiah himself, Sammy Baugh, arguably the greatest two-way football player of all time.
 
All three posted extraordinarily high passer ratings – Young led the NFL in passer rating a record six different seasons. Anderson is tied for second on the list with Hall of Famer Bart Starr, as both led the NFL four times in passer rating.
 
Montana retired in 1994 with what was then the highest passer rating in NFL history (92.3). Young surpassed Montana, and he, too, retired (in 1999) with what was then the highest passer rating in NFL history (96.8). Both played their entire careers in the quarterback-friendly Live Ball Era (1978-present).
 
Anderson never topped the career passer rating list. But he was very high on the list for his time. When he left football in 1986, having played in both the Dead Ball (1970-77) and Live Ball Eras, only Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen, Len Dawson and Roger Staubach had retired with higher career passer ratings.
 
All three posted very high TD-INT ratios – Perhaps the most underappreciated statistical hallmark of the West Coast offense is that it dramatically altered the ratio between touchdowns and interceptions in pro football.
 
Before 1978, anything better than 1 TD for every 1 INT over the course of a career was quite an accomplishment. In fact, old-time quarterbacks Blanda, Graham, Layne, Namath, Tittle, Van Brocklin and Waterfield all entered the Hall of Fame despite throwing more picks than they did touchdowns. Two of those players, Blanda and Namath, played well into the 1970s (though Blanda basically as a kicker).
 
Young to this day is still No. 3 all time in TD-INT ratio (2.2 to 1). He's been surpassed only by current quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (2.7 to 1) and Tom Brady (2.5 to 1). Montana is also among the highest in history (1.96 to 1).
 
Anderson boasts a very-impressive-for-his-era TD-INT ratio of 1.23 to 1 and was the only quarterback in the Dead Ball Era to consistently throw more TDs than INTs.
 
In fact, playing at the very depths of the Dead Ball Era from 1971 to 1977, Anderson never threw more INTs than TDs – an extraordinarily rare if not unique accomplishment. Compare that accomplishment to Hall of Fame contemporary Dan Fouts. The Chargers quarterback played five Dead Ball Era seasons (1973-77) and threw more INTs than TDs every single year
  • Fouts threw 34 TD and 57 INT in the Dead Ball Era
  • Anderson threw an incredible 99 TDs to just 69 INTs in the Dead Ball Era.
Remember, Anderson's feat is made all the more amazing, as noted above, by the fact that twice each year he faced the greatest pass-defense dynasty in history in the Steel Curtain of Pittsburgh. The mighty 1973 Steelers, for example, with their modern record 33.1 Defensive Passer Rating, allowed just 11 TD passes all year while hauling in a jaw-dropping 37 INTs.
 
Hall of Fame contemporary Fouts did not become the statistical machine we remember until the rule changes of 1978 spawned the Live Ball Era. Anderson, for his part, was putting up Live Ball Era-style passer ratings and TD-INT ratios in the depths of the Dead Ball Era.
 
The critic of Anderson's Hall of Fame credentials will argue that he must have been a dreaded "system quarterback" if his numbers were so comparable in so many ways to those of famed West Coast conductors Montana and Young.
 
Well, the responses to that are three-fold:
 
One, that's quite a f*cking system to make so many ordinary quarterbacks look so statistically proficient. And even if all three were system quarterbacks, two of them are in the Hall of Fame.
 
Two, it doesn't change the fact that Anderson put up numbers that were a decade ahead of their time despite rules that favored defenses and made even the best quarterbacks struggle badly by today's standards.
 
And three, the trump card: Anderson dominated the NFL passing lanes again in the Live Ball Era 1980s, long after the departure of Walsh or head coach Paul Brown.
 
Anderson led the NFL in passer rating in both 1974 (95.7) and 1975 (93.9). And then he accomplished the feat again in 1981 (98.4) and 1982 (95.3). Anderson is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in passer rating two years in a row in both the Dead Ball and Live Ball Eras – an accomplishment that speaks volumes about his gifts as a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback.
 
The one and only hole in Anderson's Hall of Fame resume is that his incredible statistical production and his status as a pioneer of pigskin never led to an NFL championship – as they did for Montana (four times) and Young.
 
But as you'll soon see, Montana and Young had one very huge strategic advantage over Anderson without which their revolutionary passing skills would not have produced championships. But more on that in our next and final installment of the Case for Ken Anderson.
 
Part 3: Anderson vs. HOFers, History, MVPs and the San Fran dynasty
The big knock against Ken Anderson is that he didn't win – or specifically, didn't win Super Bowls.
 
Fair enough. Quarterback is the most important position in sports. And teams that earn multiple Super Bowls almost always do so because they get consistently great play at quarterback.
 
And even if you win Super Bowls without consistently great play at quarterback, a handful of Super Bowl rings still equals a fast track to Canton. Take Dallas Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, for example. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls when he was at the helm of the offense. He certainly proved a steady performer with several notable big-game efforts (Super Bowl XXVII most notably).
 
But the Cowboys did not win Super Bowls because Aikman was a transcendent quarterback with eye-popping statistical production. In fact, as we saw in Part 1 above, Anderson consistently put up better numbers than Aikman, despite the fact Anderson spent much of his career playing in the quarterback-stat-crushing Dead Ball Era.
 
But Aikman won three Super Bowls. Hardware matters. We respect that hardware matters. So, thanks to his three rings, Aikman was quickly ushered into Canton despite the fact that a quarterback like Anderson was superior by any other statistical measure.
 
And it's in this area, a lack of hardware, that those who question Anderson's HOF credentials make their case. But the case against Anderson, as you've seen above and will see below, is buoyed by thin and empty arguments.
 
Anderson, for his part, won 52.9 percent of his starts. Not spectacular in and of itself. It places Anderson firmly in the bottom half of the list when compared with the 23 modern era Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
 
Anderson vs. Modern Hall of Fame QBs (based upon win percentage)
 
W
L
T
PCT
Graham**
57
13
1
.810
Staubach
85
29
0
.746
Montana
117
47
0
.713
Bradshaw
107
51
0
.677
Young
94
49
0
.657
Unitas
118
64
4
.645
Elway
148
82
1
.643
Kelly
101
59
0
.631
Van Brocklin
61
36
4
.624
Griese*
92
56
3
.619
Starr
94
57
6
.618
Dawson*
94
57
8
.616
Marino
147
93
0
.613
Layne
80
51
4
.607
Tittle
78
52
5
.596
Aikman
94
71
0
.570
Tarkenton
124
109
6
.531
Anderson
91
81
0
.529
Blanda*
53
50
1
.514
Fouts
86
84
1
.506
Moon
102
101
0
.502
Namath*
62
63
4
.496
Jurgensen
69
73
7
.487
Waterfield
 
 
 
N/A
* includes years in the AFL; ** NFL only (does not include AAFC years)
 
So Anderson is not high on this list. But his winning percentage is hardly enough to keep him out of Canton, especially when you measure all his other HOF credentials.
 
Anderson, for example, won nearly as often as Hall of Famer Tarkenton (who played with world-class defenses during his years in Minnesota). And Anderson certainly won more often than Hall of Famers Blanda, Fouts, Moon, Namath and Jurgensen (we had trouble finding accurate W-L data for Waterfield) – while putting up better efficiency numbers than almost every single one of those players.
 
Anderson joins Namath as the only players among that group to play in an NFL championship game or Super Bowl. Of course, Namath will always be remembered for that victory in Super Bowl III.
 
In fact, that victory is the sole reason Broadway Joe is in the Hall of Fame today, despite the fact he was an otherwise terrible quarterback by any statistical measure. (Much like Anderson is the most underrated quarterback of all time, the Cold, Hard Football Facts named Namath the most overrated quarterback of all time.)
 
Cincinnati's Glory Days
So you can certainly argue that Anderson didn't win a Super Bowl. This failure to win a Super Bowl obviously hurt his Hall of Fame chances. But there's no arguing that the Bengals organization – now one of the most dysfunctional in sports – has never been the same since Anderson retired.
 
In fact, the Anderson Years were easily the "glory days" of the Bengals franchise. Anderson was Cincinnati's No. 1 quarterback for 13 years (1972-84).
  • The Bengals enjoyed 7 winning seasons in 13 years with Anderson at quarterback.
  • The Bengals have enjoyed just 6 winning seasons in 30 years with other players at quarterback.
  • The Bengals won 10 or more games four times in 13 years with Anderson at quarterback.
  • The Bengals have won 10 or more games just three times in 30 years with other players at quarterback.
  • The Bengals reached the playoffs four times in 13 years with Anderson at quarterback
  • The Bengals have reached the playoffs five times in 30 years with other players at quarterback
The wins and losses say it all:
  • The Bengals won 37.5 percent of their games before Anderson became quarterback (19-32-1).
  • The Bengals won 52.9 percent of their games with Anderson at quarterback (91-81-0).
  • The Bengals have won just 38.8 percent of their games since Anderson retired (148-234-1).
Clearly, the organization struggled badly as an expansion organization before Anderson arrived on the scene. And clearly, it's struggled badly as an established organization after Anderson departed the scene.
 
Anderson played under five different coaches in Cincinnati – Paul Brown, Bill Johnson, Homer Rice, Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche. One thing remained the same: the Bengals were consistent winners as long as they had Anderson at quarterback.
 
Five different men have coached in Cincinnati since Anderson retired: Wyche, David Shula, Bruce Coslet, Dick LeBeau and Marv Lewis. One thing has remained the same: the Bengals have been consistent losers since Anderson last played quarterback.
 
Individual Hardware: Anderson's Lost MVP Seasons
We saw in Part 1 of The Case for Ken Anderson that he clearly put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers by any statistical measure.  
 
So clearly, the argument against Anderson hinges on the hardware. He simply did not win a Super Bowl ring, let alone several. But he did win MVP honors once – in his AFC championship season of 1981.  
 
And it might have been more than one MVP if voters had given him a second look on three other occasions. Let's compare Anderson to a few guys who earned MVP honors ahead of him (Geoff Hobson did a similar study at Bengals.com).
 
Ken Stabler, for example, earned MVP honors in 1974. Here's how the two QBs stacked up that season:
 
Stabler: 178 of 310 (57.4%), 2,469 yards, 8.0 YPA, 26 TD, 12 INT, 94.9 rating
Anderson: 213 of 328 (64.9%), 2,667 yards, 8.1 YPA, 18 TD, 10 INT, 95.7 rating
 
Fran Tarkenton, meanwhile, earned MVP honors in 1975. Here's how the two QBs stacked up that season:
 
Tarkenton: 273 of 425 (64.2%), 2,994 yards, 7.0 YPA, 25 TD, 13 INT, 91.8 rating
Anderson: 228 of 377 (60.5%), 3,169 yards, 8.4 YPA, 21 TD, 11 INT, 93.9 rating
 
We're not arguing Anderson necessarily deserved MVP honors ahead of either Stabler or Tarkenton. But just remember that, in both seasons, Anderson boasted more yards, a better average per attempt, fewer INTs and a higher passer rating than the league MVP. He also topped Stabler and Tarkenton in rushing yards each year.
 
The ultimate MVP indignity came in the strike-shortened season of 1982. Anderson topped the NFL in completions (218) and passer rating (95.3), while setting an NFL record by completing 70.55 percent of his passes. He led the Bengals to a 7-2 record, the second best mark in the NFL that year (Redskins, Raiders both 8-1).
 
What did Anderson earn for all these accomplishments? He was bypassed in the MVP voting by Washington's straight-ahead kicker Mark Moseley – the first and only time a kicking specialist earned MVP honors.
 
Moseley, to his credit, connected on 20 of 21 field goals while setting what was then a record for consecutive field goals (23). Both numbers were incredible for the time and by the standards of old-school straight-ahead kickers.
 
Regardless – Anderson was the top passer in football in 1982 while setting an accuracy record for one of the league's best teams. And yet the NFL's defending league MVP was passed over for consecutive honors in favor of a field goal kicker.
 
Ouch. Are you sh*ttin' us? Anderson lost out to a friggin' kicker?
 
Even 30 years ago, Anderson got short shrift from voters. With or without Super Bowls, Anderson's legacy clearly would have been different had he won multiple MVP awards. And there were three seasons in his career when Anderson out-performed the league's MVP. We're not sure you can say that about any other player in the history of pro football.
 
Montana, Young and San Francisco's untold secret to success
We saw in Part 2 of the Case for Ken Anderson that he was a pioneer of the "West Coast offense." Yet clearly, he did not win as often as the players most often associated with the style of play: Joe Montana and Steve Young.
 
Sure, Montana and Young are both bona-fide first-ballot Hall of Famers. You could argue Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time. He's certainly the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time. And Young, for his part, as noted in Part 1 above, retired as the most efficient quarterback in the history of football.
 
But both Montana and Young enjoyed incredible advantages on the field that Anderson simply did not have.
 
Namely, both enjoyed the benefits of playing alongside the longest-lasting defensive dynasty in the history of football.
 
Bill Walsh's genius in San Francisco was not that he changed football with the West Coast offense, after first proving its merits with Anderson in Cincinnati. Walsh's genius in San Francisco is that he changed football with the West Coast offense while putting in place a defensive system that consistently produced, under three different coaches, the league's stingiest defenses.
 
San Francisco's record streak of nearly two decades of defensive dominance is the great untold story of Walsh's genius and the San Francisco dynasty – which we discussed in great detail here a couple years ago.
 
In the 17 seasons from 1981 to 1997 – basically, the length and breadth of the entire 49ers dynasty – San Francisco never surrendered more than 300 points in a season. It's an unbelievable streak of defensive success that spanned three coaches (Walsh, George Seifert, Steve Mariucci). The 49ers dynasty:
  • Fielded a Top 8 scoring defense in 15 of those 17 seasons
  • Fielded a Top 3 scoring defense in 10 of those 17 seasons.
Basically, Montana and Young won with near record proficiency because their Hall of Fame passing skills were consistently paired with one of the league's stingiest defenses.
 
Anderson enjoyed NO such benefit in Cincinnati. In fact, he won despite his consistently porous defenses in Cincinnati. The Bengals:
  • Fielded a Top 8 scoring defense in 4 of Andersons' 13 seasons as the No. 1 QB
  • Have NEVER fielded a defense that ranked in the Top 3 in scoring – let alone 10 times in 17 years like the dynastic 49ers.

Anderson's best defense ranked No. 5 in scoring – and that came in 1972, his first year as a fulltime starter.

One can only wonder how many championships the Bengals would have won if Anderson's Hall of Fame passing  production in the pioneering "West Coast" offense were paired with a defense that consistently ranked among the stingiest in football.
 
Ironically, it was Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and that budding dynastic defense that denied 1981 league MVP Anderson his lone shot at a championship ring, in Super Bowl XVI.
 
Anderson was largely impressive: he completed 25 of 34 passes for 300 yards, 2 TD (but with 2 critical INT) and a 95.2 passer rating, while adding another touchdown with a 5-yard run. It was one of the best performances by any quarterback that year against one of the league's best defenses.
 
The 1981 49ers finished No. 2 in scoring defense (15.6 PPG) and No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating (60.2).  Anderson was handicapped by a unit that finished No. 12 in scoring defense (19.0 PPG) and No. 20 in Defensive Passer Rating (78.9).
 
Montana, meanwhile, is fittingly remembered as the best of all Super Bowl quarterbacks. But he was merely ordinary in that first of his four Super Bowl wins.
 
Montana completed 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards 1 TD and (most importantly) 0 INT against the vulnerable Cincy defense.
 
The game hinged not on Montana's greatness that day, but on the greatest goal-line stand in Super Bowl history –  one produced by the dynastic San Francisco defense.
 
The Bengals failed to score late in the third quarter, despite enjoying a first-and-goal situation at the San Francisco 3 yard line. NFL Films has done a number of great segments on San Francisco's goal line stand, such as this video here (or go to the 2:40 mark of this video that breaks it down play by play):
 
show video here
 
 
The 49ers went into halftime with a 20-0 lead. They held off a furious second-half comeback, thanks largely to that goal-line stand, to earn a 26-21 victory.
 
Sadly for Anderson, Cincy's Super Bowl loss came on the heels of what was probably the quarterback's signature game: a 27-7 win over the Chargers in the AFC title game, the famous "Freezer Bowl."  
 
Anderson dramatically outplayed Hall of Famer Fouts that day – in the coldest game in NFL history, at -37 degrees with the wind chill. (The famed Ice Bowl in Green Bay had a colder air temperature, but not wind chill.)
 
Anderson's lengthy Hall of Fame resume
So, yes: Anderson never won a Super Bowl. He'd be a certain Hall of Famer if he had. Regardless, he remains one of the most statistically prolific passers of all time, producing MVP- and Hall of Fame-caliber stats year after year. He was a pioneer of modern offensive football. He won at an organization that has consistently failed to win without him. He won without great defenses. He consistently outplayed the league's Most Valuable Players. He came within one or two plays of nipping the 49ers dynasty in the bud.
 
One only wonders how many games, MVP honors and Super Bowls Anderson would have won if he had only been paired year after year with one of the game's best defenses.
 
We'll never know. But we do know this: Anderson's resume and his Hall of Fame credentials surpass those of many of the quarterbacks already enshrined in Canton. There should be room for Ken Anderson alongside them.

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