SUPER BOWL XXIII: CINCINNATI BENGALS vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS : RETURN ENGAGEMENT : Anderson at Super Bowl Again, This Time in Booth
Ken Anderson is at such a safe remove from this Super Bowl that his most physical preparation so far involves makeup. What a difference VII years make, huh?
This same week in 1982, he was getting ready to wear Jack Reynolds, who had his own ideas about facial applications.
Anderson was the Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback then, a principal player in that season’s National Football League championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.
As you may remember, he came out of that with the NFL’s more traditional pancake makeup, bruised and intercepted, and without the ring. The 49ers, with a third-year quarterback by the name of Joe Montana, won that game, 26-21.
For the rematch, 7 years in the making, Anderson has taken to the lofty perch of the press box. He has gone to quarterback heaven, where he analyzes the action for the hometown radio and TV stations. The preparation may not be as desperate as it was in 1982, but it is not much more casual.
“Call me back in 20 minutes,” he says from his hotel room in Miami, “I’ve got to help edit the piece for tonight’s Bengals show.”
Twenty minutes later, he apologizes. “Uh, I’m just putting on my makeup for the 5:30 show . . . “
Three hours later, the hurly-burly of that day’s news cycle receding into relative calm, he has the time--some--to talk about that game 7 years ago and the curious setup for the rematch. As little time as he has had in his dual role as reporter-throwback--"You wouldn’t believe the calls I’m getting about that game. I simply can’t return them!"--he has been able to reflect on this game’s dynamics, most of which he set in motion:
--Bill Walsh, the 49ers’ coach. Walsh scouted Anderson at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., and helped make him the surprise first-round choice in the 1971 draft.
Walsh, the Bengals’ quarterback coach in those days, then helped this collegiate mystery develop into a Pro Bowl passer and assured Walsh’s own fame as an offensive genius.
--Sam Wyche, the Bengal coach. Walsh and Wyche go way back, mentor and apprentice. That’s curious enough. But it was Anderson who might have sped Wyche on his way to a coaching career.
“In those days, the draft was held in June,” Anderson remembers. “And, as you know, Sam had been quarterback the 1970 season before I was drafted. And then he was traded to Washington.”
What Anderson is saying, however politely, is that he ran Wyche out of town, where he was just beginning to settle in as the team’s quarterback.
--Joe Montana, still the 49er quarterback. Although Anderson passed for 300 yards in that Super Bowl, nearly twice what Montana did, Montana won the duel. At least, Montana, who threw no interceptions to Anderson’s 2, got the ring and the car. But the intervening years have thrown Montana into a role reversal.
“Now he’s the aging quarterback,” says Anderson, who was 32 then, “and Boomer (Esiason) is the young lion.”
Anderson observes all this from a safe, though still partial, perspective. He retired after the 1986 season, having finally yielded his position to Esiason the season before. And he gradually made his way into the broadcast booth, part-time at first but now as a mainstay.
His new career is almost accidental. At no time did he set out to become the next Joe Theismann or Terry Bradshaw.
“After I retired, the radio station (WKRC) asked if I could lead into their pregame show. And then I went on their postgame show. Then they asked if I could do a call-in show on Mondays. And then, could I come in and talk on Fridays.”
By February of last year, he was doing a morning radio show, a 5:30 p.m. sports show for WKRC-TV, and an hour-long radio call-in show in the afternoon. For Super Bowl week, he has been doing a Bengal special from 11:30 to midnight each night.
“Well, it’s a steady job,” he explains.
It figures that Anderson would have a steady job. He always has. Among his remarkable achievements in the NFL is that he managed to stay 16 years with the team that drafted him. He’s football’s version of Johnny Bench.
“If you say so,” he says, laughing at the comparison.
Actually, considering his pedigree, it was remarkable that he was drafted at all. He had gone to Augustana, a Division III school, to play basketball, not football.
Anderson’s next-door neighbor in Batavia, Ill., not far from Chicago, was Dan Issel, and no matter how celebrated Anderson later became, the sign at the edge of town for many years read, “Welcome to Batavia, Home of Dan Issel.”
But he tried out for football, an afterthought really, became a starter his senior year and began to attract scouts with his arm and mobility. The Bengals passed over Theismann to pick this relative unknown.
Looking back, there is little wondering why. Anderson’s talents aside, and they were considerable if unspectacular, his personality suited the equally conservative Bengals and Cincinnati perfectly. He was quiet--some said boring--efficient and loyal. Not only did he choose to live in Cincinnati, now and forever, but he negotiated with his bosses without benefit of agents.
No wonder owner Paul Brown gushed, “He’s Americana at its best, wholesome and disciplined.”
That might have been owner’s code-talk, a kind of smirking about an underpaid worker. But it is clear that Anderson has benefited in the long run. His longevity, as both player and citizen, has assured him legend status in Cincinnati. Though he went through times when he was as much booed as cheered, he is now beloved.
“I think people get what I call selective memory,” he explains. “You become better in their minds.” He pauses and laughs. “I know I do in mine.”
If he didn’t get the Bengals over the hump in the Super Bowl, he nevertheless anchored a growing franchise through the 1970s. Along the way, he acquired a reputation for precision and leadership. He was a study in right-headed accuracy.
Once, he completed 20 of 22 passes. Once, he completed 20 in a row. Four seasons, he led the league in passing. And nobody has since touched his 1982 season, when he completed 70% of his passes.
His legacy is such that when Esiason completed a scoring pass in a recent playoff game, the surprised announcer reported that it was the first such pass in Bengal history that wasn’t thrown by Anderson.
For all that, he may be better remembered as the losing quarterback in the 1982 Super Bowl. “I’m still disappointed about that,” he says. “We made mistakes early and we lost.”
That game was a rare one in Super Bowl history. It was close. The Bengals had chances, lots of them, to win.
If you were a Bengal fan, you mostly lamented the third-quarter drive that stalled on the 1-yard line with the Bengals behind, 20-7. If fullback Pete Johnson, the human bowling bowl, runs over the 49ers’ Reynolds on just one of his two rolls off tackle, Super Bowl history might be different.
“That’s the one everybody focuses on,” Anderson says. “But what I remember are the interceptions. I threw one, they went for a TD. And then one of our receivers fumbled a pass down on the 10. They marched back and scored.
“Of course there was that goal-line stand, but just as important, what I remember, we had closed the gap to 20-14 early in the fourth quarter and we had the 49ers backed up. It’s third and long and Montana rolls out. If we held them, then . . . “
His voice trails off when talking about these missed opportunities. There’s no difference in the world like the one between a Super Bowl winner and loser.
“Not ever having been on the winning side, I can’t say what I’ve missed,” he says. “But I’m very happy with my life right now. I don’t have any complaints. Let me put it this way, it’s not something that haunts me.”
Anderson has always been prepared to move on after football, anyway. He began working on a law degree almost as soon as he became a Bengal. And although he has never practiced, he does have something to fall back on.
Also, before radio and TV offered him a career choice, he was running two beer distributorships, one in Northern Kentucky, another in Dayton, Ohio.
The one thing Anderson knew was that no one game, or even a football career, would amount to a life’s work. It’s nice to be remembered, he says, but it’s good to keep things in perspective. He never did replace Dan Issel on that sign.
“As far as that goes,” he says, “I don’t think there’s a Dan Issel sign anymore.”