Tracked down Willie Anderson this week after Lenny Pasquarelli’s story about him on ESPN.com detailed his desire to get back into the NFL as a player as well as a mentor.
Anderson has harbored the desire ever since he retired last spring, but has said he needed to take the year off to address some things and now at 338 pounds and less than three weeks shy of his 35th birthday he says he’s ready for a comeback. He’s still on the Ravens reserve/retired list, so he’s their property until they release him. But the Ravens are probably the first team that would take a look at him, anyway. He says he’s had some feelers, but won’t get specific.
The Bengals and Anderson don’t look headed for a reunion despite the question marks hovering over Andre Smith’s right foot, but that’s not what was on my mind. I always go to Big Will whenever I want to talk NBA, which is not often. But with the Celtics getting beat by the Lakers in seven games, I had a lot of things I wanted to get off my chest.
Will knows how I feel about William Felton Russell. He is the greatest team player in the history of team sports. The bottom line is 11 NBA championships in 13 years. And the last two as a PLAYER-COACH.
To put Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, or anyone else in the same breath with Bill Russell is simply a travesty. If they do it as a PLAYER-COACH with at least 11 titles, then we can begin the discussion. Until then, it’s an embarrassment. A failure of institutional memory. The triumph of the banality of Madison Avenue and the homogenization of everything from drugstores to Hall of Fame plaques.
And that got us going on the theme from Mike and Mike’s radio show on ESPN Tuesday morning. Russell has to be the most underrated player of all-time in any sport. Baseball’s Frank Robinson, another player-manager, is a distant second. How good was F. Robby? He brought the National League’s hard-lard style to the American League and the Orioles won four pennants in his first six seasons with them.
And then I told Big Will I thought he was the most underrated Bengal of all time.
It was like Columbus discovering America when the Bengals went 8-8 in 2003. Hey look, Paul Brown Stadium isn’t a flying saucer and there’s the most dominant right tackle in the NFL. Except he’d already been there for seven years. Anderson ended up going to the next four Pro Bowls, but it should have been at least seven and maybe eight.
“You have to win,” Anderson said. “I think the guys I went against and my teammates knew, but there was this perception out there that all of a sudden I got better. I mean, I did get better, but not that much. That’s just the way it was.”
Bengals president Mike Brown has always said that after Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz on the left side, Anderson is the best tackle in Bengals history. That has to make him the most underrated Bengal ever, although you could certainly make an argument for cornerback Ken Riley. Riley never made a Pro Bowl despite finishing with 65 career interceptions, fifth most of all-time. Maybe Ken Anderson, too, since he’s the only eligible quarterback that has at least four passing titles not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But at least Anderson and wide receiver Isaac Curtis got their dues in a Super Bowl and Pro Bowls. So did running back James Brooks, although he never truly got the national attention he deserved.
Anderson thinks that there are two guys he played with that also deserve to be in the discussion: Running back Corey Dillon and linebacker Takeo Spikes.
“First would be Corey and second would be Takeo,” Anderson said. “He didn’t have a passing game and he didn’t have a defense to stop anybody so that we could get the ball back and give it to him 30 times a game. He rarely got 30 carries and that’s a guy you would run to death if you could. But we couldn’t and he was still great even though everybody knew we couldn’t pass. Look at how long Takeo has played and he’s still good playing on good defenses.”
Spikes has been to two Pro Bowls, when he went with the Bills during his first two seasons in Buffalo in ’03 and ’04. Dillon did go to three Pro Bowls as a Bengal and he did get accolades for breaking two of the game’s biggest rushing records, single-game marks for a rookie and all-time. So he wasn’t as anonymous as his best lineman.
“It probably hurt me, too,” Anderson said, “that we couldn’t get him 30 carries a game.”
So I think I’d go top five underrated Bengals of all time:
Rodney Holman. (Tight end that could do it all and that included stretching the field. Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome averaged 12.1 yards per catch and had 47 TDs. Holman had 13.6 yards per catch and 34 TDs. Of course, Newsome had 662 career catches, more than double Rodney’s 318, and that’s why he was a Hall of Famer. Holman made three Pro Bowls, but while Sam and Boomer and Eddie Brown and Tim McGee and the O-line got all the ink and sound bites, Holman quietly gave that offense its versatility and explosiveness.)
Rich Braham. (Center played hurt more than Ozzy Osbourne and in a couple of different eras. Blocked for Dillon’s record-setters and snapped for Carson Palmer’s triple-digit passer rating season. Took the Bengals three seasons to replace him.)
Jim Breech. (Yes, a kicker. Never went to a Pro Bowl. Only had two 50-yarders in a season once. In 13 seasons as a Bengal he broke 80 percent on field goals in just three seasons. But he was nine-for-nine in OT. Case closed.)
Tags: Anderson, underrated, Willie
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