Top 50 Moments: Ken Anderson Lights Up Monday Night Football

Posted Dec 12, 2017

Under the lights on the river, the rest of the nation now knows just how good Bengals quarterback Kenny Anderson is. He outduels future Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson with his 447 yards passing compared to Simpson’s 197 yards rushing.

Because of the disturbance in routine, punctual puritan Paul Brown always requests the NFL not schedule his team on Monday nights.

But on this Monday night, Nov. 17, 1975, he and his Bengals help make Monday Night Football and The Giffer, Danderoo and Howard an institution in its sixth season with the perfect casting for prime time:

Two different kinds of offensive shows generated by the league's greatest passer and runner, a 33-24 spellbinder seemingly designed in the fertile recesses of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's mind.

In the end under the lights on the river, the rest of the nation now knows just how good Bengals quarterback Kenny Anderson is. He outduels future Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson with his 447 yards passing, while Simpson rips off 197 yards rushing on just 17 carries and comes within three yards of tying Jim Brown with five 200-yard games.

Anderson, 26, who quietly won his first NFL passing title the year before, is now headed to back-to-back crowns after fending off Simpson. He'll go on to win two more titles during his 16-year career and become the only man with at least three NFL passing titles not in the Hall of Fame.

When those shake their heads why Anderson isn't enshrined in Canton, this is the night they put at the top of the list.

"He was the best tonight. He was the best last year," says tight end Bob Trumpy in the locker room. "What more evidence do you want to see?"

Anderson spreads it out as the Bengals just miss having three 100-yard receivers. He hits Charlie Joiner five times for 90 yards, Chip Myers seven times for 108 and finds his favorite target, Isaac Curtis, seven times for 139 yards before Curtis leaves on crutches with an injured ankle.

With the Bills pulling to within 23-17 late in the third quarter, Anderson responds with a vintage seven-play, 80-yard drive that has a little bit of everything. He hits Myers for a pair of 14-yarders and goes up top to find Joiner for 33 more while also running for 10 of his own. It sets up Stan Fritts' one-yard run with 12:33 left in the game and gives the crowd of 56,666 time to catch its collective breath in the chilly Thanksgiving air.

But not enough time for Dandy Don to sing "Turn Out The Lights," because Simpson's offensive line, "The Electric Company," is still humming and The Juice is still in the wings.

Yet, unbelievably, that's where he stays. The Bengals are stunned when Simpson only carries the ball on four runs that count in the game's last 20 minutes or so after he had rolled to 154 yards in the first half.

Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson and head coach Lou Saban have clearly felt the pressure to keep up with Anderson and keep the game close.

"Every time I saw him going back to pass or hand it off to (fullback Jim) Braxton, it felt like a weight off my back," Paul Brown will muse a day later. "And any time he gave it to their other guy, I practically shook all over."

Simpson mesmerizes the Bengals, but Anderson's right arm has the upper hand. Even Simpson will write in his weekly column, "That Ken Anderson, he was unreal. We knew we were going to have problems with the pass, but he just picked us apart."

True to form, Anderson shrugs off an outing that four decades later is still the second biggest yardage day by a Bengals quarterback. And it will last 15 more years as the best until Boomer Esiason puts up 490 against the Rams.

"I don't think I got sacked once," Anderson says. "That tells you something."

Anderson does his work against a 3-4 defense the Bills had just installed that week after watching Houston have success stopping Cincinnati with it. But Anderson admits that sometimes the defenders weren't in the right place as they tried to adjust to the new scheme.

A classic Anderson understatement after a classic night on the river.

When Danderoo and ABC do turn out the lights at this party on the river, Anderson has led the Bengals to 8-1 and into a first-place tie in the AFC Central with a Steelers team building its own legend.

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