What’s old is new again.
The two No. 14s finally met before last Saturday’s game and, as expected, there were more spirals than words.
“I know how it is before a game. I don’t want to bother you,” Kenny Anderson said.
“It’s about time we met,” Andy Dalton said.
“A lot of smiles,” says Dave Lapham, who made the intros. “But not a lot of talking. Not very surprising. If it’s one thing they have in common it’s neither of them would say stuff if they had a mouthful. They don’t give you many nuggets.”
But Anderson would no doubt supply Lapham some goodies as he planned to go on the air with his old road roommate on Monday night’s weekly show at downtown Cincinnati’s Holy Grail sports bar that Lapham co-hosts as the Bengals radio analyst with Lance McAlister.
“I don’t have to worry about talking because he takes care of that,” Anderson says.
Anderson, the Bengals all-time leading passer, no brainer Hall of Fame candidate, now a retired statesman of the game and doting grandfather, came back to town for the holidays and watched Dalton lead the Bengals to a 23-16 Christmas Eve victory over the Cardinals that kept Cincinnati in the playoff hunt. Between the TV and another previous Paul Brown Stadium appearance, it was probably the fifth time Anderson has seen Dalton this rookie season.
“Poise. I think we all like that about him,” says Anderson, who actually coached NFL quarterbacks one season longer (17) than he played with the Bengals.
As a coach Anderson never charged one of his quarterbacks with an incompletion if he threw it away to avoid a sack.
“That’s one of the things I really like about him,” Anderson says. “He doesn’t mind throwing it away. He’s got a good feel for the game that way. That shows you he puts the team first and isn’t selfish enough to make his stats that important.”
Anderson, known as the textbook passer who wrote The Art of Quarterbacking, says he’s seen enough throws from Dalton to realize the worries about his arm strength were unfounded and that he’s athletic enough to run out of the pocket and make plays. After Dalton popped a third-and-one quarterback sneak outside around the right when the middle folded Saturday in the second quarter and took off for a career-high 17-yarder, Lapham reminded his listeners that during Anderson’s 1981 MVP season he was Cincinnati's second-leading rusher on a Super Bowl team.
And on Saturday, Dalton was Cincinnati's second-leading rusher with five carries for 48 yards.
“I think he’s shown that all season,” Anderson says. “He’s not afraid to take it and go and, like I said, I think he’s shown some pretty good judgment.”
There are no comparisons here. Anderson is an all-time great and Dalton is having a great rookie season helping put his team on the brink of the playoffs. Dalton is a win away from doing as a rookie what Anderson and Carson Palmer did in their third seasons and Boomer Esiason did in his fifth:
Make the playoffs for the first time.
If there is anything similar with the No. 14s it is their intangibles.
The narrative of Anderson’s 1981 season reads like the checklist from some medical school scavenger hunt. Equipment manager Tom Gray had to dig up a flak jacket for him the week he got hit hard enough in the shoulder that Gray thought it sounded like a tree falling. And trainer Marv Pollins had to send a plea to the former Eagles trainer for the steel toe designed to ease the Turf toe that knocked Anderson out of practice one week until he threw lightly on Friday.
Then he went out 48 hours later in Pittsburgh and led the AFC Central Division clincher.
Thirty years ago, Lapham remembered Anderson telling him he was going to go the night before that one.
“It’s too important, man,” is how Lapham quoted Anderson 30 years ago in the papers.
Now 30 years later before they go on the air, Lapham says, “He was boisterous. He didn’t say much, but he was as competitive as all get out.”
The one thing Lapham recalls from Anderson’s ’81 season isn’t a play, a stat or a win.
But a process. The only way the methodical Anderson would want it.
“Here’s a guy that was benched in the opener, convinced (head coach Forrest Gregg) to go back to him the next week, and he goes on to win MVP. To go from the lowest to the highest. That just shows you the resiliency of him and what I really admire about him.”
Lapham sees the same kind of tenacity in Dalton. “Kind of an ‘I want to start what I finish’ type of deal,” he says. “Andy’s a tough-minded guy. You can see that.”
Same personality, too. As in the same. As in The Same. When Lapham settles down behind the microphone Monday night, it will be like some time travel story. They’ll be talking about 30 years ago and it’s like only five minutes lapsed.
“He was the same guy when we were 4-12, when we were 12-4 and he was the MVP, the same guy he’ll be tonight,” Lapham says. “When it comes to being a quarterback, that’s what you want. That consistency of personality. And, really, that’s one of the great things about Andy. He’s got that same kind of personality. I think they’re both small-town guys that just don’t like a lot of fuss made about them.”
Lapham is one of Dalton’s big backers. He likes how he doesn’t throw the ball to the other team and gets things squared away at the line of scrimmage and moves in and out of the pocket.
“The one thing we know is that this is a much different offense with
Anderson famously joked(?) when he gave the blessing for Dalton to wear No. 14, “He better be good.”
“I think everyone has seen it and is impressed with him. How can you not be?” Anderson asks.
Any advice down the stretch?
“He’s getting plenty of good advice,” he says.
No, you’d guess Anderson won’t remember Christmas Eve 2011 as the day another No. 14 brought the Bengals to the brink.
“It’s the first game that my three-and-a-half month old grandson went to and I was there with him,” Anderson says. “He was wearing an old Anderson 14 jersey. The one before the stripes.”
What’s old is new again.