"I think it's more of a big deal for my family and friends," says Anderson on Tuesday morning before he gets immersed in day-long game planning. "I'm just a coach in this league looking for a win and I've got a lot of work to do before we play."
Sunday night under the ESPN lights in Jacksonville is more than that. This is Mr. Bengal against the Bengals. This is the man who literally wrote the book on the art of quarterbacking playing against the Bengals quarterback on pace to dwarf his NFL MVP season. This is Anderson, the Jaguars quarterbacks coach who has been involved in more Bengals games than anyone in history, playing the best Bengals team in 17 years.
His stripes never changed while slashing off 352 games and 26 years as a player and coach.
"I'm happy for Mike Brown. He's a great owner and Marvin has done a great job there," Anderson says. "I hear about how they're doing. My kids and friends call me from up there. This weekend, we're trying to find a way to come out on top. Just like it is every week in this league."
In the town that identified with each other in the '70s and '80s, Anderson, the picture of Midwest button-down understatement, has left much. More than the NFL record for completion percentage in a season. More than the four playoff runs. More than the club record for yards and touchdowns.
His three children live and work in Cincinnati. This game has been marked down, circled, highlighted, whatever, on the calendar. It's been nearly three years since new Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis decided that he had to cut some strands to the past and one of them was Anderson. He had been either the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, or both since 1993.
"Oh yeah. The kids will be here. They've been waiting for this one," Anderson says. "They get down for a lot of games, but they've been talking about this one."
A lot of people have been talking about this one. Dave Lapham, Anderson's long-time roommate and teammate , says his friend has 62 tickets ready to hand out for Bengals-Jags.
"You know what?" Lapham says. "Kenny is still a Bengals fan. I mean, not this week. Not Sunday night. You can imagine how badly he wants to win. But he still wants them to do well. He's not bitter and he doesn't have any ill will. I've talked to him a lot this season and he's always asking me about the games."
But then again, Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst, hasn't talked to him this week.
"I'd be too uncomfortable and I'm sure he would be, too," Lapham says. "It will be an interesting night for him. He'll have a lot of different emotions, I'm sure."
The irony is that Anderson is coaching the other quarterback the Bengals scouted when they had the No. 1 pick in 2003. When the Bengals began the Marvin era drafting Carson Palmer out of USC, Anderson began his post-Bengals career in Jacksonville coaching Byron Leftwich before moving over to coach the Jacksonville receivers in 2004. Lapham says that when Jags head coach Jack Del Rio shuffled his offensive staff last season, Leftwich asked that Anderson be assigned back to the quarterbacks.
Ken Anderson's 1981 MVP Season:
- 479 attempts 300 completions 3,745 yards 62.6 completion percentage 7.8 yards per pass 29 TDs 10 INTs 25 sacks 98.4 passer rating
CARSON PALMER'S 16-GAME PACE:
- 524 attempts 376 completions 4,248 yards 71.8 completion percentage 8.1 36 TDs 8 INTs 20 sacks
Like everyone else, Anderson likes Leftwich's outstanding personality and his resiliency this season behind a battered offensive line.
"He didn't play one of his best games last week," said Anderson of the 20-7 loss to Denver. "But he'll come back. He's a tough guy. He's taken a lot of shots this year, but the one thing about him is that he's a football player. The kind of guy who keeps with it."
That sounds familiar to Lapham.
"The one thing I admire about Kenny's MVP season is that he got his butt knocked down in that opening game," Lapham says of his benching in the 27-21 win over Seattle in 1981. "You judge people by how they get up after getting knocked down, and he got up and was league MVP. After getting let go by the only team he ever knew, he's getting up again. It hurt him. But now look. The coach likes him. The owner likes him. And he's got a good quarterback."
Lapham thinks blaming Anderson wholly for the David Klingler and Akili Smith busts is unfair, and he always remembered how Boomer Esiason praised Anderson in his Farewell Tour of 1997 that was the best patch of Bengals offense between the playoff teams of 1988 and '90 and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski in 2001.
"You can't make chicken salad if you've got any kind of chicken stuff," Lapham says. "You can only work with the product that's given you."
Anderson can't help but keep an eye on Palmer. He's a quarterback in stripes.
"I see him on the highlights," Anderson says. "He's having a great year. He's got all the tools. He's a big, strong kid back there with a good arm."
The numbers say so. Palmer is on pace to become the first 4,000-yard passer in Bengals history and break Anderson's NFL record for completion percentage in a season (70.66 in the nine-game strike season) as well as his club record 29 touchdown passes in 1981. Of course, as veteran NFL scribe Vito Stellino, now the Jaguars beat man for the Florida Times-Union observed, he hasn't played the Mean Joe Greene Steelers twice yet. Hey, he hasn't played the Kimo von Oelhoffen Steelers twice yet that chewed him up last year. And Palmer has pretty much said the same thing himself.
But the four-game numbers are interesting.
"The records are nice," Anderson says. "But you know when you do it that someone else will come along."
Lapham may not talk to Anderson this week. But he knows what he's doing.
"No one is more meticulous," Lapham says. "He's a grinder, and you can bet he's grinding it right now for this one."