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Anderson emerges from Steel Curtain

Posted: 4:45 a.m.

This is Johnny Bench coming in as the pitching coach of the Dodgers.

It's Bill Russell returning to Boston Garden coaching the Lakers.

Or Mickey Mantle coaching third base for the Red Sox.

Or Oscar Robertson recruiting for Xavier.

Ken Anderson coming to Cincinnati as the quarterbacks coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

"If I shut my eyes 25 years ago and imagined what it would be like," says Dave Lapham, "it would be one of the last things I would ever think of."

But it happens in black-and-gold living color Sunday at the stadium named after the man that plucked Anderson from tiny Augustana College and turned him into the architect of one of the NFL's most prolific and creative offenses.

The son of Paul Brown, current Bengals president Mike Brown, the man that filed those enticing scouting reports from the road in Illinois, calls Anderson the most important player in Bengals history.

Lapham and his teammates simply called Anderson "Freddy Franchise."

Mentored by two Hall of Famers, Brown and Bill Walsh, and with his own Hall of Fame numbers waiting to be dusted off, Anderson returns five years after his departure still intact as Mr. Bengal with a league MVP, four NFL passing titles, the most accurate season of all-time, an AFC championship, and the adoration of a city.

Maybe it can turn into a campaign stop. Anderson still remains the Bengals' most eligible Hall of Fame candidate as one of the NFL's most underrated players in history. Of the 25 quarterbacks in the Hall, only 13 have career passer ratings greater than 80. Only eight of them have a better one than Anderson's 81.9 rating. Of the 25, he has thrown more touchdowns than 14 of them and his completion percentage of 59.3 is better than 17 of them.

KENNY ANDERSON VS. HALL OF FAME QBs (with 80-plus Passer Ratings)
Player Years AttCompPctYards Yds/Att TD Int Rating
Steve Young 15 4149 2667 64.3 33,124 8.0 232 107 96.8
Joe Montana 15 5391 3409 63.2 40,551 7.5 273 139 92.3
Otto Graham 10 2626 1464 55.8 23,584 9.0 174 135 88.6
Dan Marino 17 8358 4967 59.4 61,361 7.3 420 252 86.4
Jim Kelly 11 4779 2874 60.1 35,467 7.4 237 175 84.4
Roger Staubach 11 2958 1685 57.0 22,700 7.7 153 109 83.4
Len Dawson 19 3741 2136 57.1 28,711 7.7 239 183 82.6
Sonny Jurgensen 18 4262 2433 57.1 32,224 7.6 255 189 82.6
Ken Anderson 16 4475 2654 59.3 32,838 7.3 197 168 81.9
Troy Aikman 12 4715 2898 61.5 32,942 7.0 165 141 81.6
Warren Moon 17 6823 3988 58.4 49,325 7.1 291 233 80.9
Bart Starr 16 3149 1808 57.0 24,718 7.8 152 138 80.5
Dan Fouts 15 5604 3297 58.8 43,040 7.7 254 242 80.2
Fran Tarkenton 18 6467 3686 57.0 47,003 7.3 342 266 80.4

"For 32 years I've been raised to love the Bengals and hate the Steelers," says Matt Anderson, his 32-year-old son. "But family is family. Your father is your father. I just wish it was Monday already and the week was already over."

Ken Anderson's week was just kicking into gear Tuesday afternoon. The Steelers dragged back into Pittsburgh at 4:45 Monday morning after the Sunday night loss in Denver, and after 40 winks he was back in the office until 10 p.m. before turning it around again at 6 a.m.

It's just one of the reasons it's tough to daydream even though this is his first game ever in Cincinnati as an opponent.

"It means a lot, sure, and it will be emotional," Anderson says during a five-minute break on game-planning day. "But there's a job to do. We're coming off a loss and we've got to get back to winning."

Matt Anderson, a commercial salesman in his hometown, understands it and that's why he's heading Sunday to his season-ticket seats at PBS with a vintage Ken Anderson No. 14 Bengals jersey and a Steelers ballcap.

"If I was working on a sales pitch for 70 hours this week and I had to make a three-hour presentation on Sunday, I know how badly I would want it," he says of his dad's work ethic. "My friends want (Ben) Roethlisberger to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, but they want the Steelers to go 0-16."

Anderson has Roethlisberger "only" on pace for 35 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 3,475 yards, but it's a sight much better than last season when injuries led to a miserable year of 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. Maybe the biggest sign of Anderson's impact is Roethlisberger's completion percentage is up to 65.3 percent from 59.7.

"Talking to some people in Pittsburgh, they said Ben's mechanics really suffered last year because of all his injuries," says Lapham, the former offensive lineman who was Anderson's road roommate then and the Bengals radio analyst now. "There's no better guy to teach the art of quarterbacking than Ken Anderson."

But for the Steelers?

The franchise's flagship player now working for the arch-rival?

It's like Pete Rose playing for the Montreal Expos or Johnny Unitas playing for the San Diego Chargers or Michael Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards.

Oh, well.

"But I'm not playing," Anderson says. "I won't take a snap or throw a pass all day. It's a job. I love to coach and this gives me a chance to do what I love."

But his wife knows. Cristy Anderson grew up in Northern Kentucky with two brothers, John and Joey Cummins, just wild and crazy about the Bengals. The boys grew up to own Professional Properties, an insurance company, but never outgrew the love of guys like Anderson, Isaac Curtis, Bob Trumpy ...

"The Steelers were the team you really didn't like," Cristy Anderson says. "But then I got here and the Rooney family (the owners) have been so nice and the people in Pittsburgh are just great and friendly and they're so supportive of the team. And it's been great for our family because we're only four and half hours away. It's like we're running a bed-and-breakfast."

Family is what always defined Kenny Anderson. Lapham thinks it's one of the reasons Paul Brown held him in such high regard.

"Kenny is methodical, thorough. No one will outwork him," Lapham says. "If you met his mother and father you'd know why he's the way he is. They used to come to every training camp at Wilmington and they'd camp and they'd always have guys over for hot dogs and hamburgers and it was like everyone was a family. Solid, Midwestern, hard working. I think Paul liked him because of that, and he was humble, he never went out and sought publicity. I think he was the perfect guy Paul had in mind to be the quarterback and he always loved quarterbacks going back to his days in Cleveland with Otto Graham."

Ken Anderson also loves quarterbacks. Whenever Matt calls him after a game, if Kenny hasn't seen a Bengals score he'll ask how they did and how Carson Palmer did.

"I know you never want to see your father's records broken, but I wouldn't mind a guy like Carson doing it," Matt Anderson says. "He's a class act and he's really good. He's what it's all about. I love the guy because whenever he's playing, the Bengals have a chance to win every game they play."

The ultimate irony?

In 2002, his last year as the Bengals quarterbacks coach, Ken Anderson took the red-eye back and forth in order to scout Palmer at USC. Anderson noted he was a can't-miss and yet after a decade of getting saddled with David Klingler and Akili Smith, that was the year Brown hired Marvin Lewis as head coach and he wanted to start fresh with a new quarterbacks coach and a new quarterback.

"I know that was hard on Mike," Lapham says. "I know he thinks the world of Kenny. And it was tough on Kenny because he was disappointed, but he also empathized with Mike. It hurt both of them."

But Matt Anderson thinks when Kenny ended up in Jacksonville for the past four seasons, it was best.

"I know it was for the family," Matt Anderson says. "This is when the Bengals were bad and the talk shows would be all over my dad, and my friends were always asking me what was wrong."

Lapham thinks Anderson didn't get enough credit when he coached here, particularly during his play-calling of Boomer Esiason's five-game Reunion Tour at the end of the 1997 season.

"The only time Kenny's true abilities were used was during that 4-1 stretch with Boomer," Lapham says. "They were on the same page. Kenny was in Boomer's head and Boomer was in Kenny's head and it was beautiful music."

Although Anderson got fired in Jacksonville last year, Lapham believes he was a great influence on the development of David Garrard and even before Garrard took control, No. 1 quarterback Byron Leftwich requested Anderson go back to the quarterback position after a season as the receivers coach.

"There's no bitterness with the Bengals. The Brown family has been great to us," Matt Anderson says. "I ran into Troy and Katie Blackburn at a Reds game a few weeks ago and Paul Brown (Mike's son) got me a couple of extra tickets for the New England game. And I'm a diehard fan. I think Marvin's done a great job, and I love watching Carson, Chad and T.J., and, yeah, like everybody else, I worry about the defense."

But what's this bit about Anderson sitting with Mean Joe Greene, a Steelers special assistant, in personnel meetings? How many times does he think Greene sacked him?

"Oh, he got me a few times for sure," Anderson laughs. "We've been to lunch a couple of times now. We've aged enough now that there isn't any contact."

Remember Kenny Anderson slicing up Mean Joe's Steel Curtain on Nov. 10, 1974 at Riverfront on 20-of-22 passing, a record that stood nearly 20 years?

"They stayed zone and we were able to work it downfield," says Anderson with characteristic directness. "I see a lot of those guys now; Mel Blount. We start telling stories and we probably embellish them a little bit, but they're still great stories."

Anderson swears this one is true, though. Steelers defensive tackle Charlie Davis pulled the ball out of the pile before the referee blew the whistle in the 20-of-22 game and Anderson ended up chasing him down.

"I know those guys had great respect for him when he played against them," Lapham says. "If he'd been with the Steelers, he would have been the guy with all the Super Bowls and, yeah, if Terry Bradshaw had been here he'd probably be on the cusp of the Hall of Fame."

The numbers? Bradshaw's rating is more than 10 points lower than Anderson's at 70.9. His completion percentage is seven points lower than Anderson's at 52 and Bradshaw threw for 5,000 fewer yards. But his four Super Bowl rings put him in the Hall.

"I saw an article that had him rated as one of the top 10 quarterbacks of all time," Matt Anderson says of his dad.

But he's No. 1 in this city and with his kids. Molly and Megan, Matt's sisters, also still live in the area, and he figures they're going to show up at the tailgate in Ken Anderson Bengals shirts.

"You know, I watched that Denver game the other night and I was sad the Steelers lost," Matt says. "But the minute he's not working for the Steelers any more, I'll go back to the old feelings. The way I look at it, either way I'm going to be sitting somewhere watching a playoff game this year because I think the Bengals or the Steelers are going to win the division."

So no worries Sunday.

Except one.

"My friends told me not to wear any Steelers stuff," he says. "But I've got the hat."

This is one day, though, that Bengaldom may tip its hat to a Steeler.

"He'll always be my roommate and my quarterback," Lapham says, "and one of the greatest all-time Bengals. Always a Bengal."

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