Anderson Gets Wish

By GEOFF HOBSON

The talking head at ESPN summed up the four years of frustrated obscurity in the quick swallow of a sound byte.

The hairdoo revealed wide receiver Willie Anderson had just become the highest paid offensive lineman of all time.

"I guess," said Willie Anderson, with a smile as wide as his 19EEE shoe, "they thought I was Flipper (Anderson)."

No, at today's Spinney Field news conference was the Bengals' Willie Anderson. Right tackle Willie Anderson. The highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history in new money. A six-year extension worth about $31 million, $10.2 million in what amounts to a signing bonus to be paid in full by January.

Now, everyone will finally know his name in Boston. Or for that matter Miami, or where ever the Bengals rarely play. Anderson always knew he would get the money. What he always wanted as much - if not more - was the recognition. The only thing more searing than losing is doing it anonymously. Anderson knows people are looking at the ESPN scroll tonight asking themselves, "Who?'

"I finally got what I wanted. You're right. This is the stage," Anderson said. "The teams we do play know me. But in New England, the Miami Dolphins, they're probably wondering who I am."

Now Anderson is suddenly a little nervous. He admitted "there's a lot more pressure, a lot more burden on my back to keep playing well.

"I don't want you guys to say, "Damn, Willie got the money and since then he hasn't played like he did in '99.' I want to play to play so well, I want to dominate."

Anderson wants to play so well, he wants to change the tackle mentality. He wants to move the offensive line's glamour spot from left to right tackle. Why not? The deal he beat as the highest paid lineman belonged to Eagles right tackle Jon Runyan.

"There's Runyan, Leon Searcy," Anderson said. "A lot of (defenses) are putting their best players over the right side. Now's the chance to show people and they can appreciate what I'm doing more."

Anderson, who turns 25 in six weeks, showed his appreciation all day. He kidded Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackurn about getting another extension when he was 29. He called his mother Tuesday night at her home in Mobile, Ala., and asked her to be in Cincinnati for the news conference, a salute to Mary Steele and the 20 years she spent as the head cook at her children's elementary school. While thanking old teammates like Joe Walter, the man he replaced, Anderson lifted two-year-old son Jair into his arms. Terry Bolar, his agent who conducted the negotiations privately and decently, quietly soaked in the biggest deal of his life.

"It's good for the team. It's nice to know I've got my tackles locked up for awhile," said quarerback Akili Smith, alluding to left tackle Rod Jones' three-year deal back in February. "(Bengals President) Mike Brown is showing the changes keep happening. That he's steppng it up.''

Anderson said his deal sends a solid message to young veteran leaders like linebackers Taeko Sikes and Brian Simmons, each in the third year of five-year deals. He'll also use it to expand his locker room presence, which grew rapidly last season. Today, he publicly hoped he would be named a captain on offense.

More proof the locker room is swinging away from the surly, sullen days when leadership was an open joke.

"I think I was one of the guys who had a voice with coaches and other players," Anderson said.

One of the tough turns in the negotiations surfaced over a weight clause in the contract worth about a quarter of a million dollars. Anderson doesn't think he has a weight problem, but he agreed step on the scale each week of the season to make sure he's 340 pounds or less.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander says that's the 6-foot-6 Anderson's ideal weight: "He is what he is. A big man. Explosive. Strong. Powerful. A mass. Those are rare things. Why make him something he's not?''

What he is not is a household name, but that already seems to be changing. To heck with the NFC. In two weeks he's going to go world-wide with his own web page. willieanderson.com. He smiled at the media again.

"If I get mad at you, and don't want to talk to you, that's where I'm going to send you guys," Anderson said.

At least now, you can find him by name.

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