With last weekend's announcement of this year's 15 finalists, former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson officially becomes a senior citizen in the eyes of the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his candidacy for 2012 now transferred to the nine-man senior committee of the selection board. It's the same committee that nominated former Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau last year and paved the way for his election 11 years after he first became eligible for senior selection and 37 years after his last snap.
"I've got an AARP card, so that's nothing new," said Anderson, who turns 62 next month. "I'm not sure what it means, but I know for the last 10 years or so I haven't really been considered."
But Anderson's first point of business Monday was to pay tribute to one of the five head coaches he played for in Cincinnati. Tiger Johnson's death last Friday at 84 brought back memories of the playoffs barely missed in Johnson's only two full seasons as coach.
"The guy was a great player himself and did a great job with our offensive line before he became the head coach," Anderson said. "And you look at how close we came. One year we won 10 games and didn't make it and the next year we lost the last game of the year (at Houston) when we would have gone."
Anderson agrees with his road roommate, former guard Dave Lapham, that the signature moment of Johnson's 33-game run as coach was the 1978 preseason finale in which Anderson broke his throwing hand and was sidelined for the first four games, all losses. Lapham says out of respect for Johnson, Anderson tried to come back too soon in the fifth game against the winless 49ers, and threw four interceptions in a 28-12 loss. Johnson was gone the next day.
"I don't know any player that didn't have respect for Tiger," Anderson said. "As good as a coach as he was, he was even a better guy. Down to earth. I had the cast taken off on the Tuesday (before the game) and had two pins in my hand. It just wasn't strong enough."
At the time Johnson took over the Bengals, Jan. 1, 1976, NFL coaches were beginning to pop up on sidelines for games dressed in practice gear instead of suit coats and tie. With the always nattily-attired Paul Brown now retired, Anderson asked Johnson if he was going to ditch the formal route and go informal.
"No," is the way Anderson remembers Johnson telling him. "I'm making a little more money and I want everyone to know."
Anderson's hand eventually healed, of course, but that didn't stop the Bengals from drafting his heir apparent in the next draft in the person of Washington State's Jack Thompson. Anderson was done. Washed up, he heard. At age 30. As every Cincy school kid knows, he was NFL MVP two years later.
Which is why Anderson has to chuckle when he hears people saying that Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is washed up at age 31. In one of his last official acts as Bengals quarterbacks coach, Anderson scouted Palmer at USC in 2002. He watched him from afar for the next seven seasons before he retired after stints in Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, closing out a 17-year NFL coaching career that went one season longer than his playing career, which ended as a backup to Boomer Esiason at 37.
"Carson has a lot of good years left. I've always liked Carson as not only a quarterback, but as a person," Anderson said. "No question he's still a fine player. He's a big quarterback. He's got good arm strength. He's mobile enough to be effective. You like his mechanics. He's got a good throwing motion. He's got good balance. He's got good footwork. He makes every throw you want."
Anderson could have been talking about himself after a career in which he has better numbers than 80 percent of the quarterbacks in the Hall. His ultimate selling point? He's the only eligible quarterback with at least three NFL passing titles (he has four) not in the Hall.
But now he may have a better shot than he had on the regular ballot in the last decade.
"It isolates you a little more; it narrows the field," said Joe Horrigan, the Hall's communications director.
Five rotating members of the senior committee meet two weeks after every induction in Canton, Ohio to discuss which two senior candidates make it to the next year's final ballot. If they get that far, more often than not the vets make it like LeBeau and Denver running back Floyd Little in 2010. The selectors pick the 2011 class Feb. 5, the day before the Super Bowl.
If Anderson has to wait LeBeau's 11 years, that would be 2023, when Anderson is 73. LeBeau was 72.
"Like I've always told you," Anderson said, "I have no control over it. I'm happy for Dick. It was well deserved."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The Bengals have not let linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald go. He's been given permission to look for other opportunities.
» A good way to get safety Chris Crocker mad is to mention his birthday next month along with his knee injury, which are, respectively, 31, and a torn posterior cruciate ligament and a torn medial collateral ligament.
"You make me sound old," Crocker said. "But I already feel great. There's no surgery, there's just rehab and I'll be back in plenty of time. I'd be back in time for the spring, if there was going to be a spring."
Crocker is convinced that once the collective bargaining agreement expires on March 4, there won't be football until August.
"It's like negotiating a contract; right up until the 12th hour," he said. "It won't be resolved (by the spring). There are so many issues and we're not really moving forward. The big thing is staying in shape. The one good thing about it is that a lot of guys are going to have a lot of time to get healed up."
Crocker says what may end up happening is the work stoppage shows that the players don't need to start the offseason workouts in March and pound on the field in May and June in the 14 voluntary workouts.
"You don't need that many practices; it's become spring ball," Crocker said. "You still need it to keep it fresh in the mind, but I think what the players are doing is they'd like to see the offseason pushed back to May. There's only so much you can do. I think it will save some wear and tear."
Crocker's value on the defensive depth chart is doubled by his knowledge of the scheme and how much the coaches rely on his brains. With heady middle linebacker Dhani Jones ticketed for free agency, Crocker's presence is even more important.
No matter age or injury. » Remember when the Bengals finished 4-11-1 in 2008 and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher turned CBS analyst picked them as his surprise team in '09? Now on his Showtime show, former Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth says the Bengals are "a mortal lock" to win the 2011 AFC North title: "For once they got it right. … They knew they had a good coach."