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Bengals Legends Step Into The Ring 

Anthony Munoz: In the Ring.
Anthony Munoz: In the Ring.

Leave it to the conscience of Bengaldom, the team's long-time radio analyst and Super Bowl guard Dave Lapham, to sum up Thursday's unveiling of the Bengals Ring of Honor.

"It's a celebration of greatness and excellence," said Lapham, who sat in on the media Zoom call of the official announcement. "That's what it boils down to. There have been a lot of great players that had a major impact on the success of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. It's good for everybody."

He played for Paul Brown and next to Anthony Munoz, so if anybody knows how logical it is to start a ring with them, it is Lapham. As a member of the last of Brown's 25 pro teams that he coached, Lapham was one of his pallbearers at his August 1991 funeral. He lined up with Munoz in a Super Bowl and when Munoz recognized his line mates during his August 1998 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, Lapham was one of those that stood in the steamy Canton sun.

"If Paul Brown had run for president, he would have won. If he had gone into business, he would have run P&G. He had it. He had the 'it' factor," said Lapham, repeating a line he has used on the banquet circuit in six different decades. "Anthony was the prototype. Nobody played the position any better. He had everything you wanted. Power, strength. Competitiveness. He checked every box. He could he played in any era."

That's the idea behind the Ring of Honor as the Bengals look to celebrate all eras of a history that winds through the sport.

A vote of season ticket holders, whose ballots are weighted by seniority, puts two more people into the Ring next to the names of Brown and Munoz on a Paul Brown Stadium façade in an induction at a game this season to be announced after the NFL schedule release.

Elizabeth Blackburn, the team's director of strategy and engagement and driving force behind the Ring, says the club plans to unveil a class every year and this was "the perfect season" to begin it.

While introducing Munoz on the Zoom call, Blackburn cited the team's commitment to video and social media during the last 14 months and emphasized the appeal of documenting the stories of each honoree rather than just noting them with a name and number on a stadium wall.

"Coming out of 2020 knowing fan engagement and bringing communities together is more important than ever," Blackburn said, "and the club's added capabilities in the content space makes us feel really great about doing a Ring of Honor this year and how we're going to roll it out. Engagement with our fans, engagement with the Bengals community, engagement with the Cincinnati community is more important than ever."

Two of the guys who figure to be in the Ring sooner rather than later, Bengals all-time passing leader Ken Anderson and four-time Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, saluted the news.

"People forget about the history of success we have in Cincinnati," said Ken Anderson, one of just five men to win at least four NFL passing titles the Hall has forgotten. "This is a nice reminder. In '73, '74, '75, '76 if it weren't for Pittsburgh, who knows what would have happened? We played them better than anybody. Then you had Boomer (Esiason) and great success in the '80s.

"The Bengals had a lot of respect around the league from not only other players, but the media. We were a good football team and everyone knew it," Ken Anderson said. "It's nice to be able to go back and remember some of that."

If Munoz was the best left tackle of all time, Willie Anderson is considered the best right tackle of his time, before and after the turn of the century. After seeing the Ring of Honor news on Twitter, he said he was "super elated," for a couple of reasons. He'd like to see a bigger class than four because he sees little dilution with the rapid news cycle these days. But he loves the concept of bringing back history.

He remembers playing in Pittsburgh and watching old Steelers get honored and now living in Atlanta he sees old Falcons coming back through town for the same thing.

"That gets the old guys back on TV and social media and their names are brought up again," Willie Anderson said. "Which brings in the nostalgia of the organization. Little kids ask, 'Who is this guy? Who is that guy?' Now we get a chance to get that."

Another reason the Ring news hit the right chord with Willie Anderson is some of his sweetest Bengals memories came at two recent alumni events when the team honored the First 50 players during the 50th anniversary season in 2017 and the NFL's centennial season in 2019.

"Those were two first-class events. I had the time of my life," Willie Anderson said. "I got a chance to meet Pete Johnson. What a funny dude. I got a chance to meet Ken Riley. This brings tears to my eyes. I got a chance to watch Ken Anderson and Ken Riley tell football stories. I love that stuff. I love hearing Munoz and those guys telling those stories. I want guys from my era to come back and talk."

Riley, who died last spring, and Ken Anderson have been at the center of efforts to get more Bengals into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brown, elected before he even coached the Bengals in 1967, and Munoz, a first-ballot selection in 1998, are the only ones.

Munoz hopes the Ring of Honor helps.

"No. 14 should be in. That's my focus right now. I am a die-hard advocate for Kenny Anderson. He should be in," Munoz said of the potential impact. "So the selectors can see this organization has had some great, great players … I can name name after name of guys that I played with that are deserving not only of the Hall of Fame but this Ring of Honor. (Nos.) 13, 14. Kenny Riley, Kenny Anderson. (No.) 85 Isaac Curtis. Hopefully this will help open the eyes of the selectors."

Ken Anderson quarterbacked in the league for 16 years and coached in it for 17 more. He felt and saw the first and latest waves off the edges of the modern pass rushers. He's never seen anyone like Munoz stop them.

"You want to name a name in a debate of who's the best offensive lineman and they don't stand up to Anthony," Ken Anderson said. "Not that I ever saw."

Asked what it was like playing next to him, Lapham had to laugh.

"Easy," he said. "You felt like you were never in a situation you couldn't deal with whatever the defense would try to do. We called him the eraser. He would just eliminate his guy and then if you had to slide where you needed help, you could do that."

Like Lapham, Ken Anderson also played with Munoz and for Brown. Anderson's stories of Brown's cutting commentary with spare but lethal words are legendary.

("Maybe the game's too big for you, Anderson.")

"One of the best things he did as a coach was hire great assistant coaches and let them coach," Ken Anderson said. "He was also a great evaluator of talent. He knew what we needed (wide receiver Charlie Joiner, sacker Coy Bacon, among others) and he went out and got it."

Lapham, who played for Brown on his last two teams, can seem him now "patrolling," the sidelines without headsets.

"He was the epitome of the overall game manager," Lapham said. "He would go up to the defensive coordinator saying something like, 'Give me the best blitz you haven't show yet. Call it.' He'd say to whoever the offensive coordinator was, 'Give me the draw. They're a sucker for the draw. Give me the draw play.' He saw the game of football through a set of eyes not many people could see."

Now they will all be there to see in a Ring around the stadium with his name.