Last year, Bengals great and Mobile native Willie Anderson made the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. It looks like he's going to take them one at a time after his bid to crack the Pro Football Hall of Fame's finals ballot didn't reach the list of 15 Tuesday night when the shrine released the finalists for the class of 2021.
Two offensive linemen, Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli and Steelers guard Alan Faneca, made a list again that includes first-time eligibles quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive back Charles Woodson and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Anderson, regarded by many to be the best right tackle of his era, was in his eighth year of eligibility and made the semifinals for the first time when the 48-member board of selectors, of which Bengals.com is the Cincinnati representative, cut down a list of 130 players to 25.
"It was the first time as a semifinalist. I wasn't holding my breath," said Anderson from his home in Atlanta shortly after the vote was announced. "I was honored they looked at my career and moved me up to the 25. I still think my career is a Hall of Fame career. Maybe the next couple of years we can get to show them more information about my career and they keep paying attention to what I accomplished."
His absence came as a surprise to some Hall voters. The Bengals have the fewest players in the Hall and Anderson was bidding to become their first finalist since left tackle Anthony Munoz went in on his first ballot in 1998 in a finals group that included Bengals all-time passing leader Ken Anderson.
"I'm shocked he's not there," said voter Clark Judge, host of the Talk of Fame Network. "Not only is he a great right tackle, but it's past due for the Cincinnati Bengals to get recognized. Because he was the best right tackle of his era and Michael Strahan had spoken so fondly of him, I thought he was a cinch. It's a lesson to me not to count anything before it happens."
Strahan, the former Giants pass rusher, is on the NFL's list of all-time top ten sackers and backs Anderson's candidacy. He's one of the nine that Anderson faced during his career and one of the eight that Anderson held without a sack.
"He's one of the best tackles of our time … I consider him to be right there as the best right tackle of his generation," Strahan told Bengals.com. "When I found out Willie wasn't in the Hall of Fame, I was surprised. Unbeatable."
It also shows how tough it is to move guys off the finals ballot even though they've been voted down several times. Only six of the 15 are finals newcomers.
Boselli, passed over on the left side for Hall-of-Famers Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden, Willie Roaf and Orlando Pace, is in the finals for a fifth time. Faneca has been there six times while safety John Lynch (eight) and defensive tackle Richard Seymour (three) have been called again.
Rick "Goose," Gosselin, a long-time influential Hall voter and former Dallas Morning News NFL columnist, had words of encouragement.
"I was surprised. I was hopeful as one of the new names I wanted to see. But he took a step in the right direction," Gosselin said. "All 25 are worthy of being there. He's in the discussion. He's in the forefront of our minds right now. He's on the map."
Gosselin agrees with Judge that perpetual absence of Bengals in Canton continues to be stunning.
Anderson, 45, who retired after 13 seasons at the end of the 2008 season, would have become just the Bengals' third Hall finalist with Munoz and Ken Anderson
Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens, elected in 2017, played only the last of his 15 seasons in Cincinnati. Wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who played in Paul Brown's last 39 games as Bengals head coach before playing 164 for the Chargers, was elected in 1996.
That was the same year that Ken Anderson made his first of two appearances as a modern era finalist, defined as players retired less than 25 years. Anderson and Bengals interceptions leader Ken Riley, fifth on the all-time list, were among finalists for this year's Hall senior candidate, chosen from a field players retired longer than 25 years.
Former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson got that nod and he'll join this year's 15 modern era finalists that need 80 percent of the vote for induction.
"The Bengals have not been given the fairest of shakes by this group," Gosselin said. "One player? One? Come on. A team that's been to two Super Bowls has one Hall of Famer? I can't explain it."
Anderson's Canton resume includes 15 games against Hall of Fame pass rushers and allowing one sack. All-time leader Bruce Smith got it in Anderson's rookie year with five seconds left in a game Buffalo led by two touchdowns. And according to Pro Football Reference, Anderson had just 13 career holding penalties.
But his run-blocking was just as elite. From 1996 to 2001, when the Bengals had seven different starting quarterbacks, Anderson helped running back Corey Dillon average 1,252 yards in those six seasons. In 2000, with Anderson leading the way, Dillon averaged 4.6 yards per carry (1,435 yards) while starting quarterback Akili Smith averaged 4.7 yards per attempt.
"Tell him not to get down," Judge said. "He was a terrific right tackle. Plenty of guys have had to wait. He's obviously got the attention of voters."
The Alabama Hall-of-Famer is just taking them one at a time. He's taking the advice.
"It's an honor to make the 25," Anderson said. "Hopefully I'll get to the 15 and move on from there."