Ken Anderson Even Connects Virtually

Ken Anderson is throwing out another invite.
Ken Anderson is throwing out another invite.

Back 49 years ago, the NFL shoved the draft anonymously into the back end of the season. So when Ken Anderson, the man who would become one of the greatest passers in NFL history, shoehorned about a dozen of his buddies into his Rock Island, Ill., apartment, it was the end of January.

No ESPN. No NFL Network. The only mail needed a stamp. The only phones were plugged into a wall.

But there was beer.

"I didn't have money, but our local college bar gave me a quarter of a barrel of beer on credit. They figured I'd get drafted," Anderson says.

So leave it to Anderson, the post-merger's first 70-percent passer, to find a way to connect virtually. During the next three Wednesdays he'll go online at happy hour to help boost the Ken Anderson Alliance, his foundation for adults with developmental disabilities. He may have stopped throwing darts more than 30 years ago, but the former NFL Man of the Year has never stopped tossing bouquets to the community.

With the help of YouTube, "Connect with Kenny," launches Wednesday with Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts and Nick Lachey. Next Wednesday, April 22, the night before the NFL Draft, he'll host Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Anderson's old road roommate and popular Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham. Then on April 29 he'll be on with his old Batavia, Ill., neighbor and basketball Hall-of-Famer Dan Issel and long-time major-leaguer Doug Flynn.

All shows are at 5:30 p.m. and, of course, are expected to be stocked with more yarn than L.L. Bean when Anderson gets rolling on his great storytelling. There are raffles and he's working on his own trivia questions to reward prizes. He's got a whopper planned for an autographed No. 14, but he can't tip his hand. You can tell he's doing his research, though.

"Did you know Cris Collinsworth is No. 209 on the Bengals all-time rushing list with minus 15 yards?" Anderson asks with his classic deadpan.

But he's deadly serious about a month of fundraising that culminates on May 5 with a virtual dance party for adults with developmental disabilities celebrating Cinco de Mayo. It's a population as vulnerable as any during the coronavirus pandemic even though it is used to isolation if there are no organizations like The Alliance.

"That's one of the reasons we're doing it," Anderson says. "We have 20 engaged programs a month that service over 200 adults with developmental disabilities that gets them out. Now they can't go out and the thing that happens is sometimes what happens when they go back in and get isolated again it's tougher to get back out. So we're trying to do different things to engage them."

And expect plenty of talk about quarterbacks in all three segments. Last month Anderson told he's sold on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow as the first pick.

"His accuracy both from the pocket and on the move," Anderson said back on March 10. "It looks like he's got great composure. He doesn't get flustered. He looks like he's a pretty confident guy without being cocky, but he's confident."

Anderson doesn't think it will be all that different from that day in the Rock Island apartment 49 years ago when the Bengals turned to Division III Augustana College.

 "It's kind of the same, it's like going back to an old school draft," Anderson says. "There's no draft room, they're calling it into New York and you're sitting at home."

It may not be as old school as this: Anderson remembers getting a call from someone saying they heard he was drafted in the first round by San Francisco.

"I knew that couldn't be right. I knew it had to be Tim Anderson," he says of the Ohio State cornerback that went No. 23 to the 49ers. "I knew I wasn't going in the first round. I just wanted to get drafted."

The call came in the afternoon and it came from Bengals quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Bill Walsh, the 49ers' future head coach. So Anderson's Hall-of-Fame career started off with a phone call from a Hall-of-Famer. Walsh told him the Bengals had taken him in the third round and that he'd see him tomorrow before he handed the phone over to public relations assistant Inky Moore to make the plane reservation.

 Anderson didn't bother to think what the crowd would have thought if they left that long-ago happy hour with no call.

"We had a quarter barrel of beer," Anderson says. "What difference did it make?"

It is 49 years later and Anderson is throwing out another invite.