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The Conversation: Ken Anderson Talks Joe Burrow, Accuracy, And Another November Prime Timer Vs. Bills 

Bengals Legend Ken Anderson visits during training at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Tuesday, May 30 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Bengals Legend Ken Anderson visits during training at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Tuesday, May 30 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A good week for senior writer Geoff Hobson to sit down with Bengals inaugural Ring of Honor member Ken Anderson, a Pro Football Hall of Fame senior finalist and four-time NFL passing champion.

Last Sunday out San Francisco way, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threatened club accuracy records Anderson has held so long that when he first set them they were NFL records.

Plus, with the Bills coming to Paycor Stadium Sunday night (8:20-Cincinnati's Channel 5), it conjures up memories of another November matchup against Buffalo in Cincinnati. It was 48 years ago the Bengals hosted their first prime-time game in a Riverfront Stadium game Anderson and Bills running back O.J. Simpson were the stars.

This week's conversation:

GH: I was going to start by asking you about that game against the Bills '75. But then Joe Burrow goes out there and does his best Ken Anderson imitation last Sunday with 19 straight completions and finishing at 88%, so close to your team records of 20 straight and 91% in a game. And when you did it, they were also NFL records. What was it like to watch?

KA: It was fun to watch. It's kind of the offense clicking like we're normally used to seeing it for the last two years. I think the bye week helped and got him healthy and some other people healthy and they could open up the offense a little bit and I think it showed.

GH: You're the most accurate quarterback of your generation. This guy is for his so far. Burrow regained the all-time completion percentage lead Sunday at 67.9% and Drew Brees is at 67.7. Is there anything you see that's similar in your accuracy?

KA: I think a lot of it is just God-given ability to be able to throw the football from here to there and know where you want it to go. But I think he works so hard at the game, not only on his mechanics and making all the throws, but his preparation to know what he wants to do with the ball quickly.

GH: Did you know he had 19 in a row?

KA: I think after the fact. I think they came on (TV) and said I still have the record. He didn't quite get there. And Zac (Taylor) actually texted me the next morning and said, Well, we're coming after your record.' And I said, does he have the single-game record yet? When I was 20 of 22? He said, no, it came close. He was only at (87.5) last night, but he did say that when he gets close to the streak, he's going to call some shot plays so he's going to have to earn it.

GH: You didn't have the 20 straight in the 20 of 22 game in Pittsburgh in 1974 that is the team single-season record that rounds out to 91%, which was then the NFL record. You did that in 1982 in Houston when you finished 27 of 31 for 87.1%, which had been second-best in Bengals history. What's it like to be in a zone like that? Do you know you're in a zone?

KA: Yeah, I think you kind of sense it, you feel it then. The one in Houston, it was a poor throw that ended it. It wasn't a bad route or a drop. I don't remember to who. I know Isaac Curtis made some great catches and Danny Ross to keep the streak going. I got the hot hand. It happened in a Monday night game against Pittsburgh in '83. I don't think I missed in the first quarter. (He was 6-for-6.) That's where (defensive lineman) Keith Gary got a hold of my facemask (and sent him to the hospital). I wish … That's one of those games, 'I can't miss today.'

You kind of see things well, and you know, I don't know. Guys may be in tight coverage, but they look more wide open, and you've got a lot of confidence in what you're doing. It's fun while it lasts.

GH: When you went 20 of 22 in '74, you did it against arguably the greatest defense of all time in a 17-10 win over a Pittsburgh team that would win the Super Bowl. How did you slice the Steel Curtain?

KA: Take what they give you. We had a lot of long drives in that game. I know (running back) Doug Dressler made a lot of plays (nine catches). Our tight ends were involved. They were just committed to taking Isaac Curtis and our wideouts out of the game. Well, if you're going to throw it to the guys who are open and they're going to be short ones, then you have to break a tackle, and No. 2, you've got to keep completing them so you can keep drives going.

GH: Bengals senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner, who coached with you here and in Jacksonville, would watch you in pregame, said you could still spin it when you were coaching in your 50s. Better than a lot of the quarterbacks who were playing. Are you throwing at age 74?

KA: Once in a while with the grandkids.

GH: Can you still sling it?

KA: When I have to, I can reach back for one, Butch.

GH: Was there a throw Burrow had on Sunday that was really impressive? Like, how did he get it in there?

KA: Which one? I mean, a lot of them. But I think he has a lot of trust in his receivers and that they're going to make a play for him and he's, 'Boy, that was awful tight coverage,' but you've got to have confidence in your receivers as well.

GH: You rooting for him to get the record?

KA: Oh, heck yeah. Because they're playing well and you needed something like that against the 49ers, who arguably, people say, might be the toughest team in the NFL. Now they've lost three in a row, but we went out and earned this one.

GH: It had to be sweet for you. You even put something on X.

KA: I said I wish I knew how it felt to beat the 49ers.

GH: There he is, Burrow, hugging Joe Montana pregame because they've done some business together. That had to be tough for Bengals fans. Joe Montana may be the ultimate Bengals villain.

KA: No question. I mean he got us in the '81 and '88 (Super Bowls), but a great player and they had great teams back then. Both times we gave them all they wanted and we just came up on the short end.

GH: You two guys made the cover of "Newsweek," before your Super Bowl. Two different types of quarterbacks, but both Bill Walsh guys.

KA: I think there's a lot of similarities. I think I was probably a bit more athletic than he was, a little bit bigger. But both of us running versions of the West Coast offense and both being accurate and I think, I hate to say cerebral quarterbacks, but I think we both put in the time to be successful.

GH: Did you ever get to know him?

KA: Just a little bit, just a little bit. I went out after the Super Bowl year and we taped something for NFL films out in San Francisco, so I spent a little time with him out there. I'll see him at a card show here and there.

GH: So you probably toasted Burrow after that one.

KA: I was toasting all along the way. That wasn't my first one, Hobby … I'd rather see him break my record. I forgot who broke my record of 20 in a row.

GH: It was Montana, of all people, five years later. But it took Drew Brees 29 years to break your NFL single-season record of 70.6% you set in 1982. You think Burrow has a shot at some of these?

KA: He's going to have every record here. He'll have a lot them in the league. He's a great player. He's a great leader. He's a great student of the game. He's got everything it takes to be one of the best.

GH: Now we've got this game coming up on Sunday night at Paycor Stadium. Bills-Bengals was the first prime time game in Cincy on Monday Night Football in 1975. You had your best game ever and O.J. Simpson ran for 197 yards in a true classic the Bengals won, 33-24.

KA: It was my best yardage game ever (447). O.J. was coming in. At that point, Monday Night Football was still in its infancy (on TV). It was (six) years old at that point. It was the entourage coming in. You know? Howaaaaaard Coooooosell? and Daaandy Don …

GH: You do a very good Howard Cosell, one of the three announcers for ABC. Don Meredith …

KA: And The Giffer (Frank Gifford).

GH: What would Howard always say where you were from?

KA: Tiny Augustana. The city lit up that night. The crowd was electric because it was the first Monday night game in Cincinnati. We won the game. It was a lot of fun.

GH: What do you remember about that game?

KA: They were good at that point and so were we. (The Bengals made the playoffs at 11-3, the Bills did not at 8-6.) You're talking about Isaac Curtis and Charlie joiner. I had a Hall of Fame receiver (Joiner) and one (Curtis) that should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We had a lot of weapons. (Running back) Essex Johnson was with us at that time. So we could throw the ball pretty well.

GH: Did you think that was a coming of age game in the sense the rest of the country found out how good you guys were?

KA: Every game wasn't available back then. There was no NFL Red Zone. There was no direct TV. The two national games were the four o'clock game on Sunday, which was really the big one at that time, and then Monday Night Football. And you know, Monday was so special for all the players, because that was the first time you got to see highlights from around the National Football League. There were no satellites in those days.

The Cincinnati stations were filming 16 millimeter. They had to bring the film home and then go to a station, so you never saw it after the game. It wasn't until the next day that you saw any highlights locally. And then the first ones you saw nationally were Monday night.

GH: Did you guys make sure you watch the Monday Night highlights?

KA: Oh, no question. Everybody in the league watched to see if you made Monday night highlights.

GH: I was in junior high and high school back then in Framingham, Massachusetts and I can still remember Howard Cosell on the highlights saying, "Riiveeerfront Staaaa-dium. That man, right there. Ken Anderson, from tiny Augustana. Going deep to No. 85 Isaac Curtis. That's my man." You guys made it several times.

KA: No question. Gosh, I remember one we were out on the road in Oakland playing the Raiders one time, that was a big Monday night game for us. Had one in the Coliseum. San Diego in '82 when (Dan) Fouts and I both threw for over 400 and they got us back for the year before (in the AFC title game).

GH: It was like the circus coming to town, right?

KA: Of course, Howard Cosell was larger than life. It's kind of funny, but I never met him. There weren't production meetings in those days like there are now. A little bit different. You never talked to The Giffer or Don or Howard. You never saw them before the game.

GH: Did you ever get interviewed by Howard?

KA: No.

GH: it sounded like he knew you pretty well.

KA: He made it sound like everybody knew him.

GH: Paul Brown, your head coach in 1975, didn't like to play Monday nights.

KA: You got out of your routine. Sunday at 1 o'clock, that's where the game is supposed to be played and now you're out of your routine a little bit.

GH: Like in '75, this one Sunday is another November matchup of AFC contenders.

KA: Buffalo has one of these young, great quarterbacks in Josh Allen, in the league, and that's what's kind of so much fun to see. All these good young quarterbacks. Whether its Patrick Mahomes, or Justin Fields and (Jalen) Hurts in Philadelphia, (Justin) Herbert out in San Diego. There's just a ton of good young quarterbacks. And who knows what this Will Levis is going to be like, coming out and throwing three touchdown passes in his first game down in Tennessee?

GH: Will you be here for this one 48 years later?

KA: No. I committed a couple of months ago to a fundraiser for my foundation. A game watching party that night. It's going to be at MVPs out in Silverton. To raise money for my foundation (the Ken Anderson Alliance). So if you're not going to the game, come out and watch it with me. MVPs on Plainfield Road. Not far from Kenwood Mall.

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