Posted: 7 p.m.
Despite microfracture surgeries and mega welts, Willie Anderson hasn't missed a game through preschool, kindergarten, karate class, and now his 112-game skein has led right into Jair's first flag football season.
"I don't want to coach him because I know how I get," Anderson says. "I get so competitive that if he doesn't do it right I'm going to fuss at him and I don't want him to get into sports like that. When the time comes and he says, 'Daddy, help me with this,' I'll do it."
He did his real coaching the past month. When the Bengals voluntary workouts ended this week, Anderson said coaching the kids is now primarily what he does during the spring.
"I want our young linemen to know what I know," he says.
When you're 34 shy of the franchise record for most games played and 11 games from passing that icon of indestructibility, Tim Krumrie, into fourth place on the club list for consecutive games played, and one of eight Bengals in history to go to four Pro Bowls despite an emergency room checklist of ailments, you don't exactly have to saddle it up for every padless workout with the opener still three months away.
|207||CB Ken Riley||15||1969-83|
|206||LB Reggie Williams||14||1976-89|
|192||QB Ken Anderson||16||1971-86|
|188||NT Tim Krumrie||12||1983-94|
|185||LT Anthony Muñoz||13||1980-92|
|181||K Jim Breech||13||1980-92|
|174||RT Willie Anderson||11||1996-|
|172||OL Bruce Kozerski||12||1984-95|
|170||DE Eddie Edwards||12||1977-88|
|169||P Lee Johnson||11||1988-98|
"I hate this time of year; hate it," Anderson says. "I hate July. It's my birthday and then right after that I have to leave my son."
Anderson isn't looking for sympathy. He knows, "We all make life choices," but it probably won't be a knee or a foot or a shoulder that ends Anderson's career. It will be the pull of Jair's life, which turns 10 on Sept. 21, a day that Anderson most likely spends in the air traveling to the Bengals game in Seattle.
It's not lost on Anderson that Sunday is Father's Day. He thinks Jair will surprise him with something. They like going to movies and arcades.
"It's important to me to have a better relationship with him than my father and I had," Anderson says. "My father was around, but my stepdad raised me. My father gave me stuff here and there. He did the best he could."
Anderson, who turns 32 on that dreaded July 11, thinks he has five years left. Five years brings him to the end of his $32 million contract extension. But only if he's comfortable with how Jair is doing. Jair lives with his mother, near Anderson's offseason home in Atlanta.
"Barring a crucial injury, I'd say I can do five years," he says.
"Now is the worst time of year," Anderson says. "Your team wants you here, but at the same time, from August to February, I'm not seeing my son that much. I feel like, personally, I give this team my 100 percent from August to February. To spend that amount of time from my son (now), that hurts me as a father.
"That's the only thing that keeps me from not wanting to play a lot longer. Really, it's not going to come down to how I feel, but how his life is going and how he's growing."
No complaints. Anderson knows he made that call. But he still has to deal with it. And deal with the body, too.
Two of the guys that know Anderson's body like they were looking through an MRI machine think he's sound for five more seasons.
Brian Glotzbach, a massage therapist, and Dr. Mike Hatrak, a chiropractor, are amazed at how a man with size 19 Triple E feet can move so fast.
"Willie is physically gifted; we all know that," Hatrak says. "He's got the long arms and long, lean and the quick feet. But he's also such a smart guy, well-read and informed about everything. Ask him about any player, and he can analyze them for you. He does the same thing taking care of himself."
This is a guy who spent the Pro Bowl after the '05 season scouting defensive ends like Julius Peppers and Derrick Burgess because they were on the '06 schedule and when he ended up blanking the sack aces, he ended up back in the Pro Bowl.
Indeed, the game against the Panthers' Peppers may have been the game of his life as the Bengals held off blitz-happy Carolina trying to take advantage of Cincinnati's banged up offensive line, 17-14.
(It's days like that, and maul jobs against guys like top Colts sacker Robert Mathis in '05 that make you realize he's played his best football at 30 and older.)
|169||P Lee Johnson||1988-98|
|149||P/WR Pat McInally||1976-85|
|137||LB Reggie Williams||1980-89|
|122||NT Tim Krumrie||1987-94|
|117||TE Tony McGee||1993-2000|
Anderson made the same commitment to his health after he hobbled through the 2004 season with torn knee cartilage that called for offseason microfracture surgery, far from a sure-shot procedure. He says he saw a former teammate, linebacker Dwayne Levels, unable to come back from it, and fellow Auburn product, running back Stephen Davis, unable to reach his prior form after it was done.
He put together "Team Willie," a group of foot specialists, massage therapists, and chiropractors based in Atlanta that aided his rehab. Now Anderson flies them into Cincinnati for every home game and offers them out to his teammates.
"I live and die by them after that surgery," Anderson says. "It's a tough surgery. I was even told by some people in this organization that, 'He may not come back from that.'
"They don't replace our trainers. These guys believe in athletic training themselves. It's in addition to what they do. I believe if you want to play a long time in this league, you have to do untraditional things."
Everything—from Bengals trainer Paul Sparling's staff to the power of prayer—helped him late last season get ready for the Denver game, six days after he limped off the field with a foot injury that took him out of the Monday-nighter in Indianapolis.
The key for Anderson, he thinks, is the emphasis on the feet and making sure the foundation of the body is solid. He has always felt his flat feet and the way they tilt when he walks and runs fouled up the entire alignment of his body and contributed to knee, hip and even shoulder problems.
But it's also a mental lift. He says he needs four and a half hours the night before a game to get his body truly ready. He literally has to hand it to Glotzbach, as well as guys like strength coaches Chip Morton and Ray Oliver that emphasized what goes into his body Friday night dictates how he'll feel Sunday afternoon.
"I used to go out there scared because I felt so bad," Anderson says. "My hamstring would be tight from practicing and I just wouldn't feel good and I was thinking, 'Oh my God, how am I going to do this?' Now I go out there and I can touch the ground."
While working him over, Glotzbach has been able to glance inside his prized patient.
"He's such a team guy, a team leader," Glotzbach says. "He's spent a lot of time and money helping his teammates. He's such a special guy."
More keys to 112 straight games?
(If he plays in 26 more straight, he'll have the longest Bengals streak of any non-punter, moving past linebacker Reggie Williams into third place behind Lee Johnson and Pat McInally.)
When Anderson sits around at the Pro Bowl with the other offensive linemen, he's surprised that there is virtually no mention of weight lifting. It is about the things he and the Bengals do in the offseason, like pilates and flexibility drills.
Remember, this is the time of year he's coaching. Anderson took that message and some of those young current and former Bengals offensive linemen with him Thursday on a jet he rented out of Lunken Airport.
Anderson wanted to make sure Andrew Whitworth, Stacy Andrews, Nate Livings and Ben Wilkerson all got there in time for dinner Thursday and Friday's first session of his youth football camp in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
"Football is not about weight lifting," Anderson says. "It's a game of movement and you have to be able to bend and twist and have flexibility. And there are times you have to know how to come out of those piles so you can play the next snap."
Anderson shakes his head at the sport he plays. He remembers playing the Browns this past season and 370-pound Ted Washington lying on his leg after the play. Not only that, but there was some poor soul under Anderson screaming.
"Those piles are bad and I'm talking abut run blocking," he says. "If I feel Bobbie (right guard Williams) is working his guy and he's going to end up throwing him on my leg, you have to know just how to let go and fall. Sometimes it looks bad, but it allows me to line up for the next play."
More keys to 112?
(Remember, the last time Anderson missed a game was the last game of the '99 season, when the Bengals played at Riverfront Stadium, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton were still presidents, Marvin Lewis was still a little-known defensive coordinator and his youngest teammate was of junior-high age.)
As the Bengals broke for the summer Thursday, offensive line coaches Paul Alexander and Bob Surace asked their group to list their goals.
"I admitted to the room that I need to work on finishing my run blocking," Anderson says. "In the last five years, I think ever since we got Carson, I've really been working on pass blocking. Protecting Carson at any cost."
(If the karma remains intact, he'll pass fellow tackle and the club's lone Hall of Famer, Anthony Muñoz, on the games played list with 186 in Pittsburgh Dec. 2.)
Jair starts a golf camp Monday, and Anderson can't wait. Jair has a busy summer because his parents believe in keeping his school skills sharp, so he's also involved in a reading group.
His mother isn't so sure they should go all out with the golf equipment. Should they buy the shoes, the clubs, AND the glove? Or just the clubs? What if he doesn't like it? After all, all the kids don't have all the stuff.
"He likes it; I say get everything," Anderson says. "If he doesn't like it, somebody will want it. But he likes it and that's good. I don't want him to be Tiger Woods, but I want him to learn the game. It's going to help him with his concentration, with his rhythm. I've started to take up golf, and it's helped me that way. Yeah, I'm just happy when I hit it. I think it helps focus."
But the quarterback and the coach and the scores and the Pro Bowls and the drills aren't going to decide the final number of games played.
The tall nine-year-old kid in Atlanta with the golf glove has the final say there.
There could be a movie involved Father's Day.
"I told him not to see Shrek without me," Anderson says.
Another big guy in the middle of a nice run.