As the Bengals reminisce about the 1981 Super Bowl season, their recollections always go back to the first two games. This one at Shea Stadium in New York on a U.S. Open weekend comes a week after head coach Forrest Gregg pulls quarterback Ken Anderson in the first half of the opener at Riverfront Stadium and the Bengals down 21-0 to Seattle. Anderson watches No. 3 QB Turk Schonert leads a wild 27-21 comeback victory with backup Jack Thompson sidelined and then gets caught by surprise when Gregg names Schonert the starter against the Jets after a Labor Day session. Anderson then meets with Gregg two or three times before practice Wednesday and gets his job back. Then he saves his career and points his team to the Super Bowl by engineering a 31-30 win over the Jets and their New York Sack Exchange pass rush after being down 17-3. He goes on to win another NFL passing title as well as NFL MVP. When he wins his fourth passing title the next season, it puts him in the conversation for the Pro Football Hall of Fame that continues to this day. "I've never been more proud of a teammate than I was of Kenny that year,' recalls Dave Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst who was Anderson's road roommate and left guard that day coming off the bench when Glenn Bujnoch gets hurt early.
It is a crazy but historic day at Shea. Young Dan Ross is on his way to setting tight end records and rookie wide receiver Cris Collinsworth is embarking on the first 1,000-yard receiving season in Bengals history. But the great 30-year-old wide receiver Isaac Curtis carries them with one last gasp of dominance on 108 yards with five catches that include a back-breaking 42-yarder that he calls himself. The press-box phones go out and Anderson recollects offensive coordinator Lindy Infante hanging off a ledge signaling plays to the sideline. Half the offensive line in a hotel van almost doesn't make it to the game on time, recalls Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz.
"We were playing. The U.S. Open tennis was there near where we were playing at Shea. The Yankees were playing. The guy took a left and we ended up at Yankee Stadium. Guys were getting mad. It was hot in that van and here we were across town and had to get to the game. We left about an hour before the buses and they beat us there. I remember getting to the stadium and (offensive line coach) Jimmy McNally saying, 'I thought I was going to have to dress out.'" But it is Anderson that undresses the Jets and the '81 Bengals are on their way.