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Game Within The Game: A Sack Of Memories And A Coy Bacon Primer As Trey Hendrickson Finishes Off A Record Run

Defensive end Coy Bacon. Made the Pro Bowl in both of his seasons in Cincinnati.
Defensive end Coy Bacon. Made the Pro Bowl in both of his seasons in Cincinnati.

Bill Anderson-Bacon remembers his dad's voice as big and as loud and as official as his unofficial 26-sack season for the Bengals nearly 50 years ago and as Trey Hendrickson finishes off the biggest sack season since 1976 on Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against Cleveland in the regular-season finale at Paycor Stadium, now is time for a Coy Bacon primer.

"A big, happy guy all the time who loved kids and the church," says Anderson-Bacon of his dad, gone 15 years this past Christmas week at age 66, a beloved figure in his hometown of Ironton, Ohio where, at the end, he was known for loading troubled youth into passenger vans on field trips trying to get their lives back on the road.

"He loved the Bengals. He loved his time there. He would always talk about those sacks and that team. He had Bengals' stuff hanging all over the place at the house in Ironton."  

Dave Lapham, a First 50 Bengals guard who has been the soundtrack of the franchise for these last 38 seasons as the radio analyst, begins with the words of their head coach during that '76 season when Bill "Tiger," Johnson told him, "That SOB is the best pass rusher I've ever seen."

"The consummate professional pass rusher," Lapham says. "Most natural pass rusher I've ever seen. He would dance into the quarterback with every step. He was, athletically, a 270-pound snake slithering. He could turn and make himself small. I don't know if he was 6-4. Maybe. He was built a little differently. He was as big as a lot of D-Tackles. A big, thick dude. He had immense short- space quickness. He'd get off the ball and I'd have to make sure I wasn't blinking. Extraordinary get-off.  He was explosive."

It's that breathtaking first step he has in common with Hendrickson, his 17 sacks tied with T.J. Watt for the NFL lead. They also shared a commitment to Christ as relentless as they pursued their vocation.

One thing they don't share is the weight room.

 Hendrickson lives in there, almost as the Bengals' fourth strength coach. Lapham never saw Bacon in it and there were times when Bacon and Bob Brown, the giant former Packers defensive tackle in the middle of that '76 line, would look at Lapham and ask, "What do those muscles do for you?"

"Innate strength," says Louis Breeden, a rookie cornerback on the 1977 Bengals. "I post on Facebook a lot and, I tell you, I love Trey Hendrickson. This guy is just relentless. I just don't think he gets enough love around here. Hendrickson is like Coy with that first step. When the ball is snapped, it's like the gun going off to start a sprint. Not just straight ahead. They've got all the twitchy moves. Just find a way to drop the shoulders. Both of them. That knack for getting to the quarterback. And just relentless."

Lander McCoy Bacon played only 26 of his 180 NFL games and two of his 14 NFL seasons as a Bengal. But it was a lifetime for him.

"He was already seen as an icon in town, but when he went to the Bengals, it kind of topped it off as an Ohio kid and it meant so much to him to play in Ohio," says Chantal Anderson, Bill's wife.

It also meant a lot to the career of Reggie Williams, the most versatile linebacker in Bengals history during his 14-year run that began in the summer of '76. Bacon, by then a nine-year vet who had played with the Fearsome Foursome and had been to a Pro Bowl, barked at Williams sitting at his locker, "Hey Rookie, you're going to be all right."

Breeden remembers how Bacon was a chatterbox. Every day. All day. He had an opinion on just about everything. Breeden, the rookie, soaked it all in, listening to the two fast-talking Pro Bowlers, Bacon and cornerback Lemar Parrish. Breeden believed he learned a career from those two guys between the Spinney Field lockers. "Hey Rook, when are you going to contribute?" Bacon would gently needle him nearly every day as Breeden recovered from a season-long hamstring injury.    

"He gave me my first big compliment. A great teammate. You wanted to line up next to a guy like Coy Bacon because you knew exactly what you were going to get every time," Reggie Williams says. "He bent the edge every play. I'm looking at it from the perspective of an outside linebacker. He bent the edge so I was able to see the backfield. I could focus in on all the things I needed to learn as a rookie in order to be a successful outside linebacker. To have Coy Bacon in front of me as a young player was a gift.

"They weren't even called sacks then. They weren't a thing. Just putting a name to it gave it life."

The big, boisterous Bacon, with 130.5 of those new-fangled things, was one of the guys that made the sack come alive He was a rookie with one of those sack pioneers on the Deacon Jones Rams of 1968, the year Joe Willie Namath led the AFL to the Super Bowl title. Bacon's final year was with Washington in 1981, when the next Joe, Montana, led the 49ers to the Super Bowl win over NFL MVP Ken Anderson's Bengals.

Sacks didn't become an official NFL statistic until the next season, a sad coincidence for one of the men who made it happen. Like all legends, this one is shrouded a bit in mysterious mists.

The Bengals record book has Bacon for 22 sacks in '76, the year the club started charting QB drops. Pro Football Reference, which is not the official NFL record, has him for 21.5. P.J. Combs, the Bengals director of media relations who is as relentless with his numbers as a Bacon -Hendrickson pass rush,

discovered that eight of Bacon's sacks were shared and should be counted as a half sack. Bacon was in on 26 quarterback takedowns, but his sack total is 22.

During the first days of 2002, Coy Bacon reminded everybody about it all when he told, "Mike Brown paid me for 26. They gave me $1,500 for
each sack and the Bengals paid me for 26."

The call was on occasion of the Giants' Michael Strahan ending the 2001 season by setting the NFL record with 22.5 sacks. The way Strahan got it, with Brett Favre sliding into his arms on a rollout, had the always opinionated Bacon ready with another.

"Pitiful," Bacon told "That wasn't playing football. To set a national record like that by touching a guy lying on the ground, that's terrible. I had to go through two, three, four guys to get sacks. Do you think Art Shell or Gene Upshaw would let a guy through like that?"

Bill Anderson-Bacon remembers all those talks with his dad.

"He would say, 'I did it in 14 games. Let them try to do that in 14 games," the son recalls. "He'd say, 'I got 26. I've got the record. Look at the record. They paid me for 26. I've got the record."

It is a fond laughter of family memories. Dan Fouts, the Chargers' Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, has them, too. He was a teammate until The Trade, another twist in the NFL Twilight Zone.

In Bengals founder Paul Brown's final season as head coach in 1975, the Bengals had their best year ever at 11-3. It still wasn't enough to get past the 12-2 Steelers in the old orange-gold-black-and-blue AFC Central.

In one of his first post-coaching moves, Brown dispatched son Mike Brown, the current Bengals president, to get a sacker to try to pull back the Steel Curtain's relentless pass pressure. They settled on Bacon, already with four double-digit sack seasons, in exchange for a member of Isaac Curtis' deep receiving corps, Charlie Joiner. When Tiger Johnson became head coach, another top offensive assistant, Bill Walsh, moved to the Chargers as offensive coordinator.

"I'll take that trade," says Fouts, since Joiner ended up in the Hall of Fame with him. "The first thing Bill Walsh did when got here was orchestrate that trade. I didn't know much about Joiner. I didn't know much about Walsh. All I knew was that he had developed (quarterbacks) Greg Cook, Virgil Carter, Ken Anderson in Cincinnati. Bill Walsh is in the Hall of Fame, too."

But Fouts could see the Bengals were getting real value. With Bacon's 130.5 sacks more than Von Miller, Derrick Thomas, and Dwight Freeney on the unofficial list, it was basically a trade involving two Hall-of-Fame caliber players.

"Coy was a great player. I think he learned a lot from Deacon. They had come over from the Rams and were there for my rookie year (1973)," Fouts said. "A lot of it was attitude. When it came to attitude, Coy was something. He was strong, he was fast, he had the attitude. You take those three ingredients and there are your 22 sacks."

Let it be known that Coy Bacon's eight-year-old grandson, William Coy Anderson, lives in San Diego just like his "Poppa," did before he went to the Bengals.

But the grandson plays for the Bengals all year long in flag football and is Ja'Marr Chase's No. 1 fan on the West Coast, Chantal says, and he spreads his love of the Bengals to friends and teammates. Bill says he hears Chase is planning to appear at a flag football event in San Diego during the offseason and they are all set to go.

"We try to get back every year to Ohio to see family and we try to see the Bengals," Bill says. The kids (there is also a five-year son A.J.) love them and want to get on the field any chance they can get."

They were back for the 50th anniversary five years ago and Bill still talks about it. His conversation with Mike Brown. Meeting Coy's teammates. The pride he felt seeing his dad's picture in the concourse.

"The love the Bengals family has extended is amazing to us and it's increased our love and our sons' love for the Bengals," Chantal says.

"It's an accomplishment some people recognize him for and some don't. There's not the awareness, but it's something we honor in our family."

Their great sack seasons are nearly 50 years apart, but Bacon and Hendrickson seem to have more in common than not down there in a three-point stance under the radar. The only ones who really seem to know them are the ones that know them best.

"We were talking about No. 91 and sacks and Poppa just the other day when we were watching the game," says Bill Anderson-Bacon of the game in Kansas City. "Hendrickson …. He's a beast."

Something else in common.