Willie Anderson wants to be there when the Bengals break through.
Willie Anderson, the greatest right tackle the Bengals have ever had, is trying to clear the decks so he can be on the sidelines for Saturday's Wild Card Game (8:15 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I want to be a part of it. I want to witness it," says Anderson from Atlanta this week. "I went to the AFC championship game when I was with Baltimore. But this is the team I was with the longest . . . I think they've got a chance and it would obviously be significant . . . I think it would be cool."
No one belongs on the sidelines more than Anderson if the Bengals break their 24-year drought in the playoffs. For years he was the best player on bad teams and when head coach Marvin Lewis arrived to turn it around in 2003 he became the linchpin of an offensive line that pushed to their first AFC North title in 2005.
Anderson tweeted it when the matchup was set Sunday night. Ten years later, the Bengals are playing the Steelers just like they did in the '05 Wild Card Game. With a backup quarterback. Andy Dalton, who also happens to hail from Anderson's hometown of Mobile, Ala.
"There's always a chance," Anderson says. "He's played against them. He won't be shell-shocked . . .
"That's why I give them a chance to win. Because they have the better roster," Anderson says. "Sometimes a roster doesn't mean anything. Pittsburgh expects to win. They've got a coaching staff that's been there before. But it's not all on AJ. The offensive line has to win the game. The Bengals defense stacks up well against the Steelers, but the offensive line has to negate that Steeler front. You can see in the playoffs that about the middle of the third quarter the pressure would get to Andy (Dalton) and 20 years and all that stuff would fall on top of him. The guys around AJ have to play well. The guys on the offensive line have to have the game of their lives in the game of their lives."
Ten years ago, he was on the team of his life. His tenth season in 2005 saw the best Bengals team of his 12 seasons in Cincinnati.
"We had three potential 1,000-yard receivers, a franchise quarterback and an offensive line that opened up big holes in the running game," Anderson says. "And we had a defense that turned it over and gave the ball to the offense in great field position."
That quarterback was something else. The overall pick in the 2003 draft. Carson Palmer. He came in with Lewis and Lewis sat him for a year behind Jon Kitna.
"When they made Carson the starter (in 2004), some guys were saying 'We don't need a No. 1 draft pick, we've got Jon Kitna,'" Anderson says. "But Marvin told me, 'This kid Carson can make throws Jon Kitna only wishes he could make,' and he was right. He's still doing it."
There's no doubt in Anderson's mind. The highest point in Lewis' re-building project Palmer's 66-yard pass to wide receiver Chris Henry on the second play of the Wild Card Gamebegan the downfall. Both players suffered season-ending knee injuries.
"We were blocking. We were trying to figure out what happened," Anderson says. "Carson was screaming, holding his knee. I was yelling, 'Noooo.' I was thinking, 'It's not supposed to be like this. My story was that in my 10th year after all the losing we were finally going to make it and make a run in the playoffs."
He takes nothing away from the Steelers. But the way the Steelers acted in the postgame lingers, like Steelers head coach Bill Cowher mocking the Who-Dey cheer with We-Dey. He thinks back to Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh shining his shoes with a Terrible Towel.
"They won the game fairly, but we'll never get back the frustration from watching Coach Cowher and those guys talking trash in the locker room," Anderson says. "I kind of wish T.J. didn't do that. It riles guys up.
"I think of the Michael Jordan thing. He never wanted guys to be at their best against him. . . . He'd make friends with everyone . . . Then he'd go out there and destroy you. A little psychological warfare."
The war was over.
"We were a young team and we knew Carson was going to get better," Anderson says. "But that game signaled the downfall of that team. The next few years weren't kind to us. That game started it all."
Ten years later, Anderson thinks these Bengals can survive all the karma and histrionics.
"It's like Carson said in '05," he says. "He didn't know what happened between 1991 and 2002 because he wasn't here . . . I'm sure it's the same thing with these guys."
Anderson thinks the defense is going to carry this day and he'll be sharing a special moment.
"We need to keep the game close, keep the points down and this team has that kind of defense," Anderson says. "I'm not saying our defense was terrible. But this group of kids they have now, it's a better defense. Those guys up front. (Geno) Atkins, (Carlos) Dunlap, (Domata) Peko. They hold down the middle. I don't know what Dunlap has to do to go to the Pro Bowl, but he's got more impact besides sacks. And the guys they've got coming in the rotation can all do different things."