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Willie Anderson Makes First Appearance On Pro Football Hall of Fame Finals Ballot

Willie Anderson as Ruler of the Jungle last month.
Willie Anderson as Ruler of the Jungle last month.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame saved the best for last Thursday when the shrine announced Bengals all-time right tackle Willie Anderson on the list of 15 Modern Era finalists.

Mirroring the franchise's 24-year wait, NFL Network called Anderson's name last for a ballot that has a Bengal for the first time since left tackle Anthony Munoz and quarterback Ken Anderson were up for the 1998 class.

Munoz, an 11-time Pro Bowler regarded as the best tackle of all-time, was selected in his first year of eligibility while Ken Anderson is a leading contender in the senior category for players retired longer than 25 years.

Willie Anderson is one of just two offensive linemen on the ballot and is joined by former Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli, a six-time finalist. Among the 15 finalists are first-time eligibles Devin Hester, one of two return specialist on the NFL's 100-year team; DeMarcus Ware, a 138.5 career sacker; and Andre Johnson, a wide receiver with two NFL receiving yardage titles.

Also on his first ballot is linebacker Patrick Willis in his third year of eligibility.

Other notables are defensive tackle Richard Seymour in his fourth trip to the finals and five three-time finalists in safety Leroy Butler, wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne and linebackers Sam Mills and Zach Thomas.

Two-time finalists include pass rusher Jared Allen, defensive tackle Bryant Young and cornerback Ronde Barber.

The 49-member selection committee, of which is a member, votes for the 2022 class in a Zoom meeting set for mid-January. Up to five finalists can be elected and all must receive 80 percent of the votes to make the August induction.

View some of the best images of Bengals legend Willie Anderson. Anderson was one of 15 modern-era player finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022.

In his ninth year of eligibility, Anderson is regarded as the best right tackle of his era. It spanned a career that began with the Bengals taking him with the 10th pick in the 1996 draft out of Auburn and spanned 12 seasons in Cincinnati during 181 games and four Pro Bowls.

"I consider him to be right there as the best right tackle of his generation," Giants Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Michael Strahan told last year. "When I found out Willie wasn't in the Hall of Fame, I was surprised. Unbeatable."

Anderson retired after one season with the Ravens following that bruising 2009 AFC title game between AFC North members Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

But Anderson owned both the AFC Central and the North as a Bengal. While they were members of the Central, Anderson blocked for Corey Dillon's two NFL-record breaking games, 246 yards for the rookie record in 1997 and 278 yards for the all-time record in 2000.

When they moved to the AFC North, Anderson made All-Pro three straight years from 2004-2006. During his career, there were 95 All-Pro nods at tackle. Just 11 went to right tackles. Before Anderson did it, only Dan Dierdorf, Ron Yary and Rayfield Wright did it three straight times. All Hall of Famers from the 1970s. That makes Anderson the only right tackle in the last 40 years to be named All Pro three straight seasons.

And in 15 games against Hall-of-Fame sackers, Anderson allowed just one and that was to Bruce Smith in the last seconds of a rout in his rookie year in 1996.

Anderson, a Mobile, Ala., native voted to the Bengals' First 50 team in 2017, was also a finalist for the club's inaugural Ring of Honor class that was unveiled earlier this season.