Willie Anderson No Longer In The Waiting Room For Final Hall Ballot: 'You Can't Make Your Case Without Being In The Room'

Willie Anderson gets into The Room.
Willie Anderson gets into The Room.

Willie Anderson thought Thursday's wait was typical.

"Typical Willie Anderson life," said Anderson, recovering from illness in quarantine at his Atlanta home.

Anderson, one of the Bengals all-time greats, had to wait eight years to go to a Pro Bowl and eight more years to be a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame even though he's generally regarded as the NFL's best turn-of-the-century right tackle.

So he waited out Thursday night's one-hour NFL Network special unveiling the 2022 Hall of Fame finalists and broke into tears when they called his name last of the 15 Modern Era finalists with ten minutes left in the show.

He was still waiting for the results of Wednesday's COVID test, but feeling much better for a variety of reasons as his name goes before the 49-member selection committee in a Jan. 18 Zoom meeting that decides the 2022 Hall class.

The results won't be announced until "NFL Honors" a two-hour primetime awards special to air the day before Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles at 9 p.m., Feb. 10. on ABC with simulcasts on ESPN+ and NFL Network. Up to five members on the ballot can be inducted into Canton August if they receive 80 percent of the votes.

As the Cincinnati selector, Bengals.com presents Anderson's case to the committee that has one other offensive lineman in front of it in Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli, a six-time finalist. It's the first time a Bengal has been in the room since 1998, when left Anthony Munoz went in on his first try and quarterback Ken Anderson missed on his second chance and is now a leading contender in the senior category.  

 "I didn't want to make it a big deal. I wanted to keep it quiet," Willie Anderson said after last year's vote left him out of the finals when he made the cut to 25 for the first time. "I didn't want people calling and asking 'Are you OK?'"

Marvin Lewis, whose arrival as the Bengals head coach in 2003 made Cincinnati contenders and forced the NFL to give Anderson his due, recalled Thursday night that he also had to wait to give Anderson the news of his first Pro Bowl selection that day in December of 2003.

"He was in the rest room,' recalled Lewis with a chuckle Thursday night before boarding the bus to the Las Vegas Bowl in his role as special adviser to Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards.

"To think about that day and here we are in 2021, it's exiting that he's taken another step," Lewis said. "It shows the kind of player that he was and the kind of person he is and what he meant to the Bengals and the program."

Anderson, 46, still means a lot to the franchise that made him the 10th pick in the 1996 draft. One of the Bengals' greatest locker room leaders and one of their most eloquent spokesman during 12 passionate seasons and 181 dominant games, took center stage again last month as "Ruler of the Jungle" to fire up Paul Brown Stadium before the Bengals beat the Steelers.

The crowd that day would agree with Anderson that he's Hall-of-Fame worthy.

"Thanks to God. Praise to God. Honor God," Anderson said. "It's an honor to be in the room. They're telling me the hardest part is getting in the room. You can't make your case without being in the room. But now that I'm in there I know there are guys that think I have a valid case.

"If you look at my career and ask the coaches and the players, it's Hall of Fame worthy. It wasn't just a bunch of pizzazz. It's taken a long time to get here and it took me and other people to talk about it."

One former coach and current at-large Hall selector is glad Anderson is going to get his day in the room. Tony Dungy was the head man for the Bucs and Colts when his teams went against Anderson.

"He should absolutely be in the discussion," Dungy told Bengals.com earlier this month. "Did he dominate his era? Was he one of the guys that you game planned for? He was a guy who was tough to beat. He was as good as any right tackle in his era. To me, that says he should be in the (finals) discussion."

Players say, it, too. Anderson faced nine of the NFL's 11 current leading all-time sackers and it's believed he allowed only one sack. The only ones he missed playing were DeMarcus Ware (first-time Hall eligible this year) and John Randle, and that one he gave up was to all-time leader Bruce Smith with 19 seconds left in a game the Bills led by two touchdowns.

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

2022 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME FINALISTS

  • Jared Allen, Defensive End – 2004-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2013 Minnesota Vikings, 2014-15 Chicago Bears, 2015 Carolina Panthers
  • Willie Anderson, Offensive Tackle – 1996-2007 Cincinnati Bengals, 2008 Baltimore Ravens
  • Ronde Barber, Cornerback/Safety – 1997-2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Tony Boselli, Offensive Tackle – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve)
  • LeRoy Butler, Safety – 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers
  • Devin Hester, Punt Returner/Kick Returner/Wide Receiver – 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014-15 Atlanta Falcons, 2016 Baltimore Ravens
  • Torry Holt, Wide Receiver – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver – 2003-2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016 Tennessee Titans
  • Sam Mills, Linebacker – 1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers
  • Richard Seymour, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle – 2001-08 New England Patriots, 2009-2012 Oakland Raiders
  • Zach Thomas, Linebacker – 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Dallas Cowboys
  • DeMarcus Ware, Linebacker/Defensive End – 2005-2013 Dallas Cowboys, 2014-16 Denver Broncos
  • Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts
  • Patrick Willis, Linebacker – 2007-2014 San Francisco 49ers
  • Bryant Young, Defensive Tackle/Defensive End – 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers
  • SENIOR NOMINEE: Cliff Branch, Wide receiver _ 1972-85 Oakland/LA Raiders
  • COACH NOMINEE: Dick Vermeil _ Eagles 1976-82; Rams 1997-99; Chiefs 2001-05
  • CONTRIBUTOR: Referee Art McNally

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.

It was fitting that Anderson Ruled The Jungle when running back Joe Mixon rushed for a career-high 165 yards. Forget his Cantonesque pass protection. Anderson blocked for nine individual 1,000-yard rushing seasons, as well Corey Dillon's two NFL-record breaking games with 246 yards for the rookie record in 1997 and 278 yards for the all-time record in 2000.

In that 2000 season, Dillon set the club rushing record with 1,435 yards on 4.60 yards per carry in a season the Opening Day quarterback averaged 4.69 yards per throw. Then also running behind Anderson, Rudi Johnson broke Dillon's record in 2004 and then broke his own the next season.

"Very dominant player,' Lewis said. "You look at all those big running games we had with Corey and Rudi and Willie was a big reason for it."

The major reason Anderson's career is getting a second look is because he's so skilled at social media. His Willie Anderson Offensive Lineman Academy schools high school, college and pro players and he believes when he posted his own playing clips on Twitter to show his students the right way, that opened a fresh new look at his body of work.

Fearing his friends and fans would be disappointed if he didn't make (he never did tell his family when the vote was) , Anderson briefly turned off his phone and then had to convince himself to watch the last half of Thursday's announcement.

"Before they went to commercial they said there were two left and I was thinking, no way that's me," Anderson said. "Then they came back and they threw in Boselli and me and I started crying."

Anderson fittingly went to Twitter and Facebook for an emotional thank you. When he dried his eyes, he got ready to make his first call.

"To my mom," he said.

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