Early years and college career
Ken Anderson was born in Batavia, Illinois on February 15, 1949. Growing up Anderson was close friends with Dan Issel, who would go on to become a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame basketball player with the Kentucky Colonels and Denver Nuggets. Later, Anderson and Issel would co-own a 782 farm in Kentucky. Another neighbor and teammate, Byron Von Hoff, played basketball and other sports at Batavia with Anderson and Issel. Von Hoff was the 21st pick of the New York Mets in the 1966 Amateur Baseball draft and pitched successfully in the minor leagues before an injury ended his career. Another friend and teammate at Batavia was future NBA announcer Craig Sager.
Anderson played his college ball at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Anderson Lettered in 1967, 68, 69, 70, and was Named to Associated Press All-American team (honorable mention) as a sophomore in 1968 Ken was first team All-Lutheran College honoree as a sophomore and second team as a junior, and was named to the CCIW all-conference team three straight years – 1968, 69 & 70. Also Anderson won the CCIW’s Most Valuable Player award in 1970. He Still holds the Augustana school records for Most Yards Passing-Game 410, Season 117, Career 6,131, Most Passes Attempted-Game 58, Season 239, Career 827, Most Passes Completed-Game 23, Season 136, Career 424, Most TD Passes-Game 5, Season 20, Career 48, Most Total Offense-Game 459 (49 rush & 410 passing), Season 2,328 (211 rushing & 2117 passing), and Career 6679 (548 rushing, 6131 passing).
After playing for and graduating from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, he was selected 67th overall in the 1971 NFL Draft by the Bengals and earned the starting quarterback job in 1972. He became one of the most accurate short-range passers in the league, and was extremely effective at rushing the ball for a quarterback.
With Bill Walsh as his quarterbacks coach, Anderson is one of the first quarterbacks to run what would become known as the “West Coast Offense.” One of the finest performances of his early career was in a Monday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills in November 1975; Anderson passed for a franchise record 447 yards while the Bengals racked up a franchise record 553 offensive yards in a 33–24 win. It was the Bengals’ first ever win in a Monday night game.
Anderson’s best season was in 1981, although it started out very badly for him. In the Bengals opening game against the Seattle Seahawks, Anderson was intercepted twice in the first half and the Seahawks built up a 21–0 first quarter lead. In the second half, with the Bengals trailing 21-10, Cincinnati coach Forrest Gregg benched Anderson and brought in third-string quarterback Turk Schonert (second-string quarterback Jack Thompson was injured at the time). With Schonert in command of the offense, the Bengals stormed back and won the game 27–21. Gregg considered starting Schonert or Thompson for the next game against the New York Jets, but decided to stick with Anderson after an impassioned discussion the two had during the week leading up to the game. Anderson took advantage of his second chance by throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bengals won the game 31–30.
By the time the season ended, Anderson had completed 62.6% of his passes for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns, with only 10 interceptions, leading the NFL with a career-high 98.4 passer rating. He also gained another 320 yards and one touchdown on the ground. This performance earned him both the Associated Press and Professional Football Writers of America NFL Most Valuable Player Awards and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Anderson then led the Bengals to their first ever playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills, as he led Cincinnati to a 27–7 win in the AFC championship game (which later became known as the Freezer Bowl) over the San Diego Chargers, earning a trip to the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
The Bengals lost Super Bowl XVI 26–21 to the San Francisco 49ers, but Anderson had a solid performance, especially in the second half, despite his team trailing 20–0 at the end of the first half. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions, and gained 14 rushing yards and a touchdown on five rushing attempts. At the time, his 25 completions and 73.5% completion percentage were both Super Bowl records.
In his 16 NFL seasons, Anderson completed 2,654 of 4,475 passes (59.3%) for 32,838 yards and 197 touchdowns and 160 interceptions and also gained 2,220 rushing yards and scored 20 rushing touchdowns on 397 carries. His completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes are all Bengals records. His 2,220 rushing yards are the most ever by a Bengals quarterback. Anderson led the NFL in quarterback rating four times during his career (1974, 1975, 1981, and 1982) and led the league in passing yards twice (1974, 1975). He was selected to four Pro Bowls (1975-76 & 1981-82). Anderson was voted All-Pro in 1981, 2nd Team All-Pro in 1975, and 2nd Team All-AFC in 1974 and 1982.
Life After Playing
After serving as a color analyst for the Bengals’ radio broadcasts from 1987–1992, Anderson re-joined the team in 1993 as their quarterbacks coach, a position he held until 1996. He then served as the team’s offensive coordinator from 1996 to 2000, and again as the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2001 and 2002. In 2003, he became a wide receivers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and was their quarterbacks coach. He was fired after the 2006 season, along with offensive coordinator Carl Smith and special teams coach Pete Rodriguez, by Jack Del Rio. In January 2007, new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hired Anderson as his quarterbacks coach under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. On January 5, 2010, Tomlin announced that Anderson would be retiring, effective immediately. Anderson earned a Super Bowl ring when the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII.
In 2003, Anderson was inducted into the Augustana College Vikings Hall of Fame. In 2013, Augustana College dedicated the Kenny Anderson Academic All-America Club building as part of the Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex. Although not officially retired by the Bengals, Anderson’s number 14 had been held in reserve and not assigned to any player by the team until Anderson started coaching for division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The holding of number 14 was most evident in 1998, when the Bengals signed Neil O’Donnell, who wore number 14 during most of his career. O’Donnell wore number 12 during his one-year stay in Cincinnati, the only time in his NFL career he did not wear number 14. With Anderson’s approval, Andy Dalton wore number 14 for the Bengals since being drafted in 2011.
He has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame several times, and on two occasions was among the 15 finalists for enshrinement (1996 and 1998). In 2011, the Professional Football Researchers Association named Anderson to the PFRA Hall of Very Good Class of 2011.In 2008, NFL Network selected Anderson as number ten on their list of top ten players who had not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ken is Married to Cristy Anderson, and they have three children together Matt, Megan and Molly. Anderson also has earned his juris doctorate from Chase College of Law. He is widely considered to be the best quarterback in the history of the Bengals, and a fan favorite for the franchise.
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