Michael Oher you probably know. He’s the subject of the book … and the movie … “The Blind Side.” But Willie Anderson? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.
But you should. Because, unlike Michael Oher, Willie Anderson was one of the best tackles of his generation.
No, he didn’t have a best-seller written about him. Nor was there an Academy Award-nominated movie detailing his life’s story. And, no, he didn’t play “the blind side,” or left-tackle position. He played the right side, and it’s that designation the former Cincinnati Bengals’ star believes hurts him in his push to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“No doubt. I definitely believe that,” Anderson said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I think a lot more postseason awards would come my way. I just think there was not enough knowledge about the tackle position. I think the whole Michael Oher-left side-“Blind Side” movie – kind of made everyone think the left tackle is the sole best blocker on every team.
“(But) in my entire 12-year (career I was with the Bengals, I was definitely the best offensive lineman on the team. But I played the right-tackle position, which in some people’s minds — the traditional thinking — the right tackle wasn’t important.
“But I was always the highest-paid guy and one of the highest-paid tackles in the league. And I think by changing positions — if I was a left tackle — it would’ve made more sense to people. By playing right (tackle) you really have to come study my film and other great guys who played the right side.”
You don’t have to study much to know Anderson was one of the best of his era. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, a three-time first-team All-Pro and a guy who never sat down. In his 12 seasons with the Bengals he missed only two games. Anderson was so accomplished and so valuable to the franchise that earlier this year he was recognized as one of the team’s 50 greatest players as the Bengals celebrated their 50th season and is one of the 108 players on the preliminary ballot for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018.
Yet he’s never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist or semifinalist, and maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s because he played right tackle.
But he wasn’t always there. In fact, he was a left tackle at Auburn, and he started his pro career in Cincinnati on the left … or blind … side as a rookie. Because of injuries that year (1996), the offensive line was shuffled, with Anderson taking over at left tackle for Kevin Sargent. But when Sargent returned the following year, Anderson was moved to right tackle … where he never moved again.
Not that he didn’t consider it. But he never asked.
“I had the arrogant belief that I was going to make everybody in the league see how important the right-tackle position was,” said Anderson. “And I kinda did. At one point before Jonathan Ogden got his contract, I was the highest-paid lineman in the league. You had guys like Leon Searcy, who got paid. And a guy who was my personal hero, Erik Williams. Those guys were older guys than me.
“I wanted to make guys see that, ‘Hey, if you telling me the right-tackle position doesn’t mean anything, and my quarterback should be able to see, then I should be able to step out of the way. I should be able to step out of the way if Reggie White is coming, if (Michael) Strahan is coming, if Jevon Kearse is coming, if Kevin (Carter) is coming. If all these guys are coming, you guys should be able to see them, right?’
“(And they said) ‘Uh, no, Willie that’s not (the case).’ (So I said) ‘Well, you guys got to pay me as to my importance to the team.’ And that’s what happened.”
But it wasn’t just his choice of positions that handicapped Anderson’s public visibility. It was where he played. In his 12 seasons with the Bengals, Cincinnati went to the playoffs only once (2005), where it bowed out after one game. Worse, the Bengals won only 39 percent of all their games while he was there, and, trust us, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, that is a factor.
“I think if we had multiple playoff wins I think it would’ve been al lot better,” Anderson said. “I think if we had some winning seasons, and we had won a playoff game here or two, it would have been better.”