The 1971 NFL draft was the initial gold standard for quarterbacks.
For the first time in history quarterbacks went on the first three picks — Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning and Dan Pastorini. Lynn Dickey and Joe Theismann also were selected. Nearly lost in the shuffle of the big school All-Americas and Heisman Trophy winners was Ken Anderson, a third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals from Division III Augustana.
But the big winner proved to be Anderson.
“I think it was Jim Plunkett who said I was the lucky one in the group,” Anderson recalled, “because I went somewhere where the franchise was stable. That was one of the great things Paul Brown gave us.”
Anderson recalled those early days in Cincinnati as this week’s visitor to the Talk of Fame Network’s “5 Games” podcast. This is the first installment of Anderson’s “5 Games,” his first start in the NFL as a rookie in 1971 against the Miami Dolphins. We’ll also discuss his Super Bowl appearance, the Freezer Bowl and two of his 400-yard passing games in the remaining four installments.
But it wasn’t just the stability that Brown gave to the organization. It was the coaching Anderson received from one of the greatest offensive think tanks in history. Brown was his head coach and Bill Walsh his quarterbacks coach. Brown, of course, coached Hall of Famer Otto Graham in the 1950s and Walsh coached Hall of Famer Joe Montana in the 1980s.
Walsh was Anderson’s edge in making the jump from Division III to the NFL.
“Coming from Augustana, I knew nothing about playing sophisticated football,” Anderson said. “But the rules were different in those days. The draft was in January and I had dropped out of Augustana after the fall quarter. I was getting ready to go on active duty for the Army reserve so I moved to Cincinnati right away.
“From the first of February on, Bill and I were meeting every day. He could install the offense very slowly for me. We would go out onto the field and he literally taught me step-by-step how he wanted me to execute the offense. He was such a great teacher. I’d learn my drops by just moving my feet in place for the first week. Then we’d walk back for a week. Then we’d drop back for a week, kind of half speed. I was doing this for a month before we did anything close to full speed. But we had the time to teach it slowly for me to do it exactly the way he wanted it.”
Anderson wound up passing for more yards (32,838) and more touchdowns (197) than any quarterback in his draft class. He won four NFL passing titles, two in the 1970s and two more in the 1980s, and was the NFL MVP in 1981 when he took the Bengals to their first Super Bowl.
In this podcast, Anderson recalls the rocky final moments of his NFL debut in relief of an injured Virgil Carter at Green Bay in the third week of the 1971 season, the blur that was his first start against Miami the following week and feeling the wrath of Brown after losing all four of his starts as a rookie.
You can listen to this podcast – as well as “5 Games” podcasts with Hall of Famers Jerry Kramer, as Charles Haley, Jam Ham and Willie Lanier – at VokalNow.com or by subscribing to our podcasts at iTunes. Click the links below.