(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Willie Anderson interview, fast-forward to 19:20 of the attached audio: Ep 10: HOF/Clay Matthews; Remembering John Lennon; Former Bengals RT Willie Anderson Stops By | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
Willie Anderson is one of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2021, and you’re excused if you didn’t know.
First of all, it’s his first time as a semifinalist. Second, he played all but one of his 13 NFL seasons with Cincinnati, a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991 and has one … one … former player in Canton. And, third, he played one of the most overlooked positions in pro football.
Quick, now, tell me the great right tackles enshrined in the past 10 years. Jonathan Ogden? Nope. Left tackle. Walter Jones? Uh-uh. Left side. Orlando Pace? Take another left turn. Willie Roaf? Ditto. Even Tony Boselli, the next tackle in line for Canton, is a left tackle.
Let’s face it: The odds of reaching Canton are enhanced if you play the left side, and that’s not me talking. That’s Willie Anderson, too, who said as much on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I spent my entire career fighting it with the Bengals to pay me a bigger paycheck. I would show (Bengals’ executive VP) Katie Brown Blackburn and say, ‘Katie, OK who’s the best lineman on this team?’ And she would said, ‘You.’ And I’d say, ‘OK, I play right tackle.’
“I literally had to show her one year where I faced — just on our own team — guys with more sacks than my guy Rod Jones (Bengals’ tackle 1996-2000), Levi Jones (Bengals’ tackle 2002-08) and Richmond Webb (Bengals, 2001-02) a couple of years. And they really didn’t see it because the myth of the Lawrence Taylor era was justified.
“Lawrence came, and teams were throwing those guys over to left tackle. So having a guy like (Bengals’ Hall-of-Famer Anthony) Munoz and these great guys in the ‘80s … that meant something, But football changed, and it changed without a lot of great fanfare.”
But it wasn’t only the Bengals that didn’t get it. It was the general public, too, said Anderson. And he thinks a best-selling book and Academy Award-winning film had plenty to do with it.
“To me,” he said, “the greatest detriment to right tackle was the movie and the book, “The Blind Side.” On my Twitter account – which I started about three or four years ago – the Bengals gave me my career … on film … on a hard drive. So I started uploading a lot of my games against Reggie White and Julius Peppers on my Instagram and Twitter, and I would show people and say, ‘Look at the quarterback. Look where his head is turned.’
“The blind side could be either place, depending on the position of the quarterback. I’d show them at times and say, ‘Look, if I give up a sack right here, Carson’s head (quarterback Carson Palmer) is turned this way. I’m not his blind-side guy. So he can see that defensive end right there.’ “
Anderson played nine of the 10 top pass rushers in his 13 seasons in the NFL and surrendered one sack to all nine. It was to Hall-of-Famer Bruce Smith, the all-time leader. What’s more, in one three-year period (1999-2001) he didn’t surrender one.
You didn’t know? Join the club. Willie Anderson was one of the game’s outstanding tackles, a four-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler whom Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan called “the best right tackle of his generation” and “unbeatable” in an open letter to voters.
Strahan should know. As a left defensive end, he rushed right tackles.
“Sometimes,” said Anderson, “I think media members didn’t really break it down. I did it with Geoff Hobson (Hall-of-Fame voter from Bengals.com) for years, showing him ‘Hey, look at what teams are doing: Teams are putting better guys on both sides now.’
“When the NFL became a quarterback league around ‘05, ’06, we gave Carson $100 million, and teams started saying, ‘Hey, we gotta put guys everywhere to go kill these quarterbacks.’ So both linemen became important. But that was toward the end of my career.
“Now with Pro Football Focus you can see a guy like Mitch Schwartz (Chiefs’ right tackle), Lane Johnson (Eagles’ right tackle) and these guys … Trent Brown (Raiders’ right tackle)… you can see the importance of guys like that now because teams — they started in ’05 –started putting rushers everywhere where (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis are playing on the (same) team. The Broncos have two guys. Everybody’s got two guys now, and now you can see the impact.
“When I was fighting that back in the ‘90s and 2000s, I’m fighting these guys every year. Like ’06 I’m playing like five guys who were among the top pass rushers. There was a guy like Derrick Burgess, who had 15 or 17 sacks (16 in 2005). Peppers one year. Mathis. All these guys in the same year, and, I’m like saying, ‘Geez, people are saying the right tackle is not facing anybody.’
“Also in the ‘90s we ran the football. So right tackles had to face the bigger, stronger defensive ends for run protection … (though) not so much now because they’re not running the football at the rate we did back then.”