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
Former Cincinnati Bengals’ star Willie Anderson was so accomplished during his 13-year NFL career that Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan called him “the best right tackle of his generation.”
Until now, however, Hall-of-Fame voters haven’t paid attention. But now they’ve made Willie Anderson a first-time semifinalist for the Hall’s Class of 2021 and a candidate for one of 15 spots when finalists are announced early next month.
The move is long overdue for Anderson, who allowed only one sack – total – to nine of the NFL’s top 10 leaders in sacks. So, naturally, when he appeared on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast we asked who gave him the most trouble.
He was immediate with his answer.
“The most nerve-wracking,” he said, “was Bruce Smith.”
That makes sense. Smith not only has more sacks (200) than anyone in NFL history; he’s also the guy who beat Anderson for that one quarterback tackle when Anderson was a rookie in 1996. But he’s not the pass rusher Anderson mentioned most.
That was another Hall of Famer.
“The guy who I felt like I was playing against my Dad was Reggie White,” he said. “I never played a guy who was as strong as me … who, if he hit into me … I said one time, ‘When Reggie hit into you, your skeleton shook.’ I shut him down, but he beat my ass up really good.”
The two met in September, 1998, when the Bengals played Green Bay in White’s last season with the Packers. Green Bay would win, 13-6, but Anderson neutralized White … and suffered for it.
“I was 23 years old,” he said. “He was 36, and he led the league in sacks that year (actually, he didn’t; Seattle’s Michael Sinclair beat him by a half-a-sack with 16-1/2). I never felt a guy put his hands on me (where) I felt like: This guy’s really stronger than me. He’s just as big as I am, (but) he’s stronger (and) he faster. But to me, that shot into my head: Here I am at 23 years old, and every time he would bull rush me I would feel my skeleton shake.
“I was pretty banged up after him. About two weeks after that. No, it was like three or four weeks after that I was banged up … my wrist, my shoulder. He was a load. I was playing at 340, and I shut him down. But he really, really took a toll on your body physically.
“I can see how guys who were lighter than me … they didn’t have a chance. They didn’t have a chance because he was so damn strong. And he was fast. He presented the ultimate challenge to guys.”
White would retire after the 2000 season, finish with 198 sacks and reach Canton as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Anderson would go on to through the 2008 season and face one other opponent who posed so many problems he felt it necessary to mention him.
“Robert Mathis,” he said of the Colts’ pass rusher, “because of his size. Because we went from the six-foot-six defensive end to a guy who was six-one who could do an inside spin move (and) an outside spin move.
“I never had a defensive end who could duck under my hands. And Mathis could do that. He caused problems for taller, bigger defensive tackles.”