Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Case for Anderson's Induction

Kerry Byrne makes the case in Sports Illustrated that, when his career numbers are stacked up against the quarterbacks who are already in the NFL's Hall of Fame, retired Cincinnati Bengals signal caller Ken Anderson belongs in Canton, Ohio.

It's a compelling argument, and it will undoubtedly be persuasive for folks who remember the playing days of the legends who are enshrined in the Hall. That's probably a good thing for Anderson since he has been passed over so many times that he is now, 25 years after his retirement, eligible to be considered for enshrinement by the senior committee — which might be a little more sympathetic to his cause.

Byrne's case is so good that it looks like a no–brainer for the senior committee. I mean, I'm sure the committee often must consider players who are truly borderline, but that isn't the problem with Anderson. His numbers are worthy of the Hall.

The only knock on him would be the fact that he never won a Super Bowl.

(He did play in one — but he had the misfortune of facing Joe Montana.)

However, to make it more meaningful to younger fans, I thought it might be interesting to compare Anderson's achievements to a few modern quarterbacks — guys who are still playing or who haven't been retired long enough to be eligible, but they all seem likely to make serious bids for Hall of Fame induction. In particular, I'm thinking of Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb.

Let's take a look at Byrne's statistical case.
  • Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards.

    Brees has done that, too — in 2008 and 2010. So did Favre (1995 and 1998). Ditto Brady (2005 and 2007) and Manning (2000 and 2003).

    It isn't as rare an achievement as Byrne's column would suggest. But that doesn't lessen it.

  • Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards per attempt.

    Byrne likes this category because "it measures how well somebody passed, not just how often somebody passed."

    San Diego's Philip Rivers has led the NFL in this category for the last three years. He's never even been in a Super Bowl. The window is closing on his career and, if he doesn't win a Super Bowl soon, he may wind up on the outside of the Hall of Fame looking in — like Anderson. And his fate may wind up in the hands of the senior committee a quarter of a century from now.

    Warner led the league in that category three straight years as well. No one else on my list of recent QBs has led the NFL in it twice, and only a couple (Brady and Manning) have topped the league once.

  • The deadly accurate Anderson led the NFL in completion percentage three times.

    That's nothing to sneeze at, but Warner matched the achievement, and he did it in three straight years (1999, 2000, 2001). Anderson did it in two consecutive years (1982 and 1983), but the first of those seasons was shortened by a strike. He also led the league in 1974 — in the midst of what Byrne acknowledges was the NFL's "dead ball era."

    The ball has been livelier in recent years, but no quarterback on my list (other than Warner, of course) has led the league in it more than once.

    (Actually, I wonder if Byrne gives that particular statistic more credibility than he should. After all, Chad Pennington has led the NFL in that category twice since 2002. Pennington is also the NFL's career leader in completion percentage among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 1,500 passes — but Pennington, whose future in the NFL is currently in doubt, has never played in a Super Bowl.)

    Brees has led the league in that category the last two years, and Brady, Favre and Manning all did it once.

  • The coldly efficient Anderson led the NFL in passer rating an incredible four times.

    That really is incredible.

    Manning came close, leading the league three straight years (2004, 2005, 2006). Anderson did it back to back twice (1974–75 and 1981–82). Brady led the league twice (2007 and 2010). So did Warner (1999 and 2001). Brees did it once (2009).

    Steve Young was the absolute best in that category, though. He topped the NFL six years out of seven (1991–94 and 1996–97). I doubt that anyone will match that accomplishment.
"Anderson was one of the most efficient passers in the history of football," Byrne writes, "especially given the context of his time."

I can't argue with that. Some of the more modern quarterbacks matched Anderson in some of the categories. But no one surpassed him in all of them.

And, even if somebody had surpassed him in all of them, that would be one quarterback — out of how many hundred who have played the game?

There is, however, that little matter of Super Bowl appearances and wins. Practically no quarterback who played all or most of his career since the introduction of the Super Bowl and failed to at least appear in one has been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Anderson, as I say, did appear in a Super Bowl. But he didn't win it.

Of those seven recent/current quarterbacks I mentioned earlier, six have played in at least one Super Bowl and five have won at least one.

Is it absolutely necessary for a quarterback to have played in a Super Bowl — and, preferably, to have won one — to have a prayer of being inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Well, no. Dan Fouts never played in a Super Bowl, but he is in the Hall, anyway.

There is hope for Anderson. He beat Fouts in an AFC Championship game.

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