Ken Anderson, Zach Thomas put HOF snubs in perspective

Ron Borges

The Pro Football Hall of Fame named its 15 finalists Thursday and, as usual, there was as much talk about those who weren’t named as there was about those who made it. Fittingly, Talk of Fame Network included interviews on this week’s radio show with two of the most deserving non-selections, former Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Ken Anderson and ex-Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas.

Anderson was a former league MVP. He was a Comeback Player of the Year. He took the Bengals to their first Super Bowl. He led the NFL in passing four times, in passing yardage twice and set a single-season completion record in 1981 that stood for 27 years until Drew Brees broke it. When he retired, he ranked sixth all-time in passing yardage and today not only ranks seventh in playoff passer ratings but holds at least 31 Bengals' passing records. He was a Hall-of-Fame finalist twice, but the last time was 1998, and nothing happened then ... or since.

So why isn't Ken Anderson in Canton? He doesn’t know and doesn’t really seem concerned about it.

"I don't know," Anderson said on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "I guess because we didn't win the Super Bowl. I've heard a lot of people say that; that had we won the game against San Francisco (Super Bowl XVI) maybe my chances would have been a lot better. Other than that, I don't know.

"I've heard that maybe (it's because) we play in a small market, and we weren't exposed to the New Yorks, the Chicagos, the Washington, D.C.'s on a regular basis. I don't know, and, to be honest, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it."

Thomas was an All-Decade linebacker with the Dolphins who was one of six semi-finalists at that position. None made the finals. While that surely must have disappointed Thomas, he tells Talk of Fame Network just to be in that conversation is a blessing.

"Every year I get nominated my family, friends and fans all congratulate me," Thomas said. "But they also ... when I don't get to the finals ... my family blows my phone up. So I give them one day to vent. That's a new rule that I gave them because they're biased, they're my biggest fans and they're proud of me. But I do that just to keep positive energy because the game's been so good to me. And it doesn't owe me anything.

"That's why I look at it like this: if I deserve to make it, I will make it. And, if I don't, it doesn't take anything away from what I'm proudest of…"For me, if I look back at when I was eight years old ... in high school ... or college ... and I would've told myself then that I would've made the High School Hall of Fame and I made the College Hall of Fame, but I'd be on the bubble to make the NFL (Pro Football) Hall of Fame, there's no complaining by me. To make 13 seasons ... when I was a kid I would've made a deal with the devil to play one year. So just to be in the conversation is an honor."

Our Hall of Fame co-hosts Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge are all Hall of Fame voters and Ron and Rick are also long-time members of the Hall’s Senior Selection Committee. As such they annually nominate one or two senior candidates from what Borges once labeled “the great abyss.’’ That’s the long list of guys like Anderson, who somehow were passed over during their 20 years of eligibility,

This week Ron and Rick nominate their favorite senior at each offensive, defensive and special team position as well as their top choice overall on offense and defense. You may be surprised by some of the names you hear, like the only All-Decade quarterback selection not in the Hall – Green Bay’s 1940s quarterback Cecil Isbell.

Among others, Rick makes the case for a one-time AFL and CFL star running back, Cookie Gilchrist, and argues fervently for Alex Karras, an All-Decade defensive lineman who unlike Paul Horning has not yet been able to overcome the stigma of a one-year suspension for betting small amounts of money on his Lions teams back in the 1960s.

Rick also states his case for Joey Browner, the former Bengals’ Pro Bowl safety, and Ron opines on the fall of the Pittsburgh Steelers and how poor locker room management by head coach Mike Tomlin has become as much of a problem as the high maintenance personalities of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

There’s a lot more too, including the guy’s choices for the annual individual awards like MVP and Coach of the Year and their first look at this weekend’s wildcard playoff round. To hear the entire show tune in to your local SB Nation Radio Network station or listen to our free podcast at iTunes, the TuneIn app or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. You can also find this or any past show at our website,

Comments (2)
No. 1-2
brian wolf
brian wolf

Anderson should be in, both players were great and deserve discussion. As far as quarterbacks, Conerly, Simms and Plunkett deserve discussion to...


Ken Anderson is a modest and peace-loving Swedish-American who made a giant-sized impression on the NFL in the "age of the dead ball," which he lifted out of the trenches by out-passing and outlasting everyone in his Division and in the NFL 1971-1977. Then after injury and 2 dismal seasons in 1978 and '79, Ken came all the way back with his best seasons in '80-83, beating the Steelers 4 straight and demonstrating the new, airborne NFL with a 300 yd passing game (a Super Bowl record at the time) in a 5-point loss to Montana and his first coach, Bill Walsh, who had moved from the Bengals to the 49ers.. But unlike Montana and the 49ers, who had a losing season in the subsequent year, Anderson and the Bengals repeated their success of '81 in 1982, with Ken again dominating the passing game with an MVP-quality season--ending with 71% completions and leading the NFL in 4 critical passing categories. (Montana won back-to-back MVPs without leading in a single category his 2nd year.)j

Anderson changed the game with passing to Isaac Curtis that was so effective it led to triple-teaming Isaac and the Curtis Rule (later, the Blount Rule), limiting defenders to a single check of receivers near scrimmage. Next, due to a savage face-mask tackle and twisted neck from a charging Steeler lineman in '83, Anderson's injury led to new rules protecting the QB's head, face, neck and view. Ken Anderson had a powerful impact on the modern game thanks to the discipline that made him not only an exemplary passer with his accurate, tight spirals but gave him the courage to wait til the last instant and take the hit. (When the Bengals' running attack waned, he would be among the top rushers at his position). In 1982 he excelled even in his 2 losses--first, to the Steelers after a blocked field goal on the last play of the game led to overtime; then in another shoot-out vs. Fouts and the Chargers in San Diego, when Muncie and Brooks ran and passed for over 200 yds to complement Fouts' fine game. Otherwise, Ken's was a perfect '82 regular season matching his MVP '81 season.)