When he was Augustana College football coach, Ben Newcomb attempted to catch just one pass from Kenny Anderson when he took over the program in 1969.|
"When I came here (to campus after being hired as the new coach) in July, Kenny was here, Dave Markward and somebody else were out here messing around," recalled Newcomb. "I said, 'I'll run a square-in.' That was the last one. The ball got there so quick and hit my hand so hard."
Anderson quickly etched his name in the Augustana College football record book before going on to star in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals. He is still the only Augie gridder to play in the NFL.
On Saturday, the 1981 NFL MVP had his No. 14 Augustana jersey officially retired, commemorating his time on campus that helped put – as ABC's Howard Cosell said -- "tiny Augustana College" on the map.
While his number has not been worn since his final season in 1970, it had never been retired. That changed on Saturday and Anderson was humbled by the latest honor in his storied football career that started in such an unassuming way as a basketball recruit for the Vikings.
"It's so much fun to come back to where it all started," said Anderson. "Augustana is still home to a certain extent. The memories that flood back into your mind when you start getting with some of your old friends and remembering what a great time we had for four years."
It started what began a Cinderella story of sorts for the Batavia native. And right from the start, Newcomb knew he had something special to lead his offense.
"When you watched him throw a ball from the middle of the field to the sideline, it was there in a nano-second," said Newcomb. "The speed of the ball was so different. But he was also a great athlete – a three-sport standout. He turned down a baseball scholarship."
Before his retirement in 1986, Anderson proved to be one of the elite signal-callers in the league. He was also part of NFL history, being in the first NFL game that featured both quarterbacks throwing for more than 400 yards in the same game.
It happened in the fall of 1982 in a game against San Diego. Anderson was 40 of 56, 416 yards, 2 TDs and Dan Fouts was 25 of 2, 435, 1 TD.
He had plenty of support from Illinois while playing pro ball, too.
"That's been the amazing thing," said Anderson, who after 39 years in the league, is in his second year out of coaching. "I had a college career that was here, but I had so many people from the Quad-Cities that followed me and would write to me saying they would root for the Bengals because I played there. That was always a special thing."
Being appreciative comes naturally for Anderson. So was being a team player and not needing the limelight. That quality is one thing that has kept him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame since he was always quick to praise his teammates for success.
Anderson, the 1974 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner, is the only quarterback in NFL history to win four passing titles and not be in the Hall of Fame.
But Anderson doesn't concern himself with that snub or the fact that his No. 14 had not been retired at either Augie or with the Bengals. In fact, the Bengals never used No. 14 until this year when rookie Andy Dalton requested it.
"They called and asked me if it was OK before they did it," said Anderson. "I said it was. I think it bothers a lot of people more than it does me. They have had calls from a few people upset. I just hope he plays well."
Anderson also hopes Augie QB David Lee can continue to succeed and break even more of the school's passing records that the senior began taking down last year. He even worked with Lee a bit in the spring, heaping plenty of praise on the new Viking gunslinger.
The 62-year-old Anderson was surprised that most of his records stood for nearly 40 years. He wouldn't mind seeing them fall.
"That's shocking," he said of still being a record-holder all these years. "I hope they have the success they're looking for and they all go because that means Augustana is playing good football and that's what we'd all like to see."
It sounds as if more trips back to the Quad-Cities are in store to not only visit friends, but speak on behalf of the college.
Which Newcomb thinks is appropriate.
"Here's a guy," said Newcomb, "who could represent us as well as anybody, anywhere at anyplace at anytime."
The Kenny Anderson file
- Personal: With his wife, Cristy, has three children, a son Matt, and daughters Megan, and Molly. Also has two new grandbabies. Lives in Hilton Head, S.C.
- At Augie: Set every school passing record and still holds seven school marks including: most career passing yards (6,131), most passing attempts in a game (58) and career (827), most career completions (424), and most touchdown passes for a game (5), season (20) and career (48).
- Pro career: When he retired in 1986, Anderson held NFL records for consecutive pass completions (20), single-game completion percentage (90.9 percent on 20 of 22 passing vs. Pittsburgh in 1974); and season completion percentage (70.6 in 1982). . He held the Super Bowl record for completion percentage (73.5 that was broken by Phil Simms) and completions (25, broken by Tom Brady and Drew Brees with 32). When he retired, he was ranked 6th in all-time passing yards.
- Coaching: Was with the Bengals from 1993-2002 (QB coach 1993-96 & 2001-02, offensive coordinator 1996-2000); with Jacksonville from 2003-06 (wide receiver and quarterback coach); with Pittsburgh (QB coach, 2007-09).
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