Ken Anderson Was Better Than Terry Bradshaw

Ken Anderson played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1971-86 and his omission from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This is the type of argument that can be attacked from any number of angles, but for the sake of this blog post, I’ll keep it simple—Anderson was a decisively better quarterback than Terry Bradshaw and the former Steeler signal-caller and current Fox studio analyst is in the Hall.

So we can use Bradshaw as the guideline for what Hall of Fame voters expect. This is fortunate, since both he and Anderson played in the same era, so statistics can be reasonably compared. Here’s the tale of the tape with their career numbers…

Anderson: 59.3
Bradshaw: 51.9

Anderson: 7.3
Bradshaw: 7.2

Anderson: 3.6
Bradshaw: 5.4

This isn’t looking too good for Terry right now. Anderson completes a lot more of his passes and throws far fewer interceptions. But I want to focus on the yards-per-attempt number, that’s basically a dead heat, as actually even more damning to Bradshaw.

Anderson played in one of the first “West Coast” offensive systems ever unveiled in the NFL. Bill Walsh was building his reputation as the offensive coordinator in Cincy and he got Anderson started in a system that emphasized throwing short and not making mistakes. That he’s superior to Bradshaw—who was much more of the gunslingers that were the norm in those days—in completion percentage and interceptions can’t be considered a huge shock.

But shouldn’t Bradshaw be making up for that by making bigger plays. Anderson didn’t have Bradshaw’s cannon arm and he didn’t have Lynn Swann or John Stallworth at wide receiver. Yet Anderson still slightly edges Bradshaw as a big playmaker.

Anderson threw slightly fewer career touchdown passes, losing 212-197 to Bradshaw, but eclipsed the Steeler legend in career yardage, 32,838 to 27,989.

So why isn’t Ken Anderson in the Hall of Fame if Terry Bradshaw is? The easy answer is that Bradshaw “won” four Super Bowls. I’m putting “won” in quotes because he clearly didn’t win them by himself. Bradshaw played with the greatest defense of the era, the Steel Curtain. He had Franco Harris, a future Hall of Famer at running back. He was protected by an offensive line anchored by Hall of Fame center Mike Webster. And he could throw to Swann and Stallworth.

Anderson had none of that and it’s worth nothing that he still got more respect from his contemporaries. Each won an MVP award, Bradshaw in 1978 and Anderson in 1981. But Anderson made four Pro Bowls, while Bradshaw only made two.

I could further open up this can of worms in saying that Bradshaw should not have won the 1978 MVP award. Earl Campbell should have. And Bradshaw should not have been game MVP of the 1979 Super Bowl. Stallworth or linebacker Jack Lambert should have.

But I won’t go too far down that path because it’s not necessary. The resume makes it clear—if Terry Bradshaw could win four Super Bowls with the Steel Curtain then Ken Anderson would have won five with the same cast. If Terry Bradshaw was a borderline Hall of Famer then Ken Anderson should be a lock. And since we know Bradshaw is in the Hall, that means Anderson should have the place named after him.