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My Uncle Ken

How the Bengals QB became a member of my family

Posted: Friday June 15, 2007 9:24AM; Updated: Friday June 15, 2007 10:10AM
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So there I was on a fall Sunday morning in 1978, a 7-year-old kid sitting in front of my TV tray watching the Smurfs, eating a bowl of Count Chocula cereal when my dad strolled into the living room of our Lincoln, Neb., home. Wearing his velour robe and his straw cowboy hat, my wonderfully eccentric old man asked me if this was the day that the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, my favorite team, were finally going to win a game.

"Absolutely," I said.

He then shuffled into the kitchen, where a minute later the phone rang. He quickly answered, then yelled to me, "It's uncle Ken calling from the locker room!"

I excitedly sprinted up to him, tugging on his blue robe, begging my dad to hand the receiver over to me so I could talk to Ken Anderson, the Bengals quarterback, the player who had my last name, the man whom my dad had been telling me for over two years was my uncle.

It's true: Nearly ever recess during my second grade at Maude Rousseau elementary, I pretended to be my uncle whenever we played pickup football. I told everyone that I shared blood with the Bengals' quarterback, and that I was pretty sure that one day I was going to bring him to class for show-and-tell. I was positive that Ken Anderson was my uncle because every Sunday morning he called my house and talked to my dad, asking him for advice on the Bengals' game plan. I always pleaded with my dad to speak to Ken, but he always ended the conversation by saying, 'What's that, Ken? You've got to get onto the field for warm-ups? Ok, good luck.'

My dad was a man of extremes. A big believer in the theory that, if some is good, more is better, he trimmed the bushes so thoroughly that they were always left looking like bonsai trees. He flocked the Christmas tree so much that it looked like it had been dipped in whiteout. But his absolute favorite thing to do was to tell stories that were so fantastic that you couldn't help but believe him, especially if you were a gullible 7-year-old.

And so for a good chunk of my childhood he perpetuated the fantasy of "Uncle Ken" every Sunday morning during the NFL season. It was all good fun. By the time I realized that, in fact, Ken Anderson wasn't my uncle, it wasn't a big deal to me, as the myth had run its course, just like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

I shared the anecdote of "Uncle Ken" when I eulogized my father after he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago, and looking back, I cherish the memories of those Sunday mornings. Whenever that phone rang, my dad would smile at me like I was the most important person in the world. For a kid, well, life just doesn't get much better than that.