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Anderson nearly quit after that game, but a meeting with Gregg, in which the coach promised his support, turned Anderson around. He started the next week in a 31-30 victory over the Jets, and the rest is history. Anderson's wife, Bonnie, has implied that if that game hadn't been on the road and if Anderson hadn't played well, the pressure might have broken him.
"I've only had friends booed," says Montana, shaking his head, "but even that's awful." Anderson now shrugs off such matters, victory apparently having made him more philosophical than he was at the beginning of the season. "One thing you learn quickly in the NFL is that the fans are fickle," he says. "You have to divorce yourself from all that. If I have any advice for Joe, it would be just to enjoy the game. The closer you get to the end of your career the more you realize what a great life pro football is."
But the real common thread for Montana and Anderson is Walsh, the quarterback teacher. It's well known that in his first year as coach and general manager at San Francisco Walsh drafted Montana and made him his special project. And as the quarterback coach at Cincinnati in the early '70s, Walsh did the same thing with Anderson. After persuading General Manager Paul Brown to draft Anderson, Walsh worked with the quarterback for the next five years until, as Walsh says, "Everything Kenny did was perfect, the way I see it."
Anderson attended tiny Augustana (enrollment 2,250) because he could play two sports, because "no big schools recruited me" and because he could fulfill his language requirement with Swedish, which he spoke at home with his father, who knows little English. Anderson soon outgrew small-college competition. He scored more than 1,000 points in his three basketball seasons, and in one football game he ran, threw or kicked for all the Vikings' 38 points. But coming from humble roots—Anderson's father is a retired high school janitor—Anderson never seriously considered a life in the big leagues.
In the fall of 1970 Walsh arrived at Augustana to scout Anderson in a game against Carthage College. "There wasn't any doubt who Kenny was," Walsh says. "He was bigger than anybody on the field. But what impressed me most was that early in the game Kenny got a hip pointer and could barely walk. At that level they generally cart the guy off, give him a trombone and let him finish with the band. But Kenny came back and played the whole game. That convinced me he could play in the NFL."
To sell Anderson to the Bengals' brass, Walsh needed a game film of him. Augustana didn't' take such movies, and when Walsh finally did get a film from an Augustana opponent, it proved worthless. "Every time Kenny would do something good, the people at the game would stand up and the camera would shake and you couldn't see a thing," says Walsh. "By the time I finished showing that film, nobody was left in the room but me."
The Bengals drafted Anderson anyway, and in February Kenny quit school—he would go back in his first off-season to get his degree in math—and moved to Cincinnati to begin intensive training with Walsh. A sprint-out quarterback in college, Anderson had never dropped straight back to pass. "Basically, I knew nothing," he says. Walsh showed him how to cradle the ball, how to move back into the pocket, how to set up. "We'd literally walk through the steps, counting out the numbers as we went," says Anderson.
There were films and lectures and endless drills on fundamentals. What Anderson got was the now-famous Walsh teaching blitz, the intense reconstruction process Bengal quarterbacks Greg Cook and Virgil Carter had gotten before him and San Diego's Dan Fouts, Montana and others would get later. Walsh spoke quietly and rationally, joked a lot and emphasized restraint and discipline in throwing. "I don't advocate the discipline of a Marine drill sergeant," says Walsh. "What I try to get across is the discipline you'll see in a ballerina or concert pianist."
A year and a half later he had produced a starting NFL quarterback, one who would complete 20 of 22 passes in a game against Pittsburgh in 1974 to set an NFL completion-percentage record and who has the lowest career interception rate in NFL history.
"Bill always utilizes his quarterback's strong points, going with whatever it is each one can do best," says Anderson. "The things he did with Cook and Carter and me were very different, for instance, because we were different. But he always emphasizes not throwing interceptions. What he does is make you aware of all the receivers on all plays, so you know who has to be open."