State Your Case: Dick Anderson

A name amongst the No Names

(Published July 2015)

They were called the No Names.

But that didn’t translate into a lack of talent. At least it shouldn’t.

But that’s how history has viewed the defense of the Miami Dolphins during their Super Bowl era of the 1970s — as a cast of overachievers.

That’s a misconception. A sad misconception.

The Dolphins of that era went to three consecutive Super Bowls (1971-73) and won two of them (1972-73). The No Names provided the backbone for the NFL’s only perfect season, allowing the fewest yards and points in the league in 1972 on the way to that 17-0 record. With a backup quarterback, no less.

Miami also allowed the fewest points in the league in 1973. The Dolphins allowed the fewest rushing yards in the AFC in 1972 and fewest passing yards in the NFL 1973. That defense helped power Miami to four consecutive AFC East titles from 1971-74.

There have been five offensive players enshrined in Canton from the Dolphins of that era: quarterback Bob Griese, fullback Larry Csonka, wide receiver Paul Warfield, guard Larry Little and center Jim Langer. Yet there has been only one defensive player enshrined — and middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti had to wait 20 years before he was finally brought forward as a senior nominee.

The Dolphins fielded one of the finest safety tandems in NFL history during that era, teaming Dick Anderson at strong safety with Jake Scott at free safety.

Scott was the Super Bowl MVP to cap that perfect 1972 season, and Anderson was the NFL’s Defensive MVP in 1973. Scott went to five Pro Bowls and intercepted 49 career passes. Anderson went to three Pro Bowls and was selected to the NFL all-decade team for the 1970s.

Yet neither safety has been discussed as a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Neither has ever been a finalist for Canton.

Let’s focus on Anderson, whose selection to the all-decade team of the 1970s put him on a pedestal with the best defensive players of his era. But the best defenders of his era — Butkus, Greene, Olsen, Page, Ham, Houston, Lambert — are in the Hall of Fame. Anderson has been passed over.

Anderson arrived in Miami as a third-round draft pick out of Colorado in 1968. He intercepted eight passes that season on his way to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He also intercepted eight passes in 1970 and eight more in 1973. He returned his 34 career interceptions 792 yards, an average of 23.3 yards per pick, and returned his 15 career fumble recoveries another 100 yards.

Anderson intercepted an NFL-record four passes in a 1973 game against Terry Bradshaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers, returning two of them for touchdowns. He also intercepted five more passes in the playoffs, including one he ran back 62 yards for a touchdown in the 1971 AFC title game against Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts.

Anderson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Dolphins enshrined him in their Ring of Honor in 2006. Yet his wait on Canton is now at 33 years and counting.

Maybe Anderson remains on the outside because his career spanned only nine seasons. He missed the 1975 season with a knee injury, and the Dolphins saw their dominance of the AFC East come to an end that year. Anderson would play just two more seasons after that. He didn’t dwell on his football success, moving on to new challenges in life. Anderson was elected to the Florida state senate in 1978 and would later become a successful businessman.

Maybe Anderson remains on the outside because of his union activities. He served as president of the NFL Players Association from 1975 through his retirement. “Labor activism” were cuss words in league circles during that era.

If a defensive back in today’s NFL intercepted eight passes in three different seasons, he’d be promoted as a “first-ballot Hall of Famer.” But Anderson remains a no-ballot Hall of Famer. And that’s wrong. A player of his stature and accomplishment deserves to be discussed as a candidate for Canton.

Dick Anderson was no No Name.

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