So what is a legendary NFL quarterback who spent most of his youth and adult life in the Midwest doing on Hilton Head Island? Like many other Midwesterners, Ken Anderson is living the good life in retirement.
Story by Dean Rowland + Photography by Mark Staff
The Cincinnati Bengal — the league MVP in 1981 and four-time pro-bowler — played and coached from 1971 to 2010. Even though the Bengals lost, 26-21, to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI, he set records in the game for the most completions and completion percentage. At retirement, he held a number of NFL records and still holds 31 Bengal milestones today.
Anderson first visited the island in 1976, and he and his wife, Cristy, bought a home at Palmetto Hall Plantation in 2001, where they live full time. The couple has two daughters, a son and a host of grandchildren.
On the island he enjoys playing golf, bike riding, yard work, the beach and socializing with a large group of friends.
The 68-year-old doesn’t have a favorite football team, but he does root for teams that have players and coaches he knows.
THE MAN BEHIND THE FACEMASK:
Here are excerpts from a conversation he had with LOCAL Life:
How did playing in the NFL help make you the man you are today? [Ken Anderson] I think it was a lot of the influences I had. Paul Brown had a tremendous influence on my life because he was my coach for my first five years. Bill Walsh was my offensive coach and brought attention to detail. Coach Forrest Gregg toughened up our team not only physically, but mentally. And Lindy Infante was the offensive coordinator for Forrest. I had had a tough time, and Lindy came in and we worked on things and learned how to resurrect yourself…I think football is the ultimate team sport where everyone has to do their job to be successful.
Of all of your NFL accomplishments and records, which one is the most special? [KA] I think it was in 1975 when I won the Man of the Year award, now the Walter Payton Man of the Year. It recognized your accomplishments on the field, as well as off the field. At that point, I was very involved with Easter Seals in Cincinnati.
Did you accomplish everything you wanted to as a Cincinnati Bengal? [KA] No, we did not win a Super Bowl, we got there but came up 5 points short.
Given your longevity (16 years as a player), are you in good physical and mental health? [KA] I am. I get around pretty good. I don’t have any aches or pains on a daily basis. Mentally, I think I’m OK, but you should ask my wife that question. She might disagree with me on occasion. Nothing that I’m aware of though. . . . I have agreed to donate my brain for study to see if they can learn anything from me. I’m very concerned about the safety issue. . . . Anything I can do to help the game and help it survive I’m willing to do.
You stayed in football as a player and a coach from 1971 to 2010. Do you miss it? [KA] Not really. I don’t miss Sundays. I like to watch football, but I can’t tell you when I’ve watched a full game from start to finish. . . . In retirement, I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do today?’ My days are full.
You were born, raised and worked in the Midwest. Why live on Hilton Head? [KA] No. 1, it’s within an easy day’s drive to Cincinnati, so if my children or grandkids need us, we don’t have to get on a plane. No. 2, I played in that championship game when it was minus 59 degrees with the wind chill. I don’t like cold weather. We don’t have that in Hilton Head. I like the change of seasons. I enjoy the golf, the beach. Even though we get a lot of visitors, Hilton Head is a small town, which I like.
Describe your lifestyle on the island now. [KA] I like to wake up early and read the newspaper. I really enjoy the mornings. I like to play golf three days a week, and my wife and I like to walk and bike ride. I typically will spend a couple of hours outside working on my yard. We also go out to dinner a couple times a week, but we like to be home too. My wife loves to cook; I like to grill out.
When out and about, are you recognized here? [KA] Not a lot. Most of our friends know me from my coaching days, so they call me “Coach,” which is kind of fun. We have so many good friends down here. . . . we have our golfing friends, our not-golfing friends, we have wine-drinking friends.
What brings you happiness at the age of 68? [KA] I’m happiest when my kids come down and bring the grandkids. My daughter asked our 6-year-old granddaughter on their last day visiting, what do you want to do? She said, ‘I want to go to Dunkin’ Donuts with Grandpa and then go to the pool and have a golf cart ride.’ That ain’t a bad day.
THE QB’s PICKS
Kenny Anderson and his wife, Cristy, enjoy their retirement life at home on the island’s north end in Palmetto Hall Plantation. She does the cooking, and he does the grilling.
But they also have a large host of friends with whom they socialize, and typically will dine out three times a week.
Geographically, their favorite hot spots for dining cover the entire island, as do their culinary preferences.
“I don’t know if there’s one,” he said. “It depends on what we’re doing. One of our favorite things to do on Sundays is to ride our bikes to the (Skull Creek) Boathouse.”
They also peddle down to Up the Creek for lunch. Other restaurants on their favorites’ list include Hickory Tavern, Main Street Café, Red Fish, and Rockfish Seafood and Steaks at Bomboras, which is the epicenter for Bengal fans on game days.
“One of our neighbors is a co-owner of Tio’s, the Latin-American restaurant,” he said “We love Captain Woody’s, where Russell Anderson is the owner.”