Which would you rather have at this time of the year: three "stingers" or a plate of hot wings and a cold beer?
For most football players, it's not really much of a debate, even if stingers aren't anything you'll find on an appetizer menu. A stinger, which is also known as a "burner," is a shooting pain that runs from the top of your shoulder through your arm and down to the fingers. Coupled with temporary numbness in the rest of the arm, a stinger makes you feel as if the only thing holding your arm to your body is a series of electrical wires so hot that they have burst into flames.
Anderson waves to fans during his return to Cincinnati in November.
(Al Behrman/AP Photo)
Yeah, the wings and beer sound like a much better choice. But when you're an NFL player and you've spent the first 12 seasons of a 13-year career ordering platters for the playoff parties at your house, three stingers are a welcome alternative.
Anderson, who twice left the game with his arm hanging limp to his side, was the last Raven to leave the locker room after receiving post-game treatment. However, that didn't stop him from savoring the moment.
"Do you know what it's like to finally be in a locker room where guys talk about winning a championship? I prayed for a chance to be on a team like this, where guys are talking about football, day in and day out," said Anderson, whose Ravens take on the Steelers in the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh on Sunday. "They talk about winning a championship."
For 12 years as one of the premier right tackles in the game in Cincinnati, the closest Anderson got to the AFC title game was high def. He and former teammates, such as linebacker Takeo Spikes, would sit comfortably watching their friends play for something meaningful.
In those dozen seasons, Anderson and the Bengals had one winning season and one playoff appearance. In 2005, they were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by Pittsburgh. Overall, the Bengals were 76-116 during Anderson's time there. He played in more Pro Bowls (four) than playoffs.
In other words, the party planning usually started just after Thanksgiving if you were a Bengal. You want a keg or individual bottles this year? Heck, Martha Stewart doesn't have anything on Anderson when it comes to a good soiree.
"I've always been the guy hosting the party," said Anderson, who resides in Atlanta in the offseason. "Me and guys like Takeo would sit there and listen to the guys on TV talk about how the team that can just come up with the two or three key plays in the game will be the one that wins. Now to be one of those teams, man, you have no idea how different it is from all those years in Cincinnati … I wouldn't change my career for anything, but to have this chance, man, this is something so sweet."
What Anderson, who was released by the Bengals in late August after declining to take a pay cut and rejected offers from San Diego and Tampa Bay, has provided the Ravens is stability on a line that was supposedly more fragile than an ego at the Golden Globes.
The Ravens had left tackle Jared Gaither, who was taking over from retired star Jonathan Ogden, sitting out during training camp with an ankle injury. Ben Grubbs was in and out of the lineup during camp with minor issues. Swing tackle Adam Terry was playing the left side during camp, then was switched to right tackle for the first four games until Anderson – who didn't sign with the team until Sept. 5 – was ready. Right guard Marshal Yanda, considered the toughest lineman on the team, was gone after five games because of a knee injury.
All of that came on top of the fact that the line was young. Gaither and Grubbs are both in their second year. Center Jason Brown, who started at guard in 2007, is in his fourth season. Chris Chester, who replaced Yanda, was originally set to play tight end at the beginning of the season.
"There were a lot of question marks up front and Willie was one of the answers for us," Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said.
"Willie is like another [Ogden]. He's that veteran guy you look at who's never surprised by anything," Gaither said. "We're coming to the line and he's talking about what to expect from the defense and he's almost always right. It can be something we've never seen on film or in practice and he'll talk us through it like it's no big deal."
Likewise, the stingers were no biggie to Anderson, even if they should have been. While doctors have never been able to isolate the exact cause of a stinger, the belief is that it's from damage done to nerves that attach directly to the spinal cord at the top of the back.
In the course of playing football, one stinger in a game is acceptable. Two is a problem. Players should never get to three. But when you've never gotten this deep in the playoffs, just exactly who is going to stop you, particularly when you're 6-foot-5, 340 pounds.
"When I was deciding where I should play, I just had a good feeling about this team," Anderson said. "Everybody was telling me, 'Oh man, go play in San Diego' or 'Go play in Tampa.' I was talking with [Bengals quarterback] Carson Palmer and he was like, 'You're crazy not to play in San Diego.' Part of it's the team they had and the other is that he's a California guy so he can't understand why anybody wouldn't play in California. [Bengals wide receiver] T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] was the same way.
"But when I was talking with [Baltimore assistant coach and former Bengals assistant] Hue Jackson and [linebacker] Ray Lewis, they told me that they had a plan. With the defense they have and the running game they said they were going to have, I felt like this was the place."
For now, the party can wait.