I was born in 1968 and have been a Cincinnati Bengals fan since birth; Why? that one is simple my father was. I remember going to games with my dad at Riverfront Stadium and growing up in the 70s and 80s; the Bengals were usually pretty good. The problem back then was that the Steelers, Dolphins, and Raiders were great. If you watched 30,000 Bengals, fans showed up in freezing temperature for a pep rally and wondered why they would do that; it’s a fair question. We watched the Rams at the same time get a couple of thousand fans at a high school stadium. Bengals fans have been teased and made fun of since 1991; wear a Bengals shirt at your peril as you hear the derisive Bungles as you do it. But as a Bengals fan, you have to grin and take it, but it did hurt. Now it seems like everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, and that’s ok, I guess? But why does it mean so much to the city of Cincinnati? The reaction videos of Bengals fans the last three weeks are numerous as the Bengals started on their remarkable run; grown men in tears are not something that we are used to seeing. The videos that you see are raw emotions for people that have waited so long, and through most of the last thirty years, the waiting and hoping seemed pointless because it was never going to happen. After all, we were cursed. Many fans thought it was the curse of Bo Jackson, but the bad breaks and the bad luck started in the late 60s before there was a Bo Jackson.
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In 1969 the Bengals drafted a quarterback from the University of Cincinnati named Greg Cook, and he was a stud from game one. Cook was named the starting quarterback. His season started spectacularly, leading the Bengals to a 3–0 record. However, in-game three versus Kansas City, Cook felt a pop in his right (throwing) shoulder after being tackled by linebacker Jim Lynch and missed the next three games. Possibly due to the limited medical technology at the time, his torn rotator cuff went undiagnosed. Cook led the Bengals to wins over the Chiefs and Raiders, the two best teams in the AFL but Cook was never the same after the injury. Bill Walsh, who at the time was an assistant coach in Cincinnati, would years later call Cook the best quarterback he ever coached. The what if’s will always exist for the people who saw Cook play; the Bengals could have been the dominant team without the Cook injury.
In 1975 the Bengals went to Oakland with an 11-3 record and promptly fell behind 31-14. The Bengals, led by quarterback Ken Anderson made a huge comeback and got within three points in the closing minutes. Then it happened, the Raiders had a fourth down and were forced to punt, the Bengals would have a shot to win the game and advance to the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh. The problem was the Bengals roughed the punter going for the block and would give the Raiders a first down because of the penalty and loss of the game. This was the first Bengals game I remember watching. Little did I know at that time that this was going to be par for the course as a Bengals fan.
Walsh was promised the Bengals head coaching job for years, but Bill “Tiger” Johnson was chosen instead. Walsh was the man who invented the West Coast offense, and he did it with the Bengals because Greg Cook got hurt, and he needed a way to win with Virgil carter at quarterback, and Carter lacked arm strength.
Johnson resigned five games into the 1978 season while Walsh became the San Francisco head coach in 1979 and won three Super Bowls in his nine seasons on the Niners sidelines. Brown was accused of almost preventing Walsh from even getting the head coaching job in San Francisco once by Walsh himself.
Walsh claimed that Brown “worked against my candidacy” to be a head coach anywhere in the league. “All the way through, I had opportunities, and I never knew about them,” Walsh said. “And then when I left him, he called whoever he thought was necessary to keep me out of the NFL.” Walsh would beat the Bengals twice in the Super Bowl and retire to the hall of fame; what could have been yet again?
The following season saw the Bengals go 10-4 and miss the playoffs, and they missed it most painful way. The Steelers played most of the year without starting quarterback Terry Bradshaw, and they came into Riverfront stadium led by a very ordinary Mike Kruczek at quarterback. The game began under sunny skies, but the skies opened up around halftime, and a blizzard came down that was so bad that the field was quickly covered. The Bengals controlled this defensive struggle and led 3-0 into the fourth quarter, and a win in this game would have clinched a divisional championship. It was not to be, though, as Bengals running back Boobie Clark would fumble deep in Bengals territory, and the Steelers recovered. Franco Harris would get loose for a short touchdown run that would kill the Bengals dreams. The Bengals still had one more chance to win the division the following week, but they lost that to Oakland 36-20 on a Monday Night. High hopes dashed again.
The Bengals would find themselves battling for a divisional crown yet again in 1977, and this time the Bengals, in freezing temperatures, got it done with a 17-10 victory. The problem came in that they needed a win in Houston the next week to win the division, and in authentic Bengals fashion, the Bengals lost an excruciatingly close game in the Astrodome and came up just short again.
Reid and Cassanova were pro bowl players who shortened their careers because they were talented beyond the football field.
Reid spent five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, earning trips to the Pro Bowl after the 1972 and 1973 seasons, before retiring after the 1974 season. Reid subsequently focused on his musical career, co-writing several hit singles for country music artists, including Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House”, which won a Grammy Award for Best Country Song in 1984. Reid later began a solo recording career, releasing two studio albums for Columbia Records. As a singer, he charted seven singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks (now Hot Country Songs) chart, including the number one hit “Walk on Faith”. So I guess you can say he made the right choice, but you have to wonder how much of a difference would it have made if he had continued playing?
Casanova played as a safety with the Bengals and also returned punts. As a rookie, he intercepted five passes on defense and had a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown. He was named the team MVP by his teammates after the season. In 1973, he had four interceptions, including two against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season’s seventh game. He also interceptions in the Bengals’ 34–16 divisional playoff to the Miami Dolphins. Cassanova would become a pro bowler in 1974, and in 1975 Casanova moved from free safety to strong safety. His most productive year on defense was in 1976; he intercepted five passes, returned two for touchdowns, and produced a recovered fumble for a touchdown. He was invited to his second Pro Bowl and was recognized as a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He had another Pro Bowl appearance in 1977 and retired after that season. Casanova compiled 17 interceptions with the Bengals and scored three touchdowns on defense and one on a punt return. Cassanova retired to pursue medical school, and just like Reid, it worked out great for him as he would go on to be a highly regarded ophthalmologist.
The Bengals kicked off to start the Super Bowl, and Amos Lawrence fumbled, and the Bengals recovered. Great Start! Until a few players, later a Ken Anderson pass was intercepted. The Bengals would turn the ball over five times, and all five were soul-crushing. You had the Anderson interception near the goal line, and then Cris Collinsworth caught a bomb from Anderson only to be stripped of the ball inside the ten-yard line. You had the back to back squib kicks the Bengals mishandled in the last seconds of the first half that led to two 49ers field goals in a game the Bengals would lose by five points. Don’t forget Pete Johnson getting stopped on fourth and goal on the one-yard line! The Bengals should have never lost the game.
It was well known at the time that the Bengals had a verbal agreement and were waiting for young to sign when the Los Angeles Express made Young the highest-paid player in the league. The contract that the USFL offered was monstrous, and I don’t blame the brown family for passing on Young, but this is another of those what could have been’s. To check out more NFL news click here!
The Bengals didn’t just miss the playoffs in the 80s; they painfully missed them on many occasions. In 1984 the Bengals got off to a horrid start but got hot at the end of the season, and it all came down to beating the Bills, which the Bengals did, but then they needed help from the raiders who needed to beat the Steelers to get the stripes into the playoffs. The Steelers would upset the Raiders 13-7, ending the Bengals hopes. 1986 the Bengals hosted the Browns for the AFC Central title, and the game went wrong right from the start as the Browns beat the Bengals 34-3. So once again, it would come down to the last game of the season. The Bengals would blow out the Jets 52-20, but just like in 1984, the Steelers screwed it up, but this time the Bengals needed the Steelers to win against the Chiefs. The Chiefs would squeak by the Steelers 24-19 as they would win the game in Pittsburgh on special teams. Now the Bengals still had one more chance to make the playoffs, and they needed the Dolphins to beat the Patriots in Miami; of course, the game down to the final seconds and the Patriots pulled it out 34-27, and the Bengals came up short yet again. The Bengals would also miss on the last day in 1989 when they came up short in Minnesota with a playoff berth on the line.
Coming off a ten-win season in 1986, the Bengals looked poised to make the playoffs, and they started with a road win in Indianapolis, which set up a showdown between the Bengals and 49ers. The Bengals led 26-20 and just needed to run off the final six seconds on the clock. For some reason, the Bengals thought a James Brooks sweep would eat up those 6 seconds, but it didn’t. That sweep gave the ball to the Niners with just two seconds left on the clock. The Niners ran trips left and had Jerry Rice lined up on the right side. The Bengals defended Rice one on one for some reason, and Montana found Rice to win the game and send the Bengals into a free-fall!
Let’s start with the NFL competition committee eliminating the Bengals no-huddle offense! Marv Levy was behind this, so he didn’t have to face it in the AFC Championship Game; it didn’t hurt that he was friends with Don Shula, who was on that committee. Then you had Stanley Wilson the night before the Super Bowl with the cocaine issue that put him out of the game. Then early on in the game, nose tackle Tim Krumrie breaks his leg! Then early fourth quarter, after Stanford Jennings gave the Bengals a 13-6 lead, Lewis Billups dropped an easy interception in the end zone, which on the very next play, Joe Montana found Jerry Rice for the game-tying touchdown. The Bengals would come within 34 seconds of winning the Super Bowl.
The 90s was a horrific decade for the Bengals, and to start it off, we had the firing of Sam Wyche, which was made even worse when the Bengals hired Dave Shula to be Wyche’s replacement. The Bengals traded up to draft Penn State all-world running back Ki Jana Carter with the first pick of the draft, and he would get hurt on his second preseason carry in Detroit and was never the same. Then you had Big Daddy Wilkinson, who was a big-time miss! Jeff Blake and his shake and blake offenses were the only saving grace, which didn’t last long and the 1997 re-emergence of Boomer Esiason, who electrified the city for about half a season. During the first 14 years of the Mike Brown era, the Bengals stumbled to a dismal 71-153 record (.317 winning percentage). Things were about to get better.
The Bengals had not made the playoffs in fifteen years, and then 2005 happened! It was heaven for a Bengals fan, at least until it wasn’t! The Bengals won a barnburner in Pittsburgh, beating the hated Steelers 38-31 and a win in Detroit made the Bengals playoff bound. The Bengals would host the Steelers in the playoffs, and Carson palmer started the game by hitting a deep pass to Chris Henry. All of Cincinnati roared, and then as we were celebrating, the cameras pan to Carson Palmer writhing in pain on the field, and the joy went back to the same despair we had always felt as Bengals fans. The next fifteen years would see playoff appearances with no wins to show for them.
In 2015 Bengals quarterback was having an MVP year, and then he hurt his hand against the Steelers. After that injury, AJ McCarron would step up to be the starter, which did not work out very well. McCarron did not play well, but he made some throws in the fourth quarter, which gave the Bengals the lead. They got the ball back, and all they had to do was hold onto the ball, and of course, they didn’t! Jeremy Hill carried for seven yards, but instead of going down and protecting the ball, he fought for more yards, and he fumbled! The Steelers recovered, and the rest is history as the Bengals imploded with players losing control and getting penalties that helped the Steelers kick the game-winning field goal—another heartbreaking loss. The Bengals would win the division and host the Steelers.
This season is special for true Bengals fans because after years of being made fun of and years of heartbreak, it seems that things are destined for a big finish in Cincinnati. For the first time in over thirty years, the future is bright, and when the Bengals are playing, I do not feel a sense of dread of what might happen. This Bengals team with Joe Burrow has made people proud to be Bengals fans and from Cincinnati. Like many of you out there, I wish my father was here to see this and all of the friends I have lost that were Bengals fans. The emotional connection between this city and fans is strong, and you could feel it at the pep rally on Monday night. The best part of the evening was watching the players reactions to the fans as they walked out onto the field. On Monday night, the energy in that stadium was electrifying, and it was just a pep rally. Hopefully, the pain documented in this article can be wiped out on Sunday night, and if the Bengals come up short for some reason, I think they will be back again. No matter how many Super Bowls this team wins, though, the important thing is that there is hope and pride in Cincinnati again! Who Dey!!!
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