When the Cleveland Browns were created, they hired a man named Paul Brown to coach, scout, and basically run the entire operation in every possible way. Brown was the life, soul, and being of the Cleveland Browns, so much so that the team is still named after him. So when Art Modell bought the Browns in the early 60's and fired Brown in 1962, Brown didn't take it lightly. The Browns were his baby, and he famously sobbed that his team was stolen from him. Cleveland sportswriter Frank Gibbons said the firing was like "Toppling the Terminal Tower." So Brown created his revenge: He got in on an ownership group in 1967 that was granted an AFL team for the city of Cincinnati, Ohio. Brown named his new team the Bengals, as a nod to Cincinnati's professional football past. (A previous pro football team had existed in Cincinnati from 1937 to 1941 which was also called the Bengals.)
How badly did Brown want his revenge? Well, first of all, the Bengals were created for the AFL, even though Brown was one of the upstart league's numerous detractors. It helped him make the decision that the merger was on the horizon, and so he would eventually be granted passage back to the established NFL, but still, that's a lot of hate. As a helmet design, Brown turned down a striped motif which would have been very similar to Cincinnati's current, iconic helmet design in favor of a solid orange helmet with the word "Bengals" written in large black font. Their uniform designs used solid shirts with orange and white striping on the sleeves with white pants, only black instead of brown. It was modeled after Cleveland's uniforms, and was the team's outfit until 1981. Brown even coached the team himself until 1975, and continued to run it until his death in 1991. His son Mike still owns and operates the Bengals.
After the merger, the Bengals were placed in the same division as the Browns, and that was a vat of instant rivalry brew if ever one existed. It was largely personal, too; Modell and Brown still couldn't get along. The Bengals went 3-11 in their first season, and won twelve games over the next two seasons to close out the 60's. In 1970, they made the playoffs for the first time, but lost their first playoff game 17-0 to the Baltimore Colts, who won the Super Bowl that year. Brown continued to coach the Bengals through the first half of the 70's, going a good 40-32 in the span before the evolution of football finally got the better of his pride and he moved to General Manager and majority owner. The Bengals had two more coaches through the decade and put on some respectable performances, led by quarterback Ken Anderson, one of the most underrated quarterbacks ever and the longest-tenured Bengal at 16 seasons with Cincinnati. A four-time Pro Bowler, Anderson took the Bengals to the playoffs four times, won three division titles, and won the AFC Championship in 1981.
In the 80's, Brown began getting the better of Modell. They won the AFC Championship twice, in 1981 and 1988, but lost the Super Bowl both times to the San Francisco 49ers, who were helmed by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana in both years. Both had close scores; the 1981 game ended 26-21, with the Bengals scoring that 21st point with a touchdown with 20 seconds left in the game and trying an onside kick which the Niners recovered. While Cincinnati mounted a late-game comeback and scored 14 in the fourth, San Francisco had already caused too much damage for them to really do a whole lot other than try to salvage a little bit of dignity. The 1988 game, on the other hand, was a heartbreaker for the Bengals and still widely regarded as one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played. The Bengals had gone 12-4 that season under coach Sam Wyche, quarterback Boomer Esiason, and running back Ickey Woods. Cincinnati had the superior record, and Esiason won the MVP, but the offensive power of Walsh and Montana placed the Vegas line firmly in San Fran's favor. But Cincy gave them a hell of a fight. The game proved to be a defensive struggle, and when the Bengals used a field goal to break a 13-13 tie with 3:20 left in the game, the final result seemed set - especially when the Niners got pushed back to their own 92-yard line by a penalty on the ensuing kickoff. At that point, Joe Montana morphed into JOE MONTANA. He marched his offense down the field with an efficiency that would have made Henry Ford proud, throwing the winning touchdown to John Taylor with only 39 seconds left in the game, a record for latest game-winning touchdown pass until the 2007 Super Bowl, when Eli Manning of the New York Giants put the dagger in the New England Patriots' perfect season hopes by throwing a touchdown to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left on the clock. And unlike New England, who always have hope when Tom Brady has the ball, Cincy basically had no shot left after that. Boomer Esiason had been dominated all game.
The Bengals formed an identity later in the 80's based on offensive trickery through Wyche, Esiason, and Woods. It was easily their best decade, and offensive guard Anthony Munoz anchored the line and became one of the greatest offensive linemen the league had ever seen. Munoz is one of only two Bengals in the Hall of Fame, and the only one to have spent his entire career in Cincinnati. Ickey Woods triggered a dance craze called the Ickey Shuffle, his touchdown celebration, and fans invented the "Who Dey" cheer.
After that, man, did things EVER go south in the 90's. After making the playoffs in 1990, Paul Brown died in 1991 and Mike Brown proved that football acumen apparently isn't genetic. Wyche went 3-13 in 1991, and what happened to his coaching job after that is disputed; Mike Brown says Wyche quit, Wyche insists he was fired. David Shula - Don's boy - was given the head coach job the next year, and was fired in 1996 having accumulated a 19-52 record. Then Bruce Coslet took over and went 21-39 before getting fired in 2000. Dick LeBeau took over in 2000, and also sucked. All three were hires from the inside of the organization. The Bengals did manage to go 8-8 twice in the decade and keep alive their image as a high-powered offensive team, but for the most part they were the face of football futility.
The team identity of the 90's was that of the Bungles: Awful. The Bengals kept getting high draft picks, which kept proving to be monumental busts. Running back Ki-Jana Carter, defensive tackle Dan Wilkenson, quarterback Akili Smith, and quarterback David Klinger were all drafted and touted as the team silver bullet. But as far as silver bullets go, they shot the Bengals in the foot. To be fair, Wilkenson turned out to be a decent enough player, although not the keystone the Bengals were looking for. The other three were just bad. The personnel office did make a couple of smart picks, though: Linebacker Takeo Spikes was a fast and strong linebacker who eventually went to the Pro Bowl as a Buffalo Bill, earning All-Pro honors as well. And in the second round of the 1997 draft, the Bengals stole Corey Dillon out from under every other teams' noses. Dillon at his peak was exactly the keystone the Bengals needed, but they kept failing to build and despite holding many of Cincy's rushing records, Dillon bolted for New England in 2004, where he won the Super Bowl he so badly coveted. He retired in 2006 and is hopefully being considered for enshrinement in Canton.
In 2002, the Bengals vowed to get their asses in gear and give Cincinnati a team worth cheering for. Did they succeed? Well... Yes and no. Despite the departures of Spikes and Dillon, personnel started making better decisions, hiring Marvin Lewis to coach in 2002, after Lewis had coordinated the spectacular Baltimore Ravens defense in 2000. A year later, they drafted quarterback Carson Palmer with the first pick of the draft, and unlike other franchise silver bullets, Palmer turned out to be worth the hype. The most gifted quarterback to play for Cincy, Palmer holds many of the team's single-season passing records now. Rudi Johnson supplanted Dillon as the team running back, the colorful Chad Johnson emerged at receiver, and the Bengals got to be worth watching again. They went 8-8 in 2003 and 2004 - not great, but teams stopped looking past Cincy. In 2005 they went 11-5, won the division, made the playoffs, and Palmer's knee got shattered. He did manage to rehabilitate it, though, and was back in action next year. He was injured again in 2008 and needed Tommy John surgery. Although he did recover again, in 2010 the team slipped to 4-12 and the frustrated Palmer went on strike after the team refused to trade him. Mike Brown held Palmer to his contract commitment but in October 2011, traded him to Oakland anyway for a couple of draft picks. Under Palmer, the Bengals went to a few 8-8 records, two playoff appearances, and no playoff victories. Quarterback Andy Dalton took over in Cincy, and took the Bengals to a 9-7 record and Wild Card spot.
Believe it or not, Cincinnati was the first team in the NFL to adopt the no-huddle as its primary offensive weapon. You can credit Sam Wyche for that - he got the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1988 with it. The no-huddle is a rapid-fire offense in which the team executing it gets to the line of scrimmage within only a few seconds of the last play. This prevents the opposing defense from substituting situational players or regrouping to go over tactics, and it requires a quarterback to call his own plays. By 1988, the Bengals were rivals of the up-and-coming Buffalo Bills for AFC supremacy, and that year Cincy had beaten Buffalo using the no-huddle in both the preseason and regular season. For the 1988 AFC Championship, in which the Bengals and Bills faced each other a third time, Bills coach Marv Levy was so fed up with the no-huddle that he threatened to fake injuries. Before the game, an NFL official told Wyche that he would be penalized for using the no-huddle, and Wyche immediately got on the phone with the commissioner to make sure himself. Sure enough, the commissioner promised he wouldn't be penalized for running the no-huddle, and the Bengals won the game 21-10. Levy didn't fake any injuries. Instead, he installed his own version of the no-huddle the next season, called the K-Gun, which became Buffalo's signature during the next ten years.
The team's Browns-wannabes uniforms were finally ditched in 1981, by the way. Although they held on to the white pants and black jerseys, the solid orange and white trim was replaced by a trim of orange with black tiger stripes. The silly block lettering helmets were also replaced by the bold orange and black helmet striping which is now Cincinnati's signature. In 2004, the team created a new uniform which put a bit more emphasis on the tiger striping, the black jerseys having orange sleeves and the white ones with black sleeves and orange shoulders. They also began rotating black pants and introduced an orange alternate jersey which makes the players look like pumpkins.
Bill Walsh worked as an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968 to 1975, under the tutelage of Paul Brown. It was there that he developed his signature coaching style, the west coast offense. Virgil Carter was the first player to ever use the west coast offense, and in 1971 he led the league in pass completion percentage. Ken Anderson thrived under it. The zone blitz, which is the primary form of defense against the west coast offense, came from Dick LeBeau, who was the team's defensive coordinator in the 80's and 90's. As the zone blitz wasn't seen until the 90's, it didn't do a whole lot of good stopping the San Francisco 49ers, Joe Montana, and the west coast offense Bill Walsh installed as head coach of the Niners in those two Super Bowls.
The current Bengals are known as a misfit island, and one with some serious behavioral problems. A lot of their players have been arrested for some serious crimes. Adam Jones and Cedric Benson have been among them, and many of the ones who haven't broken any laws have created controversies. Corey Dillon hated playing for Cincinnati and was vocal about his displeasure and once said he'd rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals. Chad Johnson was regularly fined for outrageous touchdown celebrations, and one year he requested to have the name on his jersey read Ocho Cinco, in honor of his number 85. When the NFL refused to do that, Johnson made them comply anyway by legally changing his name to Chad Ochocinco!
It seems like things have evened out in Cincinnati so far, which is a lot better than what happened in the 90's. It seems like things are perpetually looking up there. Marvin Lewis has proved he can coach a mess, and Andy Dalton showed signs of real stability and leadership in his rookie year. The Bengals are gonna be very interesting to watch.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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The Cincinnati Bengals participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati plays its games in the North of the AFC. The Cincinnati Bengals, founded in 1968, play home games at Paul Brown Stadium and have won zero NFL Titles.