Most of us know that the current Cincinnati Bengals was founded by Paul Brown, who teamed with then governor James A. Rhodes to petition the AFL for expansion on behalf of Cincinnati, landing the franchise in 1967. So how did Paul Brown settle on the nickname "Bengals"? Did he have an affection for the animal (yes, they are majestic) or did he feel the name would send chills into the opposition? He decided on the name to connect the present day franchise to distant Cincinnati football history. Although not storied, there was a Cincinnati Bengals franchise long before the present version.
The original version of the Cincinnati Bengals was formed in 1937 as part of a second American Football League. Much like Paul Brown, Hal Pennington founded the franchise, becoming the team's first head coach. Their performance is not considered stellar, finishing 2-4-2 and fourth in a league with six teams. They also played two games outside the league splitting both, beating the Atlanta Crackers 36-7 and losing to a team of College All-stars 6-3. Tackle Bill Steinkemper, center Lee Mulleneaux and back Don Geyer were selected for the all-league team. Pennington left the team after the season for his original team, the Cincinnati Models, and was replaced by player-coach Dana King.
To say that the AFL II was not on solid ground would be an understatement; it folded after that season. The Bengals, however, continued as an independent in 1938 despite pitches from the Midwest Football League, who would later be renamed as the American Football League. That season proved to be very successful starting the season with six straight wins and finishing 7-1-2. The season included a win over the Chicago Bears and a tie against the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), members of the NFL. Eight of those games were played in Cincinnati at Xavier University Stadium with attendance averaging a respectable 8,000.
The Bengals relented the AFL's overtures, joining during the 1939 season. The caliber of the league was considered the best in professional football that season. Continuing on the success from the previous season, the Bengals finished second with a 6-2 record losing only to the first place Los Angeles Bulldogs and the third place Columbus Bullies. The good showing on the field did not translate well in attendance as it fell to an average 3,500 for four home games. Thanks to the league abandoning the playoff for that season, the Bengals weren't able to contend for the AFL title. Same as the 1937 version of the AFL, the league vanished from the football landscape.
Another "major" league was formed for the 1940 season that included three teams from the AFL, the Bengals, the Bullies and Milwaukee (former L.A. Bulldogs) and the league was named, you guessed it, the American Football League. Unlike the previous two successful campaigns, hard times befallen the Bengals finishing the year with a disappointing 1-7 record. The designated home field of Crosley Field never saw a game due to lack of interest from the city (literally). The closest "home" game was played in Charleston, W.Va. To add insult to injury, the Bengals had to forfeit a game due a large number of injuries prohibiting them from fielding a team. Despite all the turbulence, fullback Paul Shu was selected to All-league second team.
Heading into the 1941 season, the Bengals continued to hang onto their high hopes with the coaching of Dana King. But disappointment once again was felt, finishing with a 1-5-2 record. For the first time since 1939, home games were played at Xavier University Stadium hosting back-to-back home games in October. The lack of attendance at these games caused the remaining home games to be moved with one played in Akron. While the overall record may have not have been pleasant, the team placed three players on the all-league team; end Joe Kruse and backs Bill McGanon and Gene Tornquist.
Before the 1942 season started, the league felt it was best to suspend operations due to signs of WWII on the horizon, making 1941 the last season a professional football team named Bengals to play in Cincinnati. In 1960, the American Football League (yes, again) surfaced, later inviting Cincinnati to join. This helped bring back the team's old nickname, thanks to the man who felt Ohio deserved to have two professional football teams.