The 2011 NFL season has often been deemed "The Year of the Tight End". With the emergence of players at the position across the league, it appears that the evolution of this once unnoticed job has come full circle. Players like Jimmy Graham, Brandon Pettigrew and the Bengals' own Jermaine Gresham have led the charge of a group of exciting playmakers at the position. A sure sign of the importance of the position can be found in one of this year's Super Bowl participants, the New England Patriots, as they have two Pro Bowl tight ends on their roster in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
But before this group of exciting players were a couple of men that revolutionized the position over thirty years ago. The most notable tight end from the earlier generation is that of Hall of Famer. But the Bengals had a big play tight end of their own in No. 89, Dan Ross. He was a key figure in the Bengals Super Bowl run in 1981, and now that this year's Super Bowl is upon us once again, Ross is a player that evokes images of the glory days in Bengals history.
Though he also chronicles the agonizing Bengals defeat at the hands of the 49ers in Super Bowl almost twenty-five years ago, Jimmy Zanor of The Shoreline Times took an opportunity to reflect on the overall career and impact of a player like Ross.
Most Bengals fans following the team today didn't have the opportunity to watch Ross' greatness--myself included. But, as Zanor writes, Ross' effect on the game of football and the Super Bowl has lasted three decades:
With Cincinnati trailing 20-7 early in the third quarter quarterback Ken Anderson found Ross in the middle of the end zone for a four-yard touchdown score to make it 20-14. Ross’ TD catch was also his eighth reception of the game, tying him with George Sauer, who hauled in eight passes from Joe Namath in the New York Jets stunnning16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Ross broke the record with less than two minutes left to play on a 16-yard pass play from Anderson. Ross added an 8-yard reception before capping his amazing day with another touchdown catch with just 16 seconds left.
Ross finished with a Super Bowl record 11 receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Though that Super Bowl record has since been tied, it has never been broken. Such modern day superstars like Wes Welker and Jerry Rice have matched that record-holding reception number, but no other tight end in Super Bowl history has come close to it.
Ross played professional football in both the USFL and NFL for nine seasons and made the Pro Bowl after the 1982 season. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, despite attending the unheralded program out of Northeastern University. Sadly, Ross passed away in 2006 at the young age of 49. He collapsed at home after taking a jog, subsequently ending his life.
Ross remains a cult favorite among Bengals fans. There were much more notable Bengals names during Ross' generation, such as Cris Collinsworth, Ken Anderson and Isaac Curtis. Along with those names, it took a true underdog like Ross to help bring the team to the precipice of a championship with his own contributions. Ross was one of the earliest versions of the athletic tight end that was a big-play threat at any point in a game. He was one of a few from thirty years ago that have helped mold the position to its exciting status that it holds today. So when you watch the Super Bowl this Sunday and see the tight ends making plays to help their respective teams, remember Dan Ross, his Super Bowl record and his Bengals legacy.