Every team in the NFL has a story that is a foundational link in the league's history. Legendary players that excelled on the football field star in these stories, many of which are now enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Aside from these players being immortalized in the league's Hall of Fame, the teams that they gave years of service to have honored them with other accolades symbolizing their significance to that franchise and its fan base.
On Thursday, we received word that former Bengals and Patriots wide receiver, Chad Ochocinco, was being released and it's questionable if he'll play NFL football again. His release began my thought process on the issue I'm going to discuss. It's likely he will get another chance somewhere, but as well all know, there are no certainties in this league. This news came shortly after we learned that running back Fred Taylor will be honored by the Jacksonville Jaguars, just a few short years after his departure from the team and his retirement from the NFL.
So what of the Bengals? They have many names that loom large in NFL history, yet we don't see them being honored the way that Taylor apparently will be this September. Is Cincinnati an anomaly in this situation, or are they part of a majority of teams that eschew these festivities?
We at Cincy Jungle did some research on the subject and found that they are in the minority of NFL teams who honor past players. With a special thanks to our own Nick Crago for doing some research on this, we found that, unofficially, the Bengals are one of only five teams that do not have either a team "Hall of Fame" or "Ring of Honor" for their past greats.
Again, unofficially, our research shows that the Bengals, Lions, Saints, Texans, and, believe it or not, the Steelers lack these honorary groups. Aside from the Steelers, the one thing that these clubs have in common is the lack of success that they've suffered through over the past few decades. Still, each of these clubs have players to be proud--many of which are viewable in the halls of Canton.
Even though the Steelers don't have an official ring of honor (at least that we could find), they still have the wherewithal to allow former greats to retire with the club and leave the NFL as a Pittsburgh Steeler. The most recent cases of this with the Bengals' nemesis is with Kordell Stewart and Hines Ward. When was the last time that we heard the Bengals do anything like this for their many great players of the past?
Recently, a blogger for Draft Board Insider, gave his opinions on what the Bengals "Mount Rushmore" would be and who it would include. While some could argue as to who was included on this list, the fact remains that the teams needs something like this. It's needed for the team's image, the former great and the fans. Think about attending a game at Paul Brown Stadium where the halftime festivities included honoring Boomer Esiason, Anthony Munoz, Willie Anderson, Ken Anderson, Corey Dillon, Carl Pickens, and/or Sam Wyche and the excitement it would bring to the Bengals faithful.
So, why don't they do this? Is it because they don't care about their players? I would say that no, that isn't the case and they do care. The Brown family is incredibly loyal to certain people and sometimes it's to a fault, so they should be open to some of these former Bengals coming back for this type of ceremony. While the Brown family is loyal, they are also incredibly stubborn.
Look at the list of the above-mentioned names. Nearly all of them, save for Munoz and Anderson, have a sour taste in their mouth about this franchise. Esiason always roots for the Bengals deep down, but as early as the beginning of the 2011 season, Esiason felt that the organization was "dysfunctional". In the case of Pickens and Dillon, they pleaded their way out of Cincinnati after publicly bashing the team and management, so it's very likely that owner Mike Brown holds a grudge there. Wyche and Anderson were both dismissed from coaching positions somewhat unexpectedly, so I'd assume that there are some hard feelings there as well.
Over the past few years, the Bengals management has done a marvelous job of building a quality roster and doing things to improve their way of operating. They've changed their draft philosophy, added quality assistant coaches and beefed up their scouting department. Yet, there's two major things that remain to make their makeover com full-circle: an indoor practice facility and this aspect of honoring former greats.
As long as the club decides to keep these great football players at an arms length, they (probably inadvertently) keep the fans at that same distance as well. And that's been a major issue with the club since Mike Brown took over the club from his father--the lack of a personal relationship with the club. Head coach Marvin Lewis has done a fantastic job of becoming the face and voice of the franchise since taking over in 2003. Still, it's not enough. The Brown family has been notorious for keeping their distance from their players and fans of the club, preferring to sit in the ivory tower and operating the business as they see fit. Unfortunately, this modus operandi seems to create an adversarial relationship between "The Family" and Bengals players, as well as fans.
Agree with them or not, the family is comprised of incredibly savvy business people. They may not be the most socially adept group of people, but that shouldn't be an excuse for them not to recognize the contributions of many great men who have made their family a large sum of money over the years. With the many strides that they've taken to enter the club into 20th century NFL franchise practices (yes, I realize that it's the 21st century, that's a little something called sarcasm), they need to recognize that this is a huge step for fan and player relations. It really wouldn't take much work to put these type of ceremonies together, either. I mean, hell, if the Los Angeles Dodgers can honor Mike Scioscia before their series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this weekend, nearly anyone can bury the hatchet.
I'm not saying that they need to build a wing inside of PBS dedicated to these players, spending a lot of money on some grandiose addition. It doesn't even necessarily have to be a full-blown "Ring of Honor" or "Bengals Hall of Fame". Even something as little as retiring jerseys at a halftime ceremony could suffice and go a long way to rebuild relations. After all, doesn't it seem a bit sacrilege that guys like David Klinger and Bruce Gradkowski get to wear Esiason's No.7? It's nothing personal against the two, but that number meant quite a bit to this city for almost a decade.
So, Mr. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Blackburn, review the pages of Bengals history. Listen to the pleas of the Bengals faithful--honor the players that we loved to watch in years past and cement them in team history forever. It's way overdue.