Twenty-three years. Almost to the exact day, that is how long it has been since the Cincinnati Bengals have won a playoff game. George Bush, Sr. was in the oval office and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the favorite show and toys for youngsters. Macaulay Culkin was a bonafide star because of the movie "Home Alone" and its conquering of the box office throughout the winter months. Many Bengals fans aren't even old enough to remember that 1990 Cincinnati squad that trounced their division foe Houston Oilers 8,400 days ago this Sunday.
Here are Marvin Lewis' and Mike Brown's Bengals, heading to their fourth postseason game in the past five years, yet the spirit of Bo Jackson in that Raiders silver and black still haunts the halls of Paul Brown Stadium. If you're unfamiliar with that vague reference, you can see some history on it here, as well as here. The perpetual cynic that many longtime Bengals fans seem to be may not even want to re-hash the history.
In years past, Lewis would give his players inanimate objects or shirts with slogans to encapsulate what the team needs to do to become champions. Some players bought into the schtick, while other players who might have been more concerned with individual achievements quietly chuckled under their breath. This year, Marvin wasn't so cute and didn't dance around the team's goals. Win the division, go undefeated at home and win the Super Bowl. As was noted by another NFL.com writer, Aditi Kinkhabwala, the team has achieved two of those goals so far.
It seems like a broken record to say for any NFL team, but things seem different in Cincinnati this season. Less me-first players and more of a united front. Guys in the locker room who actually care about each other, hang out socially and celebrate when their teammates are gaining personal achievements on the football field. It's a team that didn't crumble in the wake of losing critical players for various amounts of time on both sides of the ball because of injury, as we have seen with so many other Bengals teams do. In short, it doesn't seem to be the house of cards that we have seen over so many years in the Lewis regime.
Yet, even with all of these signs of a strong football team, fans had such little faith in the squad that many were praying that the Bengals wouldn't host one of their division rivals in either the Ravens and Steelers. All over Twitter and on the comment threads here at Cincy Jungle, fans were relieved in the way that the chips fell in Week 17, where the San Diego Chargers clung to the No.6 seed and cemented their ticket to The Queen City.
So, who are these Powder Blue Boys from Southern California, exactly? They have shown bits of inconsistency, especially early on, but rookie coach Mike McCoy has led his team to the single-elimination tournament. How did they do it? A stellar season from quarterback Philip Rivers and a 5-1 finish to the season which included a win in Denver and two over the playoff-bound Chiefs. Their only loss? Well, you would just have to know that it was these same Bengals that took care of them under the California sun at the onset of December.
Some say that the Chargers backed into the playoffs, thanks to playing a glut of second and third-string Kansas City scrubs and finally getting it done in overtime, as well as relying on a plethora of losses by other teams. Maybe, maybe not. We've seen the same thing happen with the Bengals only to have them be one-and-done. The truth of the matter is that there are no easy teams in the playoffs, even if it is the very team that fans wanted to see the Bengals face-off against.
So, what is it going to take for the Bengals to crack the 23-year-old mystery? Well, we know what can't happen in order for success to be achieved. We also know that overall clean play will likely make them winners on Sunday. When the Bengals are on and firing on all cylinders, there isn't a team in the NFL who can beat them--especially at home. But, as we have seen in their five losses this year, they can be their own worst enemy with self-inflicted mistakes. Those simply can't happen in the postseason if they want to slay almost two and a half decades worth of playoff demons.
What will it take beyond the two aforementioned aspects? Heart. A collective will so strong from the squad to want to make those memories of failure disappear as they etch their names in the franchise's books. As they have done all season, it will take a desire for the players in that Bengals locker room to play for the man next to him and not accept the same result that the previous four trips have had. It will take Lewis getting past the stigma that he can't get his team ready for games that are under the brightest of light. These 2013 Bengals will need to want to change the history of the franchise on Sunday.
Cliche? Perhaps. An over-exagerration? Tell that to the past 8,400 days.