Lately, we at Cincy Jungle have been taking a look back at some aspects of the 1988 Bengals. After all, it is the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest teams in franchise history. Aside from boasting some of the greatest players the team had ever seen, the roster also had some of the biggest personalities in the league.
There was Boomer Esiason, the leader of the squad, who was fantastic on the field and the collective voice of the team. He was the one who called out players and held everyone accountable, allowing the team to become the well-oiled offensive powerhouse that dominated the NFL. There was also their big back with the big touchdown dance in Elbert "Ickey" Woods.
Aside from Woods and James Brooks, there was another productive running back on the 1988 Bengals offense who had a big personality. Unfortunately, Stanley Wilson's personality had a very dark side.
Wilson joined the Bengals via the 1983 NFL Draft in the ninth round--which, by today's standards, would make him akin to an undrafted rookie free agent. The former Oklahoma Sooner fullback was a versatile player who could line up as a blocker or the deep back, could run well and had good hands. Though he was always the third or fourth back on the depth chart, he contributed in a number of ways for a small handful of years.
In the 1985 and 1987 seasons, Wilson was suspended for cocaine use by the league. The Brown family, ever-forgiving of players with inner demons, continued to give Wilson a chance and he seized an opportunity going into the 1988 season.
That year, Wilson was part of a formidable running attack and had almost 400 yards rushing, 110 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Not too shabby for a third back, right? The apex of Wilson's season was his effort in the Wild Card round against the Seattle Seahawks, where he rushed for 45 yards and two touchdowns to help the Bengals advance. When watching the very well-made NFL Network documentary, "America's Game" chronicling the 1988 Bengals squad, then-head coach Sam Wyche expressed his fondness for Wilson and his attempt at sobriety from the year before.
Interestingly enough, Wyche explained how Wilson had a publishing crew following him around at practice and games to write about his road to recovery in a forthcoming autobiography. Unfortunately, Wilson never achieved full sobriety and the autobiography was never published.
On the eve of Super Bowl XXIII, Wilson had a relapse into his cocaine use and was not allowed to play in the big game. Aside from his in-game contributions, the disappointment and frustration felt by the other players that Wilson selfishly let down had to have had an affect on the outcome of a Bengals loss to the 49ers, 20-16.
When you watch the NFL Network documentary, Esiason recalls Wyche addressing the team the evening before the game about Wilson's situation and the players' reaction. Few were sympathetic to Wilson's plight and the majority were outraged. The interesting part of Esiason's recollection was the reaction to wide receiver Cris Collinsworth's bold request for the team to "win one for Stanley". The sentiment didn't sit well--have a look at the video at 21:30 and again at 31:25.
Tim Krumrie said it best: "It didn't mean enough to him (Wilson) to make the right choice. That was more important". Reportedly, it was the recently-retired running backs coach, Jim Anderson, who found Wilson high in a bathroom and the rest is history. Wilson was now a "three-strike" offender and was subsequently suspended from the NFL for life.
Unfortunately, the story of Wilson's post-football life doesn't get any better, either. He had multiple stints in rehab to kick the cocaine habit to no avail, and in 1999, Wilson was convicted of stealing $130,000 from a Beverly Hills property and was subsequently sentenced to 22 years in a state prison. The only bright spot to Wilson's life was his son getting a shot in the NFL with the Detroit Lions back in 2005.
The story of Wilson is a sad one, but it's a major chapter in the legacy of the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals.