The New York Times ran a "where are they now" on Wednesday, which highlights several first round picks from the 1990 NFL draft. In case you don't have the internet, Cincinnati used their No. 12 overall pick to select Baylor linebacker James Francis, who played for nine seasons for the Bengals with an amazing four-season stretch from 1990-1993 (seven interceptions, 19 quarterback sacks, five forces fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two touchdowns). He concluded his nine seasons in Cincinnati with 11 picks, 33 quarterback sacks and 11 forced fumbles.
Francis later retired after playing one season in Washington.
The Times didn't offer much of an update, only that he retired after the 1999 season and was "twice charged with failing to pay child support and ordered to pay restitution." He pleaded no contest after violating his five-year probation for failing to pay court-ordered child support... which had reached $905,000 for two kids.
As far as we know, the last that anyone had heard from him, Francis owned a restaurant (or small catering business) in Texas.
Many offseasons ago, we conducted a survey that rated the best player to wear each jersey. Francis claimed No. 50, and we wrote:
James Francis and the Cincinnati Bengals hosted the Detroit Lions in a late November matchup during the team's 1992 season. The linebacker hauled in two interceptions against Lions quarterback Erik Kramer, posting a franchise-best 107 yards on interception returns.
Now, for the mandatory embarrassing part of the early 90s.
Francis posted more yards than the entire Bengals offense that afternoon and did what the offense couldn't -- score a touchdown. Boomer Esiason and the offense gained 95 yards as an offense, with a 2.3 yard/rush average, during a defensive struggle in which the biggest touchdown threat came on a trick play.
Once Bengals running back Derrick Fenner received the handoff from Esiason, Lions cornerback (and former Cincinnati Bearcat) Melvin Jenkins came up strong to support the run which allowed wide receiver Tim McGee to sprint past the secondary. Electric anticipation could be heard; the calm before an explosive reaction from the fans on an exciting play. As soon as he recognized the trick play, Jenkins reversed course. Since the pass had no zip behind it, a rainbow through the chilly winds of Riverfront Stadium, Jenkins was able to recover and knock the pass down.
The Bengals ended up losing 19-13 that afternoon to a Lions team that came into the game with a record of 2-8 (the Bengals were 4-6). Lions running back Barry Sanders posted 151 yards rushing on 29 carries.
Francis, the Bengals' biggest offensive threat that afternoon, caught his first interception from Kramer while diving through the air; the second was returned 66 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Francis also posted two quarterback sacks and seven total tackles during an afternoon that should have ended with a celebration of his performance.
In nine seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals (1990-1998), Francis was one of (if not THE) best defensive players during the painful 90's era that sent older fans into an oblivion of pessimism. Along with owning the franchise record for most interception return yards in a game, Francis' three pick-six returns is tied for third all-time in franchise history and his 33 quarterback sacks ranks in the top-10.