In the Cincinnati Bengals' 47 year history, only two legends of the franchise have been honored with enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as Bengals; Paul Brown in 1967 and Anthony Muñoz in 1998. Bengals fans might look at that number and feel cheated or disappointed, but the Hall of Fame is a numbers game, and many former Bengals players looking to get into the HOF lack one of the most universally important numbers to most voters - Super Bowl rings. Regardless of whether or not Super Bowl rings should be indicative of individual success, unfortunately, they are the quickest way legacies are built in the NFL.
However, there have been plenty of players to make it to the Hall of Fame without winning a Super Bowl ring. Both of the Bengals' inductees never won a Super Bowl. However, Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967; the same year that the Super Bowl was first played. By 1967, he had already won three pre-Super Bowl NFL championships, as well as all four championships in the short lived All American Football Conference. Other players to make the Hall of Fame without a Super Bowl ring include Dan Marino, Dick Butkus, Deacon Jones, and Charlie Joiner. Joiner spent a short time with the Bengals from 1972-1975, but played his best football in the Air Coryell era of the San Diego Chargers.
Former Bengals who should be in the Hall of Fame
Because of the staunch attention given to Super Bowl victors by Hall of Fame voters, many legendary Bengals have been snubbed from enshrinement, despite very impressive careers. We take a look at some of those players here:
First year of eligibility: 1992
Ask anyone who pays a bit of attention to the Bengals which former Bengals' player, who hasn't made it to the Hall of Fame, should already be in; they will probably answer with "Ken Anderson." Anderson is widely considered to be the best #14 in team history.
32,838 passing yards, a 197/94 TD/INT ratio, and an 81.9 career QBR are the kind of numbers any quarterback would love to finish their career with. Sure, future hall of famer, Aaron Rodgers (226 touchdowns, 57 interceptions), would laugh at Anderson's TD/INT ratio, but former Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback and current talking head, Terry Bradshaw, can't even compare to those numbers (212 touchdowns, 210 interceptions).
Anderson never managed to win a Super Bowl for the Bengals, but he played for 15 years and led the Bengals to a magical 1981 season in which he was crowned league MVP and led the team to win two of the franchise's five playoff wins en route to the Super Bowl. Without him, it is likely that the young Bengals may never have found success as early as they did.
First year of eligibility: 1989
Ken Riley snatched 65 interceptions in his career with the Bengals. That stat alone should land him in the Hall of Fame. Not only does that qualify him for the most career interceptions in franchise history, nearly double of the man in second-place, Louis Breeden (33), but it qualifies him as the fifth all time interception leader in NFL history. That record also stands as the second most in the Super Bowl era (behind Rod Woodson with 71) and the most with only one team.
Riley also played 207 games for the Bengals, the most in franchise history, as well as 15 total seasons. Only Ken Anderson played more seasons for the team (16), and wasn't able to get in as many games as the resilient Riley.
Riley was also an important part of the Bengals' super bowl run in 1981; playing all 16 games and grabbing 5 interceptions on the season. In terms of sheer impact on his franchise, few can be held in higher regard.
First year of eligibility: 2012
Corey Dillon's 11,241 rushing yards (8,061 with the Bengals) ranks as the 18th best in NFL history, and the best in Bengals' history. Although accumulating more than 10,000 rushing yards does not necessarily make you a lock for the Hall of Fame, all 17 players to accumulate more rushing yards in their career than Dillon, that are eligible, are already enshrined. That includes O.J. Simpson, who actually finished his career with five less career rushing yards than Dillon.
Dillon's statistical accomplishments don't end simply at the yards he gained in his career. Dillon's 82 touchdowns rank as the 18th best in NFL history. That puts his name in the same discussion as players such as Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Jim Taylor, and Eric Dickerson. Let's not forget that Dillon did manage to win a Super Bowl ring, albeit only after being traded to the New England Patriots in 2004. The move revitalized Dillon's career and, although he never started all 16 games in a season again, he did give the Patriots his best statistical season in 2004 (1,635 yards, 12 touchdowns, 4.7 yards per run).
So, what is keeping Dillon out of the Hall of Fame? Probably the fact that he played for the Bengals from 1997-2003. He only played in the NFL for 10 seasons, seven of which were played for a franchise that never even sniffed the playoffs, much less the all-important Super Bowl. Ending his career with the mid-2000s Patriots helps, but the team he spent the majority of his career with will ring in the ears of Hall of Fame voters for years.
First year of eligibility: 1990
Isaac Curtis was Chad Johnson before Chad Johnson, at least in terms of the physical ability and numbers. Curtis finished his career with 7,101 receiving yards; a record that stood as the best in franchise history until it was shredded by Chad Johnson with 10,783 career receiving yards.
However, even behind the impressive numbers, what really makes him stand out as a potential Hall of Famer was his impact on the game and how he changed the wide receiver position. Before Curtis came along, wide receivers were typically built like every other player on the team, albeit a bit leaner and more suited toward endurance and versatility. At 6-1, 192 lbs, and a 100-yard-dash time of 9.7 seconds, Curtis provided Anderson and the Bengals with a receiver who possessed world-class speed and set a precedent for great NFL wide receivers to possess the freakish speed and athleticism that Curtis displayed.
The aspect that separates Johnson and Curtis, however, might be one of the aspects that is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. Yes, he never won a Super Bowl ring (although he did play in Super Bowl XVI), but he also was never one to want to grab much of the spotlight. Paul Brown once described him as "a very gentle person...no jumping up and down, spiking it, or trash talking". Sounds great, right? A player who plays great but never tries to absorb all of the attention? Unfortunately, being in the spotlight often helps a lot when you want people to remember your name. If there was one player who truly had an undeniable impact on the NFL, it is Curtis, so where is his annual hall of fame discussion?
Current Bengals on track to be in the Hall of Fame
A.J. Green is young, and it might be a bit premature to be calling him a future hall of famer. However, you simply can't have watched the Bengals since he joined the team in 2011 and not recognize him as the driving force of the Bengals' offense. Green's size, speed, and athleticism harken back to the standard set by Curtis, and it has shown in his 329 receptions, 4,874 passing yards, and 35 touchdowns in his career.
Even suffering through an injury-ridden 2014, Green's impact for the Bengals' offense couldn't be denied. Luckily, the Bengals had Jeremy Hill to shift the focus of the offense, but Green's statistically least effective season coincided with one of the least effective seasons for the Bengals' passing offense during the Dalton-Green era (3398 yards, 19 touchdowns, 17 interceptions). That's how things go when you have a player as talented as Green. If he can return in 2015 and beyond to perform at the level he has been performing at during the first four years of his career, he will be a lock for the hall of fame.
All you really need to say about Atkins is 12.5 sacks, 53 tackles, and four forced fumbles in 2012. In only 40 games started, Atkins has compiled 26 total sacks. Defensive tackles who aren't special just don't do that. Atkins tore his ACL against the Miami Dolphins in 2013, causing him to be unable to return to the team until the beginning of the 2014 regular season, which impacted his effectiveness on the field in 2014.
However, Atkins seems to have returned to form with an entire offseason to work and train this season. If this translates to production in the regular season, Atkins will continue and improve upon his current pace of 8.0 sacks per season. If he continues along this path, he will outpace the best pass rushing defensive tackle of all time, Warren Sapp, who averaged around 7.4 sacks per season.
Terrorizing quarterbacks as effectively as Atkins does should be enough to warrant a Hall of Fame enshrinement for the feared defensive lineman, but five years is far too small of a sample to really see just how Atkins's career will pan out.
Which Bengals do you think deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame?