One of the items that speaks most to the Cincinnati Bengals' long run of NFL futility is the dubious distinction of having only one true player enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, undoubtedly the best player to wear a Bengals uniform and perhaps the greatest at his position to ever play at the professional level, is the lone Bengals player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Of course, legendary coach and owner Paul Brown is also enshrined, but his contributions were far heavier in his days with the Cleveland Browns, and he never suited up for the Bengals as a player, of course. There are smatterings of other players in the Hall of Fame who have Bengals ties as well, just not as their primary team, along with others who have been snubbed like Ken Anderson, Lemar Parrish and Ken Riley.
Well, with the mini-dynasty the Bengals have built of late, the potential for more Bengals players to be enshrined seems as hopeful as ever. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has become a perennial Pro Bowl player, while the future looks bright for Tyler Eifert. And, who knows what the future holds for quarterback Andy Dalton, who is coming off a career year.
Still, the most obvious player to point at when talking Bengals Hall of Fame potential is wide receiver A.J. Green. Since entering the league in 2011, Green has routinely been a top NFL receiver, even being a model of consistency through some injuries.
Five years ago, the Bengals were a team engulfed in turmoil once again. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer had essentially quit the team, while veteran mainstays like Chad Johnson were being shipped elsewhere. While obviously needing a quarterback, the team also needed a star player to help a new signal-caller, so the Bengals tabbed Green with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2011 Draft to fill that need.
What has ensued with Green is just what the Bengals needed to come out of a period that could very well have shot into another "Lost Decade". In just five seasons with the club, Green is already carving his name into the franchise record books with a No. 6 ranking in receptions with 415, No. 5 ranking in yards with 6,171, while already sitting at fourth in touchdowns with 45. Every other Bengals receiver ahead of him on the list spent at least eight seasons with the team.
Additionally, Green is in elite NFL company when it comes to his five-straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Only Randy Moss, a future Hall of Fame receiver himself, has had as many or more consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start a career.
Unfortunately for Bengals fans, when the discussion of honoring former greats pops up, so does the disappointing fact of the lack of a team Ring of Honor, or any other official system to pay homage. The only number the Bengals brain trust has found worthy to retire is that of former center Bob Johnson, No. 54. He was the first draft selection ever made by the team, made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season and stayed with the club for 12 years.
Still, names like Munoz, Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Willie Anderson and many others readily spring to mind when thinking about the creation of an honoree system. No one has forced the Brown family to do anything in their reign as the Bengals' ownership group, but they might have a change of heart down the road. Once this high-quality core of players that has propelled them to 52 regular season wins and five straight postseason berths start to retire, it might be difficult for the Brown family to continue eschewing a Ring of Honor.
If they ever get around to it though, Green would be a shoo-in as an honoree, as he truly has the credentials to be a Bengals Legend of Tomorrow. Who do you think are among the greatest Bengals legends?