For loyal Cincinnati Bengals fans, the team's playoff drought has taken its toll. The last time the Bengals won in the playoffs was on January 6, 1991, 25 years ago from yesterday, to the Houston Oilers. It was so long ago that the Oilers are now the Tennessee Titans.
Since then, there have been years where the Bengals couldn't come close to even making the playoffs. Such was the case in the 90s when their collective record for the decade was 52-108 or in the 2000s when there was improvement, but the team record was 68-91-1.
Now, the Bengals are enduring one of their most successful decades in team history, with five consecutive trips to the playoffs and six playoff berths in the last seven years. Yet, everyone knows the problem. The Bengals have lost every playoff opportunity they've earned during the Marvin Lewis era. The hope is, that will change this Saturday when the Bengals take on the Steelers at home in their fifth consecutive Wild Card game. For me, beyond all the time, energy and attention I've devoted to the Bengals, if the drought ends this Saturday, one of the highlights will be not having to hear the national media clamor on about how the Bengals can't win a playoff game and how their regular season is meaningless. I'm not sure I can listen to another minute of that.
Saturday will mark the second time in the last decade that the Bengals and Steelers meet at Paul Brown Stadium during Wild Card weekend. We gathered our staff to ask, what would a win on Saturday mean to each of them. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments on what a Bengals win on Saturday would mean to you!
Stop underscoring the emotional impact of what a win would mean this Saturday, y'all.
A playoff win, their first since Jan. 6, 1991, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, would be so emotionally significant, that any other victory, including the Super Bowl, would pale in comparison. We're talking about a decade-plus narrative that embarrassingly highlights a winless postseason record. "Yea, but how many playoff wins do you have," some pimple-faced booger-eating hobgoblin replies as you're talking up the Bengals. Aren't you tired of that? A win would bitch-slap that pimple-faced booger-eating hobgoblin back to his mama's teet.
And to finally achieve that against the Steelers, the team that took out the '05 squad that was arguably our best chance for a Super Bowl? Oh, boy. Applying my Nostradamus cap for a moment, if the Bengals win on Saturday, the population of Cincinnati will more than double in size nine months from now.
That's what Saturday means.
I am not sure what I would/will do. I can't even remember the last time the Bengals won a playoff game. My memories of Bengals playoffs are only of pain and heartbreak. I was only a few months old during the 1981 playoffs, so clearly I don't remember that Super Bowl run. During the 1988 Super Bowl run, I was seven, but my only memory is of the bad moments - Krumrie's broken leg, Lewis Billups dropping an interception and John "F$%@ing" Taylor catching a game winning touchdown pass...oh, and I remember our Super Bowl party, because we had a miniature field set up with about 10 starting lineup players on the field (Boomer Esiason, Eddie Brown, James Brooks, Ickey Woods, Tim McGee, Rodney Holman and Tim Krumrie for the good guys and Jerry Rice and Joe Montana from the bad guys). I can't remember the last win (1/6/1991) either - but I do remember the next game (a loss) because I remember the Bo Jackson injury - apparently traumatic experiences stick in my head much more than the good experiences!
It sounds silly, but I think a win would feel like a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. As a die-hard Bengals fan from the day I was born, I have wanted nothing more than some playoff success. Will I be satisfied with just one win? Hell no! But it sure would be nice. For as long as I can remember (at least 25 years), I have felt the heartache of not seeing a playoff win. I have heard the jokes. Been ridiculed for being a fan. Seen the brown bags. Been embarrassed to wear gear. It is exhausting. 25 years is a long damned time and hearing about the drought and the teams failures gets so frustrating. A win, on some level, would allow for a bit of an exhale. An exhale that has been penned up for 25 years. A win would result in the proudest WHO-DEY chant I can ever remember...and a trip to a number of local watering holes!
It would mean we are not victims anymore. It could be a turning point for the franchise overall. Being against the Steelers make it even more meaningful, but this is all about winning in the playoffs. One win changes everything.
It's hard to say what my immediate reaction would be. I was born in 1992, so I have literally never known what it's like to see the Bengals be successful in the postseason. I imagine I'll get really excited and talk a bunch of trash to Steelers fans and everyone I know who thought that this would just be another one and done year for the Bengals. I was at that fateful playoff game against the Steelers following the 2005 season. That season is what kicked off my belief that the Bengals could be anything better than the mess that I grew up watching in the 90s, so the retribution for the way that game turned out has been a long time coming.
As far as what it means for this team - it means credit. It means getting the monkey off our backs. It means we won't have to listen to ESPN never shut up about "yeah but can they actually win a playoff game?" every time the team is brought up. What I honestly think it means for this season is that the Bengals have a legitimate chance to go to the Super Bowl. With the Patriots hurting, the Broncos having only barely beaten the Dalton-less Bengals in Denver, and every other team having to come to Cincinnati if they play the Bengals, it seems like the winner of this one wild-card game could go on to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately that also means the hated rivals have a good shot of going all the way if they win on Saturday, but would you really ask for different stakes? Would you rather have it any other way?
Well, in the short term, it means the Bengals would be playing in New England next weekend. And that's a place where the Bengals haven't won since 1986, and where the Patriots have gone 6-1 in the post-season since 2011. So overcoming one massive hurdle only brings yet another titanic task on the road to the Super Bowl. But I'd sure like to get to that second hurdle! In the bigger picture, it means much more in Bengaldom. For a team who is 1-7 all time in the Wild Card round, and who has not won a playoff game since the USSR existed, it means validation and recognition for an organization that has righted many of the wrongs of the 1990's, with great drafts, solid player moves, and an complete overhaul of the mess that was the 1990's. For me personally, it means I finally get to watch a Bengals' playoff victory. During their last playoff run, I was so young that I opted to play Super Tecmo Bowl instead of watching them take on the 49ers in the Super Bowl. The last time the Bengals won a playoff game, Al Gore was still hard at work inventing the internet. And if they win this Saturday, we'll finally get to use the internet for the purpose Mr. Gore had intended it for - to write about the Bengals on Cincy Jungle!
To me, I think it would mostly help my level of confidence in the team. No matter how much I rationalize it to myself, I'm still never that confident in this group in primetime or the playoffs (If you don't believe me, go check out our Wild Card picks post). That seems to be the one hurdle this team just can't clear for whatever reason. But when the Bengals finally clear this hurdle, I'd like nothing more for it to come against the Steelers. Not only do they have a bevy of players on their roster that elicit feelings of supreme dislike from me, but their fanbase is downright reprehensible. See you in the comments section, BTSC lurkers!
Bonus: Winning will have one minor downfall. "Downfall?!?" you scream at me with a look of extreme bewilderment on your face. Yes dear friend. Because if the Bengals win, I know that when I turn on ESPN, every idiot talking head will have forgotten the MVP-caliber season that Andy Dalton was having, and will anoint AJ McCarron as the better quarterback despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, of which there is a metric shit ton.
Honestly, while it would be great to see the Bengals get that elusive playoff win from a fan perspective, I'm more interested in them achieving the feat for the sake of the players in that locker room. There are so many good guys on this team who deserve success and not to have their reputation as "chokers" continue to be the story. Andrew Whitworth and Domata Peko have been through it all with the Bengals, while guys like Carlos Dunlap and Andy Dalton have done so much in the community of Cincinnati. What about the incredible redemption story of Adam Jones, who has become a team leader? Let's also not forget the head coach who has turned this franchise around from a laughingstock to one that spoils its fan base by annually making a trip to the postseason. This team more than deserves success.
Selfishly-speaking, getting the win by beating the Steelers would be the best way to see them get past the hurdle. I know we all want to see them go farther than just past the opening round, but a single playoff win coming at the expense of Pittsburgh would make 2015 a special season in itself. So many stigmas would finally be broken and Bengals fans would really have some good ammunition to fire back at the often boisterous Steelers Nation. Not many fans initially wanted this matchup for the Bengals, but the potential reward coming with a win is much higher than it would be against any other team in the Wild Card round.
For me it would mean two things. It would be poetic for it to happen against the Steelers. This is a fan base that rightfully pulls this trump card out whenever there is a discussion around the two teams. The majority of the players on the team did not grow up Bengals fans. They are football players, what happened since 1991 means nothing to them, they have a challenge and want to beat it. The lack of success weighs heavy on the fans. Winning this game gives them the ability to look forward to these matchups. It also retires a tired narrative from the national media that I for one am sick of hearing about.
The other thing is means is that the Bengals have taken the next step. This team used to be bad, like really bad. Every year was disappointing. Now, they always make the playoffs. Sure, it has been first round exits, but they are there. Most teams aren't. Winning means the Bengals have elevated once again, when things trend up, everyone is happy. Let's get happy Cincinnati.
Simply put, a win keeps the Bengals' quest for the Super Bowl alive. That's what it really boils down to. Sure, the rivalry aspect and playoff drought have more meaning in this one game, but in the end, this team wants to play in four games this postseason, and they've gotta win this one to keep that dream alive.
There's also the thought of, if you're gonna lose, lose riding your bests horses. The Bengals don't have Andy Dalton right now, and the thought of Pittsburgh ousting them from another postseason that may have ended in the Super Bowl had their quarterback not been injured is a pretty tough pill to swallow.
A win gives Dalton the chance to come back next week and the Bengals the opportunity to win or lose with little regret. Any loss that happens without Dalton at this point is going to leave a hollow feeling about an overall memorable season.
There is no win on Saturday for the city of Cincinnati because we're not there yet.
I can't imagine a win on Saturday because I'm tired of dreaming it while I'm awake. There are two things in this world that will always remain uninteresting to people outside of yourself and they are your fantasy sports team and your dreams. No one, no matter how interesting you yourself might find those things, will ever care.
This isn't an attempt to reverse the jinx. It's not a crack to avoid embarrassment. It's a reason to stop hallucinating and start living the reality.
I've tried to write the Grimm fairytale in my head for years. Every setback was a twist for the interested; every loss made the hopeful victory sweeter in my head. But I've been clouded by the unimaginable stories of others. The Cincinnati Bengals are not the others, the team, the city is us and we deserve to have our own story play out. Win or lose.
There's no win for Cincinnati on Saturday because it's Thursday. I'm not going to dream about it and even if I did, I wouldn't tell any of you, because deep down, you don't care and frankly neither do I. I've come to the point where I'm tired of the fantasy and perceived visions, "I've wasted my time with those cigarettes and the ashes are all I've got left."
Don't ask me how I'll feel, because I haven't felt it yet.
It would mean to me that I could finally fully enjoy the regular season. I wouldn't have to listen to the taking heads finish every Bengals accomplishment with, yeah but..... It would mean we truly have taken over the AFC North. The Steelers fans could still try the dumb SB comments, but we would have the trump card. Yeah well we beat you WIN IT MATTERED! It would continue this magical season and keep hope alive that Andy is going to ride in on a white horse and slay the evil Patriots next week. It would mean tons to me and that the Bengals would FINALLY be considered a top team and a Super Bowl contender in the national media. I don't know what I will do if they win on Saturday but I know there won't be many happier days that place ahead of it in my life. It would mean that all the time, money, arguments, defending them, and sadness were all worth it, because finally they came through and it made the wait all that more worth it.