Ever since Marvin Lewis arrived as the Bengals' head coach in 2003, the team has been pretty good, for the most part. There have been bad years here and there such as their 4-11-1 season in 2008 or their 4-12 season in 2010. But, they've either been in the playoffs, or at least in contention, for the rest of that stretch.
However, it hasn't always been the case that the Bengals were able to compete on a respectable level. Most of the terrible play was concentrated in a time when free agency and draft busts that plagued the team from 1992-2002. But, there have been players from just about every era of Bengals football who have really gotten fans' hopes up, only to crush them mercilessly by not living up to those standards, even a little.
If you're one of those people who are prone to being fooled by seemingly great players, then there's a good chance that you probably own one of these jerseys. And you may want think about replacing them, if you haven't already.
No. 5 Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson
Totaling 128 tackles, 25 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in 59 starts would be an ok stat line for most NFL players. But, when you're billed as potentially the most dominant defensive tackle to ever play in the NFL before the draft, causing a team to draft you No. 1 overall, those are absolutely embarrassing stats.
Due to the fact that Wilkinson was an Ohio State product, he was one of those players who didn't need to do much to earn the affection of many members of the Bengals' fanbase. But, he impressed scouts so much with his pre-draft work that the hype train was at an all time high when he arrived in Cincinnati. Fans flocked to buy his jerseys in 1994, but were soon disappointed by consistently average play. He did not even re-sign with the team after his rookie contract ran out, solidifying his status as a bust.
No. 4 Archie Griffin
Another Ohio State player who stole the hearts of Bengals fans only to completely disappoint as a pro, Archie Griffin fooled everyone. To be fair, it's hard to argue with the team's logic at the time, using the No. 24 overall pick on a player who won the Heisman trophy and Big 10 MVP honors twice. Bengals fans and Ohio State fans alike were excited to see how he would perform in the pros since he was staying close to home.
Unfortunately, exciting is one of the last words that you would use to describe Griffin's professional career. One of the most striking statistics from his career with the Bengals is the fact that he averaged one touchdown per year. He never broke 688 rushing yards in a season, despite being the primary starter for all of his first four years. He couldn't find a job with another NFL team after he left the Bengals in 1982 and only briefly returned to professional football in 1985 with the USFL's Jacksonville Bulls.
No. 3 Lewis Billups
There was a time when Lewis Billups was considered to be a tough, dynamic cornerback. He always felt like he had something to prove, but he generally played well and won the affection of teammates and fans alike for his hard nosed and focused attitude. He was particularly known for leading a playboy lifestyle and was one of those players who made a name for himself by combining personality and talent.
Then, he dropped the winning interception in Super Bowl XXIII. The Bengals were up 13-6, ready to cap off their best season to date with the franchise's first ever super bowl victory. Unfortunately, Joe Montana was doing what he was best at, leading a series of events that many people consider the greatest drive in Super Bowl history. That drive ended up sealing the game for the 49ers with a touchdown pass to John Taylor, but Billups had an opportunity to stop them in their tracks when he got his hands on a pass thrown into the endzone before the final play. He dropped it, and we all know the rest of the story. As unfair as it might be, Billups will always be remembered as the guy who (literally) dropped the ball in the Super Bowl. If you bought his jersey in the late 80s thinking that it would represent anything else, bless your heart.
No. 2 Carson Palmer
I have a confession to make. I own a Carson Palmer jersey and, up until I bought my Giovani Bernard jersey last year, I consistently wore it to Bengals games because it was the only jersey I had. But, like my fellow Cincy Jungle contributor Anthony Cosenza, I made it work for all of these years by making one particularly awesome modification.
Like Billups, the problem with Carson Palmer isn't that he was a bad player with the Bengals. Some of Palmer's best years as a pro were spent in Cincinnati, putting up with a lot of heartbreak and poor locker room chemistry. But, it was the way that he left that makes his jersey so embarrassing to own. After clearly being made the centerpiece of the franchise and agreeing to the richest contract in NFL history, at the time, he decided that he didn't like playing in Cincinnati anymore. Some would say that they can understand his decision, but others would say that it was a pretty low move to a franchise that invested so much into him.
Ultimately, you're free to make whatever judgement you want on the guy, but his jersey represents failure. Whether his failure, the team's failure, or some combination of both, it doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is, wearing Palmer's jersey brings up depressing memories of a thankfully bygone era.
No. 1 Akili Smith
As much as I wanted to put Palmer's jersey here, there's just no way you can avoid putting Akili Smith's jersey at the top (or bottom?) of this list. Despite only having one particularly notable year in college, NFL teams and scouts across the country considered Smith to be a can't miss prospect who was sure to bring a dynamic and potent aspect to any team's quarterback position.
Bengals fans at large bought into the hype when the team turned down six 1999 picks and two 2000 picks from Mike Ditka's New Orleans Saints to take Smith at No. 3 overall. He held out of training camp in his first season due to a contract dispute and played so badly in his first and second year, along with the rest of the team, that he forced head coach Bruce Coslet to resign in disgust three games into the 2000 season.
If there's one player who just absolutely represents the complete futility of the 'dark ages' of the Bengals as well as the gullibility of fans and pundits alike, it's Smith. If you still have his jersey, I'm not sure what you're doing.