Another year, another group of Hall of Fame inductees that doesn’t include a former member of the Cincinnati Bengals. As of right now, Paul Brown, Charlie Joiner, and Anthony Munoz are the only three former Bengals in the Hall of Fame. Of those three, only Munoz is specifically remembered for his time with the Bengals while Brown is primarily known for his championships won with the Cleveland Browns and Joiner is known for his contributions to the legendary ‘Air Coryell’ offense after the Bengals traded him to the Chargers in 1975.
That said, the Bengals have been key factors in the stories of many of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees. I think it’s safe to say, without the boost provided by the Bengals showing up at the right time (or wrong time for Bengals fans), some of these people may not have ever made it to the Hall of Fame. Alright, that might not be true, but, these men getting inducted in Canton tonight all saw some big wins against Cincinnati.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
Let’s go ahead and get the obvious one out of the way first. Eddie DeBartolo Jr’s career was essentially made by mistakes made by the Cincinnati Bengals. As a five time Super Bowl champion team owner, the fact that he is only now getting into the Hall of Fame seems crazy. Personal, legal, and financial troubles caused him to have to sell the 49ers in 2000, but not before he made his mark as one of the greatest owners in the history of the league.
When DeBartolo bought the 49ers in 1977, head coach Ken Meyer led the team to a 5-9 record. In 1978, it was a combination of Pete McCulley and Fred O’Connor leading the team to a 2-14 season in the wake of a very disappointing trade for O.J. Simpson. But, in 1979, he hired former Bengals assistant coach Bill Walsh to be his new head coach and general manager. Brown had the opportunity to put Walsh in a better position with the Bengals when he stepped down from coaching in 1976, but instead decided to promote Bill ‘Tiger’ Johnson to head coach. The 49ers went on to win three super bowls with Walsh, two of which involved breaking the hearts of every Bengals fan in the world in 1982 and 1989.
In addition, DeBartolo won his fifth Super Bowl title with the help of Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who was originally supposed to be a Cincinnati Bengal. Young and the Bengals were essentially considered to be a ‘done deal’ before the former BYU quarterback had a change of heart and decided to play in the USFL instead. The Bengals ended up getting Boomer Esiason, who was awesome, but never quite lived up to the legacy that Young set in the league when he eventually ended up with the 49ers.
The story of Brett Favre is one of the league’s best in terms of hard work and longevity. Heading into the 1991 NFL Draft, teams were only mildly interested in him, letting him slip all the way to the Atlanta Falcons in the second round behind more desired quarterbacks like Dan McGwire and Todd Marinovich.
In fairness, it was a bad year for quarterbacks overall as Favre was really the only one who ever did anything interesting. In fact, he didn’t even really do that well for the team that drafted him. Favre’s career started out slow, playing in only two games and starting none in his rookie season with the Falcons. He threw a total of four passes over the course of the season, completing none to his own team. Two of those passes turned into interceptions. Understandably, the Falcons figured the guy they had wasn’t anything special so they traded him to the Green Bay Packers in 1992.
We all know the story of Brett Favre’s illustrious career with the Packers, coming out of retirement to play for the Jets, then coming out of retirement again to play for the Vikings. To this day, people still speculate whether or not he really is done.
But, did you know that his breakout performance as a Green Bay Packer came against the Bengals? The Bengals started out with a hot 2-0 record that year, 1992, before running into the beginning of a football legend. Favre made his Packers debut the game before in relief of the struggling Don Majkowski and came in again against the Bengals when Majkowski injured his ankle. The Bengals had built a 17-3 lead by the fourth quarter. But, Favre went off, spurring a spectacular comeback 24-23 victory for the Packers. From that point on, Brett Favre started every game for every team he played for until he finally missed a few games due to injuries in 2010. The Bengals went on to suffer a five game losing streak that year, winning only three more games over the course of the season. The Dark Ages in Cincinnati began and Brett Favre thrived for years to come.
Greene is primarily known as a productive player with the Los Angeles Rams before becoming a Pro Bowl drifter in free agency. But, he did spend three years with the Bengals’ hated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, from 1993-1995, a stretch that saw him make it to the only Super Bowl of his career.
The Steelers lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys, a game in which Greene was held to virtually no impact. But, Greene always played well against the Bengals. In those three years with the Steelers, he only faced off against the Bengals three times. But, he recorded at least one sack every time he played, helping the Steelers to victories in each game.
In fact, it was a 49-31 victory over the Bengals in 1995 that halted the Bengals’ momentum after defeating the rival Houston Oilers. Had things gone differently, the Bengals would have been within two games of the division in a year that Jeff Blake was really on point with Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott. A stronger finish to the season, fueled by back to back division victories could have caused them to make a stronger push for the division title. Instead, the Bengals ended up 7-9 and the Steelers went on to finish as AFC Champions.
Greene is good friends with Marvin Lewis and Lewis will be attending the Hall of Fame ceremony tonight in honor of Greene.
“I missed Rod (Woodson’s) and a couple others guys I coached that invited me,” Lewis said via the Dayton Daily News. “Just being with Kevin all the time and just his struggle to get in and how much it meant to him to get in, so I’m really excited to be able to go.”
Legendary Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler will finally be recognized this year for his Super Bowl victory, MVP trophy, four Pro Bowls, two all-pro designations, Bert Bell award, NFL offensive player of the year award, and impressive list of statistical accomplishments. Unfortunately, the honor is being presented posthumously as he passed away last year. But, his accomplishments in life will be forever immortalized in Canton, OH.
Of those accomplishments, his ‘Just Win’ attitude was part of what made him great, as exemplified by his career against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ken Stabler played eight games against the Bengals and won six of them. His stats against the Bengals: pic.twitter.com/l6PJfRhMXF— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) July 9, 2015
It’s worth noting that, save for a few games in the middle of his career, Stabler never really played well at all against the Bengals statistically. But, winning six of his eight contests against the Bengals makes up for it in the eyes of Raiders fans and Al Davis, who coined the phrase, ”Just win, Baby!” Stabler took the message of winning to heart and built his career on that premise, going 69-29-1 in his career with the Raiders and 96-49-1 in his career as a whole.
With all of these people who are being enshrined in Canton for their careers predicated on using the Bengals as a springboard, how long do we have to wait before another player other than Munoz is recognized for their accomplishments WITH the Bengals? Ken Anderson, Ken Riley, Isaac Curtis, Willie Anderson, and Corey Dillon are waiting. And, so are we as fans.