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Bengals 50th anniversary celebration offers much-welcomed change from team

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The Bengals have rarely celebrated their own history, but this season feels different.

Cincinnati Bengals

Plenty of Cincinnati Bengals fans have rightfully criticized the team for its lack of involvement in the community and disinterest in honoring the team’s past.

The Bengals have no Ring of Honor (or anything of the sort) and since the Pro Football Hall of Fame chooses not to honor Cincinnati football legends, you’d think the team would want to make sure its brightest stars feel some love.

For 49 years of the team’s history, there’s been a real lack of recognition from the Bengals in regards to its former players.

"Would be nice if that number would get retired. Oh well! We all know how it is,” Willie Anderson wrote in an Instagram caption in March, referring to his jersey number, which is currently worn by Andre Smith.

Fans have been clamoring for a Ring of Honor for years. We see other teams inducting players all the time during halftime of games against the Bengals. Just last year, I sat through a Giants Ring of Honor induction during halftime of their game against the Bengals. But the Bengals have done nothing of note to honor their former players... Other than a strangely done an oddly announced celebration last year where 14 seemingly random former players were honored with an on-field presentation prior to kickoff of the Bengals vs Eagles game. It was a very, very strange honoring as the players chosen were not really the team’s “best” players and it was announced two days prior to the game, so very little exposure was given to the event. It almost seemed like the NFL forced the Bengals into holding the ceremony and no effort was given to let fans know or get the team’s actual best players involved.

When asked about creating a Ring of Honor last year, Bengals owner and president Mike Brown indicated the concept was pointless because fans don’t know “who the hell they are.”

“It’s an oddly complicated issue,” Brown told Sporting News. We honor our old Pro Bowl players. We put up large permanent posters of them in the building and that has been our way of doing this. I was at a stadium recently and I looked around at the Ring of Honor players they have, and I would tell you that these are guys that played 30, 40, 50 years ago.

“People don’t know who the hell they are. These things have a shelf life and I wonder whether there isn’t a better way to recognize old contributing players. We are going to try to do it by focusing on the Pro Bowl players (and) putting something on our website. We’re pressed to have the space to do it out in the stadium itself. So, we will do it our way and we hope that the old players and the fans understand that it is a bona fide effort to recognize these people that played here and made the team what it is today.”

This was just a weak and random statement that made no sense from the team’s owner. The whole point of a Ring of Honor is to educate and remind fans about these players so they do know who they are. And to say there’s no room in the stadium is just beyond ridiculous. It’s a massive stadium. Mike Brown, I PROMISE you, there is a room for a Ring of Honor. Please find a better excuse next time this discussion comes up... And it will come up.

But, the point of this article isn’t to talk about the team’s lack of recognition for its former players, it’s to talk about them FINALLY doing something to change that.

The 2017 season is the team’s 50th anniversary and the Bengals are FINALLY, FINALLLLLLLLLY stepping up to the plate to honor some of its former stars.

For starters, the Bengals have created what they’re calling the “First 50” a ranking of the 50 best retired players in team history. These players will be honored during each home game this season and invited back to Cincinnati for games and events. Additionally, the team is having 50th anniversary statues placed throughout the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky area. I can appreciate the effort and fan engagement involved with this initiative. With the statues comes a fan contest where Bengals fans can share photos on social media at the statue locations for a chance to be featured on Bengals.com and win prizes. Not too shabby...

And, it seems the team is actually gifting numerous items to season ticket holders including a Bengals hat, flag, mug and more.

There may be no Ring of Honor, but at least there’s this! I can certainly get behind the Bengals showing their appreciation to the fans and former players and stepping outside the box to get involved in the community.

These may be small things, but it’s something and it’s reportedly just the start of what’s to come for the Bengals’ 50th anniversary season.

It’s great to see the Bengals making this effort and it should be recognized from the fans who have longed for the team to do something like this for years. Maybe this is a start to a new outlook for the Cincinnati Bengals’ organization.