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Bengals First 50: Biggest omissions and odd rankings

Now that the Bengals “First 50” has been fully released, we reflect on the most puzzling decisions among the fan and media voters.


The Cincinnati Bengals recently released their First 50, which is a recognition of the top 50 retired players to don a Bengals uniform. The voting for who made the list, and where the players were ranked on the list, was comprised of an esoteric collection of media and fan votes. Just like with any ranked list that was formed via a conglomerate of input, there are always selections that seem out of place and inconsistent with the logic used in forming the list. So let’s take a look at the First 50 list and see which voting results seem the most out of place.

Shayne Graham left off in favor of Doug Pelfrey

Pelfrey was drafted by the Bengals, is a “local” guy, and played his whole career for the Bengals. So if the purpose of the First 50 is to recognize locals who played for the Bengals, then this pick makes sense. But if the purpose of the First 50 is to recognize players based on their contributions and production while wearing a Bengals’ uniform, this decision has me totally baffled.

Both Graham and Pelfrey played seven seasons with the Bengals, and both played in just about the same number of games - 111 for Pelfrey, and 110 for Graham. Both were also kickers. But the similarities end there. Graham made 24 more field goals as a Bengals’ kicker, connecting on 86.8% of his field goal attempts compared to only 77.3% for Pelfrey. That’s nearly a whopping 10 percent difference. Also, Graham was better on extra points, making 98.8% vs 97.1% for Pelfrey.

During the same span of games played, Graham made many more field goals and was a much, much more accurate kicker. Yet, somehow Pelfrey was selected over him.

Jim Breech ranked fifth overall

Fans from the 1980s Bengals teams seem to really like Breech, and I’ve got nothing against him. He did play in a whopping 197 games in his 13 year career with the Bengals, and holds the team record for most points scored. But seriously, a kicker who barely made 70% of his field goal attempts is the team’s fifth best player of all time?

It’s debatable if Breech is even the best kicker in Bengals history. Not only does Graham hold a huge accuracy advantage of 86.6% to 71.5% on field goals, and a 98.8% to 95.9% lead on extra points, but Breech only made six of 25 career attempts from beyond 50 yards. I realize that Breech is from an era when kickers just weren’t very good by today’s standards, but it’s unfathomable how he finished ahead of Willie Anderson, Boomer Esiason, Ken Riley, and Cris Collinsworth.

Ickey Woods (#24) ranked ahead of Pete Johnson (#31)

Don’t ever let anybody tell you that a little touchdown dance and a Geico commercial won’t pay dividends. Woods had a wonderful rookie season in 1988, scoring 15 touchdowns and leading the NFL with a 5.3 yards per rush average. Unfortunately injuries brought his career to an abrupt end, and his production fell off a cliff after that. Pete Johnson, meanwhile scored 64 rushing touchdowns in his career with the Bengals, which is still a team record. Johnson played in 94 games (compared to 37 for Woods) and added 5,421 rushing yards (compared to 1,525 for Woods). He also contributed almost 1,000 more yards than Woods as a receiver, and scored six touchdowns that way. Woods was a one year wonder with a great rookie year during a fantastic season for the Bengals, but I’m not sure that’s enough to earn him a top-25 spot, or a spot ahead of Johnson. If this list is going to rank players based on a solitary season, with no regard to longevity as a Bengal, then Odell Thurman has a serious reason to complain for being left off the list. Like Woods, Thurman had one great season for the orange and black.

Dave Lapham ranked 18th overall

I have to wonder if the First 50 is rating players solely for what they did on the field or if bonus points were awarded by fans and the media to players because their names are recognized from their work off-the-field. With the ratings of the offensive linemen on the list, there is a very strong correlation between where they ranked on the overall list and the Approximate Value ranking that assigned to the linemen.

  • #38 Rich Braham 67 AV
  • #36 Joe Walter 68 AV
  • #35 Bruce Kozerski 69 AV
  • #20 Bob Johnson 76 AV
  • #16 Dave Lapham 63 AV
  • #14 Willie Anderson 109 AV

The one glaring exception is that Dave Lapham is clearly out of place on that ranking of linemen. His AV places him closer to guard Bobbie Williams (unranked) than Bob Johnson, yet Lapham finished with the 18th overall spot in the voting. This leaves me wondering how much of a boost Lapham received from voters because of his name recognition as the Bengals’ radio announcer and a prominent member of the organization (post-retirement).

Max Montoya (#13) ranked ahead of Willie Anderson (#14)

Obviously playing in two Super Bowls, and sharing the same surname as a popular character on the movie The Princess Bride has given Montoya the same kind of boost that Lapham received from his time calling Bengals games on the radio. While this isn’t the most egregious ranking faux pas on the list, it is certainly noticeable. Not only did Anderson play what is arguably a more important position (tackle vs guard), but he played in more games (181 vs 157), finished with a higher Approximate Value ranking (109 vs 95), received three First Team All Pro selections (compared to zero for Montoya), and played in more Pro Bowls.

Greg Cook (#46) making the list (and finishing ahead of Jeff Blake (not ranked)

When Cook was taken fifth overall in the 1969 NFL draft, he was oozing with upside and potential. He was such an impressive prospect that the legendary Bill Walsh has alluded to Cook having the ability to be the best NFL quarterback - ever. But despite all the accolades, players are measured by what they did, and not what they could have possibly done. That’s why running backs like Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith are enshrined in Canton, but Billy Sims isn’t. And it’s also the reason why Ki-Jana Carter didn’t make this First 50 list.

Cook’s career ended after a mere 12 games, which saw him attempt less than 200 passes for 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 1,854 yards. And while Jeff Blake didn’t join the Bengals as a local hero with any buzz, he did finish his Bengals’ career passing for 15,134 yards (nearly 100 times as many as Cook), 93 touchdowns, and 62 interceptions. Blake took a totally inept offensive situation and salvaged it into something that somewhat resembled an actual NFL passing game, and even made a Pro Bowl appearance in the process. How a guy who only played in a dozen NFL games made the list, and was voted ahead of a fellow quarterback, who played in many more games with much more production is truly befuddling, to put it mildly.

This is not an exhaustive list of every decision that I would change with the First 50 rankings, but were the ones that seemed to stand out the most. Personally I think James Francis or Levi Jones would have been better options than Greg Cook, but overall, I think the voters more or less managed to get a decent number of the correct players on the list, even if their order was a bit off.


Which "First 50" voting decision do you disagree the most with?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Shayne Graham left off in favor of Doug Pelfrey
    (35 votes)
  • 35%
    Jim Breech ranked fifth overall
    (120 votes)
  • 12%
    Ickey Woods (#24) ranked ahead of Pete Johnson (#31)
    (41 votes)
  • 6%
    Dave Lapham ranked 18th overall
    (21 votes)
  • 6%
    Max Montoya ranked ahead of Willie Anderson
    (23 votes)
  • 23%
    Greg Cook making the list (and finishing ahead of Jeff Blake)
    (80 votes)
  • 4%
    Other (feel free to explain in the comments)
    (16 votes)
336 votes total Vote Now

What do you think?