CBS Sports is running an interesting series where they are determining the five most important players and coaches of each team. They recently posted their five Bengals that were most important to the franchise, and the results were pretty interesting.
Before we dive into it though it is important to note there were several stipulations here. Of the five, there would be one coach, one quarterback and three non-quarterbacks. CBS’s John Breech also enlisted the help of Dave Lapham (former Bengals and current color commentator for the team), Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com and Breech’s father, Jim Breech, who happens to be Cincinnati’s all-time leading scorer.
Those four worked together to come up with five names; the five most important Bengals of all-time. Three of them were unanimous.
Head coach Paul Brown, quarterback Ken Anderson, and offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, the only Bengals player in the Hall of Fame.
It is really, REALLY hard to argue with any of those three. Brown obviously founded the team on top of being a Hall of Fame coach, so it doesn’t get much more important than that. The only coaches who comes close are Marvin Lewis, who helped make Cincinnati relevant again in the 2000’s, and Sam Wyche who helped revolutionize the NFL with the hurry up offense as well as making a Super Bowl appearance. If either of those guys managed to win a Super Bowl, they’d likely take that spot, unfortunately the franchise had no such luck.
The quarterback being Anderson may have some debate to it, but it’s the right choice at the end of the day. Anderson may be the best quarterback not in the Hall of Fame, and displayed immense efficiency in an era where there was little at the position. His NFL record 70.6% completion percentage from 1982 stood until the modern era when only Drew Brees and Sam Bradford have ever topped it.
Anderson’s only real competition is the only other quarterback to appear in a Super Bowl for the Bengals: Boomer Esiason. It would be a great disrespect to not even mention him in this conversation. He won the MVP award in 1988, and was one of the premiere players of his era. However, Anderson’s statistics are more than Hall of Fame worthy, and Esiason falls just short of that mark. He finished a head above Andy Dalton, though, who despite holding quite a few Bengals’ passing records never managed to get over the playoff hump in Cincinnati.
Let’s focus on the non-quarterback spots. Munoz is undoubtedly a must have here. Anyone arguing otherwise is trying too hard to out think the room. He was possibly the greatest Bengal player of all time, and he has also been included in countless all-decade teams as well as lists of the top players ever.
The other two spots become very difficult to fill. CBS’s group came up with two huge names at the same position: wide receivers Chad Johnson and Isaac Curtis.
Bengals fans may be a bit confused about the Curtis pick, but the group defends the selection pretty easily. His stats may not jump off the board when you look at modern numbers, but on his career he finished with 416 catches (compared to Lynn Swann’s 336), 53 touchdowns (compared to Swann’s 51) and 7,101 yards. He averaged 17.1 yards per catch, which was almost an entire yard more than John Stallworth (16.2 yards per catch).
Curtis’ contribution to the NFL went beyond his stats, though. In a 1973 playoff game against the Dolphins, Curtis was viewed as so much of an issue that the defenders would tackle him and manhandle him down the field every play. The 23-year old rookie at the time was held to a single catch, but it sparked a rule change that would forever change the NFL. Going forward, defensive backs couldn’t make contact with receivers past five yards on passing plays. This rule helped set into motion the high powered offenses we know today.
Johnson is an obvious addition that most modern fans would likely include. Not only does he still hold many of the Bengals’ all-time receiving records, but he is probably the reason many Bengals are here today (including the writer putting this article together). He not only helped make Cincinnati a more competitive team, but he put the Bengals’ into the national spotlight each week with his celebrations and various antics.
It is hard to kick out Curtis or Johnson for anyone, but one name that immediately comes to mind is defensive back Ken Riley, who recently passed away at the age of 72. He is still fifth on the all-time interceptions list. He totaled 65 interceptions before retiring after the 1983 season, and his absence from the Hall of Fame is still incredibly frustrating. He is easily one of the best defenders from Cincinnati, which is something CBS’s top five was severely lacking.
Ultimately, most Bengals fans would probably take out Curtis and insert Riley. The Rattler may never have played a part in a major rule change, but with Riley’s 65 picks those defenses wouldn’t have been the same. Although, that still isn’t an easy decision to make.
Who would your five most important of Bengals of all time?