The year was 1994. The Cincinnati Bengals were 0-7. This after winning only 11 games total in from 1991 to 1993, the three years following their last playoff appearance.
The Bengals were now at home facing the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys without their starting quarterback, David Klinger. The sixth overall pick in the 1992 Draft was sidelined with a knee injury, which meant Cincinnati would have to roll with its third-string quarterback, an undersized sixth round Draft pick of the New York Jets that Cincinnati picked up off waivers.
And then, just when it seemed all hope was lost, the franchise found new life. Jeff Blake stepped onto the field as a 23 year old well aware of his abilities. “He’s so confident. He acts like a 10-year veteran out there,” tight end Tony McGee would say after the game.
And there was good reason Blake believed in himself when no one else did. No one, that is, except for offensive coordinator Bruce Coslett, who selected Blake when he was the head coach of the Jets. After joining the Bengals, Coslett brought the young quarterback with him, saving Blake from being forced to find a new career.
With a little over nine minutes left in the first quarter of a scoreless game, Blake stepped back, saw a collapsing pocket, and calmly flipped a football about 50 yards to rookie receiver Darnay Scott, who broke an attempted tackle by Dallas cornerback Kevin Smith and took it to the house for a 67 yard touchdown.
The Cowboys, and the home crowd, were stunned. What was going on? How did the Bengals, who couldn’t even get 200 yards passing most weeks, scored in a matter of seconds? Who was this man? Was Cincinnati really up 7-0 on the defending champions?
Then things returned to normal. Blake threw four incompletions and completed just one pass for three yards to end the quarter as Cincinnati was forced to punt twice. He was sacked on the last play of the quarter, setting up 3rd and 14.
The fun seemed to be over... until Blake launched another beauty to Scott on the very first play of the second quarter. This one traveled about 40 yards through the air even though the quarterback was hit by defensive tackle Leon Lett as he released the ball.
Just like that, Scott had a 55 yard touchdown and the Bengals were up 14-0. Sure, they would lose the game, but there was finally reason to believe. Click here to watch the highlights of that game.
It was after that game that Blakemania was born. The young signal caller would throw another 64 touchdowns, many of them very long ones, over the next two and a half seasons and make the Pro Bowl his first year as a starter. You can watch the highlights of his two full seasons as a starter below:
A high-flying passing game headed by Blake and facilitated by Scott and receiver Carl Pickens was the highlight of the Dark Ages of Bengals history, the period after Sam Wyche was fired and before Marvin Lewis was hired.
It is for that reason that it can be said that Hamilton County voters would not have agreed to fund Paul Brown Stadium in March of 1996 were it not for the play of Blake. “You could make the argument that Paul Brown [Stadium] is the house that Jeff Blake built,” said Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson. “Because when he came in the lineup ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, people were pumped up. He gave them hope, and he got them back in the win column.”
While a 7-9 or 8-8 season, the results for Blake’s two seasons as a full-time starter, may not seem very impressive now, they were a massive improvement from the 3-13 seasons that preceded.
You can watch our entire interview with Hobson below:
You can also listen on iTunes or using the player below:
You can also check out an interview we did with Blake in 2015 in which he discussed the Shake ‘n’ Blake craze in Cincinnati: