“No brag, just fact.”
That’s a line from “The Guns of Will Sonnet,” a 1967 television western.
And 1967 also happens to be the year that the Cincinnati Bengals were established.
Nearly 55 years later, Cincinnati finally won its first road playoff game in the history of the franchise.
Oh, what a relief it is.
No brag, just fact.
And boy does it feel good.
I remember when the Bengals came into existence. I had been a fan of the Cleveland Browns, and knew every player on offense and defense at the time. But when Paul Brown willed the Cincinnati Bengals into being, I dropped the Browns like a hot potato and have been an avid Bengals fan ever since.
Cincinnati’s first season was 1968, and those first couple of years were rough. The Bengals finished the inaugural season with a record of 3-11, and were led by 1,000-yard rusher Paul Robinson.
The Bengals went 4-9-1 the next year with a young and promising Greg Cook at quarterback. Cook got Cincinnati off to a 3-0 start before injuring his shoulder, and 1969 would be his first and least season in the league. The NFL Network NFL Top Ten series named Cook the #1 One Shot Wonder in NFL history.
Cincinnati made the playoffs in only its third season and put together winning records in five of its next seven seasons, including playoff appearances in 1973 and 1975. The Bengals advanced to the Super Bowl after the 1981 and 1988 seasons, losing both times. Things were looking promising for Paul Browns’ team. Then came the decade of the 90s.
It started off promisingly enough with a wildcard win over the Houston Oilers after the 1990 season before the Bengals lost in the division championship round to the Los Angeles Raiders and Bo Jackson.
That loss began a stretch of 14 straight seasons where Cincinnati failed to put together a winning record. The 90s were especially bad as the Bengals compiled an overall mark of 43-101, and the team came to be known as “The Bungles.”
The 21st century did not start off much better. It wasn’t until 2005 that the team made its way back to the playoffs, before a promising season was derailed when quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a serious knee injury on the first pass play of the wildcard game against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he was hit by Kimo von Oelhoffen, a former teammate.
Just before the hit, Palmer had lofted a beautiful deep pass down the sideline to rookie wide receiver Chris Henry that was good for 66 yards and became the longest completion in Bengals’ playoff history.
Beginning in 2009, Cincinnati went on a run of six straight playoff appearances, with every one of those ending in defeat. None was more disappointing than the 2015 debacle against the Steelers when the Bengals snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.
Then came last week, when Cincinnati broke a 31-year drought without a playoff win when it defeated the Raiders, and the city breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Sunday, the Bengals notched their first road playoff win in 53 years.
The initial reaction was probably a mixture of disbelief and euphoria. I’m sure there was a lot of pinching going on. Is this real, or am I dreaming? If I’m dreaming, please don’t let me wake up. If it’s real, OMG!
“That was like one of the first things I said in the locker room,” Cincinnati linebacker Logan Wilson said after the game. “I was like, ‘Dude, we are one game away. One game.’”
One game away from a return trip to the Super Bowl. Two games away from tasting the thrill of ultimate victory that flitted just beyond our reach in 1981 and 1988. Or on the precipice of the agony of defeat Bengals’ fans suffered in both of those seasons, and have been suffering every season since then.
I am so happy that we are here. But, much like the team itself, I want more. I not only want a return trip to the Super Bowl, I want to see the Lombardi Trophy proudly displayed in the hallowed halls of Paul Brown Stadium.
I agree with Bengals’ tight end C.J. Uzomah. I’m more than a little, “tired of that ‘Why not us’ s**t. It is us. We’re winning the whole thing.”
At least I hope so.