OK. Let me start by saying this. It hurts.
It’s been nearly 54 years (the Cincinnati Bengals played their first NFL game on September 6, 1968, a 29-13 loss to the San Diego Chargers), and, trust me, the losing does not get any easier.
But don’t get me wrong. There have been good times. The Bengals have made three appearances in the Super Bowl, and only 15 other teams have more. Four teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, have never been there.
And you would probably be surprised at the number of NFL Hall of Famers who never got to the Big Game.
No. 1 on that list is Lions’ legend Barry Sanders, one of the greatest running backs the league has ever known. In his 10 seasons, Sanders rushed for more than 15,000 yards, averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored 109 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Pro six times and made 10 Pro Bowl appearances.
And then there was Dick Butkus, the legendary Chicago Bears’ linebacker who was one of the greatest to ever play the position. He made eight Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams, but never got to the promised land.
The list is not only long and impressive, it’s almost hard to believe that some of these names do not have a Super Bowl appearance on their resumes.
Deacon Jones, who might be the greatest pass rusher of all times, spent 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams before finishing up with the Chargers and Redskins.
Merlin Olson, another member of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome; O.J. Simpson, the first running back to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season; and Gale Sayers, the “Kansas Comet,” who set the record for the most touchdowns in a season by a rookie with 22, had the highest kickoff return average of all time (30.56) and scored six touchdowns in a single game.
Houston Oilers great Earl Campbell, who was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1979 and was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year three years straight, from 1978 through 1980; and safety Ken Houston, who made 12 Pro Bowls (including seven in a row from 1973 to 1980) during his 14-year career with the Oilers and Redskins and finished with 49 interceptions.
Eric Dickerson, who ran for 1,808 yards as a rookie with the Rams and followed that up with 2,105 yards in 1984, made it to the playoffs five times, but never got to the Super Bowl; Larry Wilson, a safety with the Cardinals who made it to eight Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro eight times and finished with 52 interceptions; and Warren Moon of the Oilers, who finished with more than 70,000 yards passing as a professional (including time in the Canadian Football League).
Lee Roy Selmon, the top pick of the 1976 draft by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and probably their greatest defensive player ever; Dan Fouts, the leader of the “Air Coryell” offense, threw for over 43,000 yards and 254 touchdowns; Derrick Thomas, the nine-time defensive Pro-Bowler for the Kansas City Chiefs who finished with 642 tackles and 126.5 sacks; and Seattle’s Steve Largent, who caught more than 100 touchdown passes and racked up more than 13,000 yards.
And then there were those who never even made it to the playoffs.
The first name that leaps to mind is former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, a sure-fire Hall of Famer who is believed to be the first player in NFL history to play more than 10,000 consecutive snaps. And he was also the first Browns player to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first 10 season.
Butkus, Sayers, Wilson and Floyd Little, who spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos, all ended their careers without ever having played in a postseason game. The Broncos played in Super Bowl XII two years after Little retired.
What it comes down to is this. You made it to the Super Bowl, Bengals, a feat that some of the greatest players in the history of the sport never accomplished. You didn’t win, and it hurts. But you have lots to be proud of. And more motivation than ever to get back there again.
So keep your heads up, work hard and continue to play as a team. And we’ll see you next year in Glendale, Arizona. In the immortal words of Snoop Dogg, “Sometimes a loss is the best thing that can happen. It teaches you what you should have done next time.”