The Cincinnati Bengals have had a colourful history. Being one of the older franchises in the National Football League, their career started well, with many excellent players and coaches. After a drop in the 1990s though, they have struggled to regain this form.
In recent years the team has seen a slight improvement, which has been greatly aided by Marvin Lewis as coach, but they still have a long way to go to reach the heights of their glory years.
The Formative Years
The Cincinnati Bengals were formed in 1967 after the governor of Ohio managed to convince Paul Brown, the previous founder and head coach of the Cleveland Browns, that the state needed another franchise. Brown was not a fan of the American Football League and only agreed to join them on the assurance that the AFL would merge with the National Football League thus making it an NFL franchise.
The preparatory work was completed when the Cincinnati Council agreed to produce a new state-of-the-art stadium for both the Bengals and the Cincinnati Reds, the city’s baseball team. This new stadium, called the Riverfront Stadium due to its location, had to be built in time to open for the 1970 season. The Bengals enjoyed thirty years with the Riverfront as their home, until 2000 when they moved to the Paul Brown Stadium.
The Time For Play
The Bengals played their first season at the Nippert Stadium, home to the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. They finished this season with a reasonable newcomer record of 3-11, with Paul Robinson standing out as their star player after he was named AFL Rookie of the Year.
For the first three seasons Paul Brown acted as the Bengals’ coach, leading the game to fifteen wins, one tie and twenty seven losses. One of the highlights of his time was their 45-7 win against the Boston Patriots in 1970, which gave them the AFC Central Division title for that season.
As this was the first season after the NFL and AFL had merged to create the AFC Central Division, the Bengals took the first ever championship title awarded. However, in the playoffs they lost out to the Baltimore Colts, who beat them 17-0 and went on to become the eventual Super Bowl Champions.
The Bengals had four coaches who led them to many successes throughout this decade. Paul Brown was the first of these, and he later became the General Manager and then took over ownership of the club. It was during his six years of coaching the team that they managed a 40-32 record.
Greg Cook was one of the more memorable names during this period. As his time as a rookie with the team, he set a NFL record for the single-season average gain per completed pass (17 yards). Unfortunately, Cook suffered a shoulder injury which resulted in a dramatic end to his career.
Ken Anderson was another big name, spending a record 16 seasons as a Bengal. He still holds Bengal titles for career touchdown passes and career passing yards, as well as NFL records for consecutive passes completed.
The Start of The Fall?
In 1976, Bill ‘Tiger’ Johnson took over the position as Head Coach. The Bengals still managed to succeed with him at the helm but his skills only stretched so far, with the team winning 18 games but also losing 15.
Johnson only stayed with the team for two years after they had a disastrous starting record of 0-5 in the 1978, bringing his resignation. The change in coaches didn’t make much different to results though, as incumbent Homer Rice only held the position until the end of the 1979 season, after the team posted an 8-19 losing record.
Never Quite Succeeding
After a dismal end to the 1970s, the next decade started well for the team, as they won the AFC Central Division in 1981 courtesy of a 12-4 record. Things continued well into the next season, and Cincinnati hosted its first NFL playoff game, fighting off the Buffalo Bills in their first post-season win, 28-21.
The franchise made it to the Super Bowl later that season, facing the San Francisco 49ers. This match went down in history as being the first Super Bowl for thirteen years to feature two teams who had never played in a Super Bowl before.
Unfortunately the Bengals lost out to the 49ers 26-21, but they did manage to set three new records for the Super Bowl; the most completions by Ken Anderson (25), most receptions by one player by Dan Ross (11) and highest completion percentage (73.5).
The following season, the Bengals once again took the AFC Central Division title, with Anderson setting a new NFL record when he completed 20 consecutive passes in one game. Their first opposition in the playoffs was the New York Jets, who stormed the game to take it from the Bengals, 44-17.
The Rise Before the Fall
The Bengals maintained their form for the next couple of years without any major achievements until 1988, when they took their fifth AFC Central Division title. This time they succeeded in the playoffs, taking victory against the Seattle Seahawks, 21-13, and the Buffalo Bills, 21-10, giving them the Championship title.
Their opponents in the Super Bowl that season were once again the 49ers. Sam Wyche, who was head coach at the time, was forced to make some last minute alterations to the line-up, after Stanley Wilson suffered a cocaine relapse and was not able to play.
Further problems arose when Tim Krumrie broke his leg in three places early in the game. Despite this, the game was a close one, but the 49ers again came out on top in agonising circumstances for Bengals fans by scoring a touchdown in the last 35 seconds.
The Lost Decade
The beginning of the following decade was marked by a game that would set the tone for what was termed ‘the lost decade’. The Bengals were thrashed in a game against the Denver Broncos, 45-14, which marked the beginning of an eleven season losing record.
Wyche left the team after the first of these seasons and his position was taken on by David Shula. The following year, in 1992, he was promoted to head coach, making him the youngest NFL member to have held this role.
Shula did not turn out to be a great asset to the team and, when he left in 1995, his losing record stood at 52-19. One of the few bright sparks during this wretched period was Anthony Munoz, who played left tackle for the team. Most fans agree that he is the greatest of all Bengal players, with him playing in eleven Pro Bowls and two Super Bowls.
Their performance continued in this dismal manner into the new millennium, which was marked by the biggest loss in NFL history when they played against the Baltimore Ravens and suffered a 37-0 hammering. However, improvements finally came with the hiring of Martin Lewis as head coach.
The Paul Brown Stadium was also ready for use in 2000 and the Bengals now used this as their home turf. Carson Palmer was one of the star players of this era, taking over the position of starting quarterback from Jon Kitna.
The Lewis Years
Lewis managed to bring the team back up to a reasonable position, picking up an 8-8 record for his first two years as coach. The era was also marked by the quality of football, epitomised in 2004 when the Bengals and the Cleveland Browns produced the second-highest scoring game, with the Bengals taking it 58-48.
The following season, the Bengals had their first winning season for over thirteen years, which was made even more special due to a win against their rivals the Steelers, 38-31. The 2006 season then saw the first playoff game to be held at the new stadium, which again was played against the Steelers. Unfortunately, this time the Steelers managed to get their own back and stormed the match, 31-17.
The Yo-Yoing Season
The following season started well for the Bengals and they had a four game winning streak. However, as the title suggests, this did not last, as they began a winless streak which lasted until Week 11.
Further fluctuations in their form meant their loss against the Steelers in week 17 put an end to the playoffs dream that season. Nevertheless, with recent improvements, the Bengals are hoping for a better result in the following campaign.
- AFC Conference Championships – Winners (1981, 1988)
- Division Championships – AFC Central Winners (1970, 1973, 1981, 1988, 1990) AFC North Winners (2005)