This blog is supposed to be dedicated to all things Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals. I featured a post a few weeks ago highlighting some of my favorite Reds players in my lifetime. Admittedly, this is a bit tougher to do when it comes to the Bengals.
I was born in 1989, which means my childhood included some of the worst teams in NFL history in Cincinnati. I remember certain players and particular moments (Corey Dillon setting the rushing record), but I also remember games being blacked out, fans wearing paper bags over their heads, and Gus Frerotte attempting a left handed pass in an actual game.
Things were bad for the boys in stripes throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. The Bengals were the laughingstock of the NFL, and rightfully so. Seasons started bleak and ended empty. This is probably why I experimented with being a Buffalo Bills fan during my early childhood. I have no good explanation for my temporary change of allegiance, other than I was a little kid and wanted to root for a good team.
Despite my brief love affair with the Bills, the Bengals pulled me back in. Call it hometown pride or some stern advice from two older brothers, but I finally realized the importance of sticking by your team.
Similar to my Reds memories, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite Bengals players and moments. These are the guys who made a little kid proud to be Bengals fan and who are helping put the roar back in the jungle:
Carl Pickens is the first Bengals jersey I owned. He was a bright spot for some very bad teams and made Jeff Blake look like a franchise QB at times. In addition, he had one of the best seasons for a Bengals WR in 1995. Pickens is the first player I ever remember rooting for and he holds a special place for that reason.
There was a stretch of about 2-3 years where Corey Dillon was the only reason to attend a Bengals game. He had some monster years and is mostly remembered for setting the NFL single game rushing record while wearing a Bengals uniform. Unfortunately things ended badly in Cincinnati with Dillon throwing his shoulder pads, helmet, and cleats into the stands and demanding a trade. Despite the bad blood, I will always respect Corey Dillon for what he brought to the organization.
Takeo Spikes was the heart and soul of the Cincinnati defense from 1998-2002. He led the team in tackles every year he played for the Bengals and was named Captain after his rookie season. Spikes and Dillon were the two most notable Bengals players in the late 1990’s and helped keep the team relevant during some dark years. Spikes played out his rookie contract and then bolted via free agency, but he remains one of my favorite Bengals nonetheless.
This is a bit of a curveball. Peter Warrick is considered a pretty big bust considering he was picked #4 overall in the 2000 draft. The Bengals ended up releasing him after four fairly unproductive seasons. However, Peter Warrick is responsible for one of the greatest Bengals games I ever attended. The 2003 Kansas City Chiefs came to Paul Brown Stadium with a 9-0 record and the only undefeated team in the NFL. The Bengals sat at 4-5 and were starting to turn things around under Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Peter Warrick returned a punt 68 yards for a TD and caught a 77 yard touchdown pass from Jon Kitna as the Bengals shocked the Chiefs. In my mind, this game signified the rebirth of the Cincinnati Bengals. The upset over the Chiefs was the starting point for a new mentality in the city of Cincinnati.
Crazy Legs Kitna! Jon Kitna was never the most talented guy on the field, but he gave the Bengals everything he had. He started all 16 games for the Bengals in 2003 and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year after throwing for over 3,500 yards and 26 touchdown passes while leading the Bengals to an 8–8 record, the team’s first non-losing season since 1996. The following year Kitna became the mentor to Carson Palmer and graciously accepted his role as the backup QB. In my opinion, Kitna is responsible for helping make Carson Palmer a pro bowl caliber QB.
The Ocho. During his prime, Chad Johnson was one of the best players in the NFL. He helped lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2005 and was a cornerstone for one of the best offenses in the league. Many fans didn’t like his showboat attitude and off field characteristics, but there is no arguing he helped make the Bengals relevant. For the first time in my life, ESPN and other top journalism companies were covering the Bengals and Chad Johnson. The Chad Johnson era was an exciting time to be a Bengals fan and there is no doubt it helped the Bengals organization.
Carson Palmer was my favorite athlete on the planet from 2005-2009. He led the Bengals to their first playoff appearance in fifteen years and was undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Carson gave the Bengals a legitimate chance to compete for a Super Bowl and he was the first thing remotely close to a franchise quarterback in my lifetime. Unfortunately, a knee injury forced him out of the 2005 playoffs and he was never quite the same quarterback we saw that season. Things ended badly with Carson demanding a trade from Cincinnati and threatening to retire if he wasn’t traded. Despite the trade demands, Carson remains one of my favorite Bengals of all time. He was the main component of a team that ended a fifteen year playoff drought and made fans proud to be from Cincinnati once again.
The 2005 Cincinnati Bengals are my favorite Bengals team ever. They scored whenever they wanted and they had playmakers all over the field on the defensive side of the ball. Defensively, Odell Thurman is the first player I think about from that 2005 team. He was all over the field and seemed to make huge plays every single game. He led the team with 106 tackles and also had five interceptions on the season. Things ended horribly as Odell failed multiple drug tests and received a DUI before eventually being kicked off the team. Despite playing one season in Cincinnati, Odell Thurman remains one of my favorite Bengals.
Adriel Jeremiah. A.J Green makes it fun to be a Bengals fan. Todays NFL is a passing league and big plays happen through the air. A.J. Green is arguably the best receiver in the league and he’s only going to get better. I’ve written it before, this team will go as far as Andy Dalton and A.J. Green take them. He is a superstar in every sense of the word and he is exactly what this franchise needs to stay competitive over the next decade. At 24 years old, Bengals fans should feel very good about the future of A.J. Green.
There are plenty of Bengals players I didn’t mention, but for whatever reason these are the players who come to mind when I think about the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s funny to step back and look at both the Reds and Bengals and how far they’ve come over the past ten years. Both franchises have made great strides through player development and scouting to ensure a core nucleus of young talent. Both have recently had regular season success, but have been unable to perform come playoff time. Both have head coaches who seem to drive their fans crazy.
Despite these similarities, it seems Bengals fans are still hesitant to fully commit to this organization. We’ve been hurt too many times and we’re still not sure this is the real thing. Despite these doubts, the Bengals have their most talented roster in nearly twenty years and they have the opportunity to win back the city of Cincinnati. Just like the Reds, their window to compete for a championship is over the next 3-4 years. Finally, it’s time to go get it.