The Cincinnati Bengals began play in the American Football League in 1968, and became part of the NFL two years later when the merger between the two leagues was completed. My father had been a Cleveland Browns fan in the 1950s and 60s but switched allegiances when their former coach Paul Brown became owner/coach of the new team closer to home. That quickly rubbed off on his children.
The Bengals had some success early on, scoring three playoff appearances in their first eight years, but it wasn’t until 1981-82, my senior year in high school, that they were able to win some postseason games and advance to Super Bowl XVI. They were legitimately the best team in the AFC, benefiting from a career season by QB Ken Anderson, who was the league’s MVP. Alas, they lost 26-21 to the equally upstart San Francisco 49ers in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
(Seven years later, the Bengals were in Super Bowl XXIII. They were legitimately the best team in the AFC, benefiting from a career season by QB Boomer Esiason, who was the league’s MVP. Alas, they lost 20-16 in heartbreaking fashion to the now dominant San Francisco 49ers. I wrote about that season three years ago.)
Soon after the 1980s ended, the Bengals became a really bad team for a really long time, almost fifteen years. Since 2005, they’ve been occasionally decent, occasionally awful, but until this year hadn’t won a playoff game since January 1991. They were probably the third or fourth best team in the AFC this past season, but lucked out in that there wasn’t a truly dominant team and have–finally–for the third time made it to the Super Bowl (maybe their real luck was not having to face Buffalo in the playoffs). QB Joe Burrow wasn’t the MVP, but seems to be on the cusp of a fabulous career.
The one time February 13, my birthday, was a chart date during the years I paid close attention to AT40 was that senior year in high school. While it was the last birthday celebration before I began my journey toward independence, nothing has stuck in my head from the day. FBLA Regionals and track season were in the offing, my college decision had already been made–I suppose I was taking life in stride (but perhaps also for granted).
The #30 song on that day was from a Canadian enjoying his one moment of glory on the U.S. pop charts as a performer. Eddie Schwartz would soon reach #28 with “All Our Tomorrows,” but he was already collecting royalties from penning “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” Eventually he’d also contribute to Paul Carrack’s hit “Don’t Shed a Tear” and “The Doctor” for the Doobies.
Maybe on this date forty years ago, I was among the Bengals faithful still licking their wounds from the Super Bowl loss almost three weeks earlier. Thanks to now starting the season a week later than before, adding a week between the conference championships and the Big Game, and tacking on a seventeenth regular season game, the Super Bowl will now happen on my birthday every so often. It’s a trip and a treat to have the Bengals playing tonight.
In several hours, we long-suffering Bengals fans will know if we get to spend all our tomorrows remembering this as the day they won it all.