There’s an old Klingon proverb that states, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” When it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals, they’d prefer to serve that plate piled high with Skyline chili. What are they avenging, exactly? Well, the franchise was born in the ‘60s, after owner Paul Brown was forced out of his post with the cross-state Cleveland Browns. Since then, the club has remained dead-set on bringing as many world championships home to the Queen City as they can, just to prove all the doubters wrong.
As an expansion franchise in the AFL, Cincinnati arrived quietly and won just three games in their inaugural season of ‘68. They’d scratch and claw their way to four victories the following year, and were then absorbed into the National Football League. In ‘70, the Bengals posted their first winning campaign en route to seizing the AFC Central division and booking a trip to the playoffs. At the NFL Draft that spring, the organization nabbed quarterback Ken Anderson in the third round, and by ‘73, the slick passer had guided the club to a record of 10-4 and a postseason appearance.
While Anderson would orchestrate another trip to the playoffs in ‘75, he would have his finest year in a Bengals uniform during the ‘81 season. The four-time Pro Bowler threw for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns, and was named MVP by both the Associated Press and the Professional Football Writers Association. Most importantly, he powered the franchise to its first Super Bowl. According to folklore, the ‘81 campaign is also when the notorious “Who Dey?” rallying cry was born, no matter what New Orleans Saints fans may argue.
In ‘88, the Bengals returned to the world’s biggest stage. This time around, they were led by quarterback Boomer Esiason and running back Elbert “Ickey” Woods, whose patented “Ickey Shuffle” was one of the most popular touchdown celebrations in the entire league. However, a world championship wasn’t in the cards for Cincinnati, and the San Francisco 49ers downed the Bengals 20-16 to claim the Lombardi Trophy.
Honestly, there was very little that could be done to duplicate the excitement of ‘88, but excuses and theories were of little consolation to fans as Cincinnati failed to make the playoffs between 1991 and 2004. The franchise got to celebrate a little in ‘98, when rock-solid offensive tackle Anthony Munoz was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and a perennial Pro Bowler, Munoz had played on both Bengals’ Super Bowl squads, so even if it was just for one day, supporters were able to revel in just how awesome the ‘80s were.
“Who Dey” Nation came alive in ‘09 when the team captured a wild card berth, and roared with delight as subsequent playoff trips were booked in ‘11, ‘12, ‘13 and ‘14. Paul Brown Stadium, the club’s home since 2000, had become a hub for thrilling gridiron contests once again. The fans proudly showed their stripes, but they did have one request: please find a new song to introduce our beloved Bengals.