Sunday, January 10, 2016

How Long It's Been: The Cincinnati Bengals Won a Playoff Game

The Cincinnati Bengals have made the NFL Playoffs in each of the last 5 seasons, and in 7 of the last 11. That's actually a pretty good record.

But they are 0-7 in Playoff games in that time. That's bad.

Last night's, coming back from 15-0 down to the Pittsburgh Steelers, only to lose their cool and then the game 18-16 in the last minute, was the worst of the bunch. I saw one guy online say that it was the 2nd-worst loss in the history of Cincinnati sports, behind only the Bengals' loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII. (They also lost to the Niners in Super Bowl XVI, but that wasn't nearly as bad.)

When you consider that professional sports in Cincinnati goes back to the 1869 Red Stockings, the baseball team that was North America's 1st openly professional sports team, that's pretty bad. The current Cincinnati Reds franchise has been around since 1882, and while they have won 5 World Series, they've also lost 4. They haven't won a World Championship since October 20, 1990.

The Cincinnati Royals left town in 1972, and the city hasn't had an NBA team since. They've never had an NHL team. And the Bengals?

The Bengals have never won a World Championship. Their last Playoff win was right after the Reds' last title. It was on January 6, 1991, in the Wild Card round, at Riverfront Stadium. They beat the Houston Oilers, 41-14. They then went on to lose in the Divisional round, to the Los Angeles Raiders, 20-10. The Super Bowl was won by the Giants over the Buffalo Bills.

Indeed, in only 3 of their 49 seasons have the Bengals won postseason games: In 1990-91, and in their AFC Championship seasons of 1981-82 and 1988-89.

January 6, 1991. That's 25 years and 4 days. A quarter of a century. How long has that been?

*

The Bengals' founding owner and 1st head coach, Paul Brown, was still alive. (He would die 7 months later.) Their head coach was Sam Wyche, who just turned 71, and is now the offensive coordinator at a high school in South Carolina. Their starting quarterback was Norman Julius "Boomer" Esiason. Their top receiver was Cris Collinsworth. Both are now better known as broadcasters than they ever were as players. This is mainly because, while good, they were not good enough to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Anthony Munoz was. Name another team whose greatest player ever was an offensive tackle.

Both the team they beat and the team that subsequently eliminated them have since moved: The Oilers moved to Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans, and the Raiders moved back to Oakland.

The Bengals have moved into Paul Brown Stadium, the Reds have moved into Great American Ballpark, and Riverfront Stadium has been demolished. Indeed, of the 28 stadiums that hosted NFL games that season, only 6 are still in use: Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Qualcomm (then Jack Murphy) Stadium in San Diego, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Ralph Wilson Stadium outside Buffalo, the Superdome in New Orleans, and Sun Life (then Joe Robbie) Stadium in Miami.

(If the Chargers move to Los Angeles for next season, it will be to the Los Angeles Coliseum, which the Raiders were then using, so this number will not change. If the Rams move back there, then the number will increase from 6 to 7. The Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks are both playing on the same site that they used in the 1990-91 season, but in new stadiums. This will also be true for the Minnesota Vikings next season.)

There was an NFL team in Houston, but it wasn't the Texans. There was no team in Oakland, or St. Louis, or Carolina, or Jacksonville, or Baltimore.

The Buffalo Bills, the San Diego Chargers, the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seattle Seahawks, the Arizona Cardinals, the New Orleans Saints, and the Colts since moving to Indianapolis had not yet reached their 1st Super Bowl. The Bucs, the Hawks, the Saints, the Indianapolis version of the Colts, the Denver Broncos, the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots had not yet won their 1st Super Bowl. All of these facts have now been rendered untrue.

Ray Lewis was in high school. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were in junior high school. Tony Romo was 11 years old, Eli Manning had just turned 10, Troy Polamalu was 9, Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick were 8, Aaron Rodgers was 7, Clay Matthews was 4 (and his father Clay and his uncle Bruce were both active NFL stars), Sam Bradford and current Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton were 3, Russell Wilson was 2, Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski were 20 months old, Andrew Luck was 16 months, and Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota weren't born yet.

Current Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was the linebackers coach for, of all teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ended his 2005 and 2015 Bengals seasons ignominiously. Among current head coaches in the New York Tri-State Area, Tom Coughlin of the Giants was coaching the Giants' receivers, Terry Collins of the Mets was managing in the Los Angeles Dodgers' minor-league system, Lionel Hollins of the Nets was an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, Alain Vigneault of the Rangers was coaching the "major junior" Hull Olympiques, Todd Bowles of the Jets was a cornerback for the Washington Redskins, Joe Girardi of the Yankees had just completed his 2nd season as a major league player with the Chicago Cubs, Jack Capuano of the Islanders was playing for the minor-league Milwaukee Admirals, and Derek Fisher of the Knicks and John Hynes of the Devils were both in high school.

(Actually, Coughlin has resigned, and Hollins was fired today, so both the Giants and the Nets currently have vacancies.)

The defending World Champions were the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, the Reds in MLB, the Detroit Pistons in the NBA, and the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. Between them, these teams have won exactly 1 World Championship since (the 2004 Pistons). Indeed, they are 1-3 in finals between them in the last 25 years. West Germany had just won the World Cup, and had also just reunited with East Germany. A.C. Milan had just won their 2nd straight European Cup, the tournament now known as the UEFA Champions League. No team has won back-to-back titles in that tournament since. The Heavyweight Champion of the World, for the 1st time, was Evander Holyfield, whose son is now playing football for the University of Georgia.

Speaking of college football, Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Allen, Herschel Walker, Mike Rozier, Doug Flutie, Vinny Testaverde, Tim Brown, Barry Sanders and Andre Ware were then active in the NFL. Technically, so was Bo Jackson, but an injury meant that his football career was over. He did, however play again in MLB.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain and Russia. The World Cup has since been held in America, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The Mayor of Cincinnati at the time was David S. Mann, who has since left office and returned to the City Council. Current Mayor John Cranley was in high school. The Governor of Ohio at the time was Dick Celeste, who later served as U.S. Ambassador to India and a college president. He was about to hand the office over to Governor-elect George Voinovich, who has since served in the U.S. Senate. Celeste and Voinovich are now both retired from public life. Current Governor (and Presidential candidate) John Kasich had just been sworn in for a 5th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. (UPDATE: Voinovich died 5 months after I posted this.)

The President of the United States was George Bush -- the father, who was about to turn Operation Desert Shield into Operation Desert Storm and push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. The son had just bought the Texas Rangers. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were still alive. Bill Clinton had just been sworn in for a 5th term as Governor of Arkansas, and was preparing a run for President. Hillary Clinton, of course, was the State's First Lady. Barack Obama had just begun work at a Chicago law firm. Donald Trump was in the process of divorcing Ivana and marrying his mistress, Marla Maples. Neither of these women, of course, is the current Mrs. Trump.

The Governor of the State of New York was Mario Cuomo. The Mayor of the City of New York was David Dinkins. The Governor's son and the current Governor, Andrew Cuomo, was serving under Dinkins as Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission. Current Mayor Bill de Blasio was an aide to Dinkins. The Governor of New Jersey was Jim Florio. Current Governor Chris Christie was practicing law for a firm based in Cranford, New Jersey.

The Pope was John Paul II. The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney, and of Britain, the newly-installed John Major. The British monarch was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. Liverpool were the holders of the Football League title, their 18th championship, then a record. They have never won England's top flight again, under any name. Manchester United were the holders of the FA Cup, the 1st major trophy they had won under manager Alex Ferguson. There would be more.

Douglas Coupland coined the expression that defined people born between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, myself included, in the title of his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Alexandra Ripley published Scarlett, the authorized sequel to Gone With the Wind. Tom Clancy published the Jack Ryan novel The Sum of All Fears, John Grisham The Firm, and Bret Easton Ellis American Psycho, later turned into a film in which Christian Bale became the kind of man his later character, Batman, would have pursued and caught. None of the Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire novels had yet been published.

Major films then in theaters included Edward Scissorhands, Awakenings, Kindergarten Cop and The Godfather Part III. Major TV shows that had premiered the preceding fall included the CBS version of The Flash with John Wesley Shipp, Evening Shade, Dream On, Beverly Hills 90210 (iconically), and Cop Rock (ignominiously). Blossom had debuted the day before. Madonna's horrible "Justify My Love" was the Number 1 song in America.

Kourtney Kardashian was 11 years old, Kim was 10, Beyonce was 9, Khloe Kardashian was 6, Lady Gaga was 4, Rob Kardashian and Kevin Jonas were 3, Rihanna was about to turn 3, Joe Jonas was 17 months; and Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and all of the members of One Direction weren't born yet.

There were mobile telephones, but hardly anybody had them. The Internet did exist, but hardly anybody had heard of it. The Hubble Space Telescope had just been launched, but it wasn't working, and another space shuttle mission would be needed to fix it. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In January 1991, in events unrelated to the Persian Gulf War, a coup failed in Haiti. El Salvadoran rebels shot down a U.S. Army helicopter, killing 1 crewmember, and executed the surviving 2. Elections were held in Guatemala and Cape Verde. A civil war ended in Papua New Guinea, and another began in Somalia. King Olav V of Norway died, handing the crown to his son, King Harald V. California passed America's 1st anti-stalking law. Aileen Wuornos confessed to 6 murders; Charlize Theron would later win an Oscar for playing her in the film Monster. And Eastern Airlines went out of business -- no great loss.

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Luke Appling, and pro football pioneer Red Grange, and actor and early Miami Dolphins part-owner Danny Thomas died. Emma Roberts, and Kyle Clifford, and Eden Hazard were born.

January 6, 1991. The Cincinnati Bengals won an NFL Playoff game. At the time, it wasn't considered especially noteworthy.

It has not happened since. It came so close to happening last night. That it did not will haunt the team and its fans. For how long? Probably until they finally win a Super Bowl. That won't happen this season.

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