CINCINNATI — The most astounding thing about the most astounding play on the first week of the NFL season was that the Bengals thought it couldn't be done.
"When do you ever see a situation like that happen?" asked the incredulous rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga.
"I've never seen anything like that, and I've been playing football since I was seven years old," said the quarterback, Carson Palmer. "I've seen Hail Mary catches on television, but that was a little bit different than a Hail Mary."
Come on, where have these guys been? Don't they follow Kentucky football? Commonwealth Stadium is just 80 miles down the road, after all. It's been seven years since the infamous Bluegrass Miracle, not 70.
Everything has been done before.
In fact, the only particulars missing from Sunday's Bengals-Broncos jaw drop of an ending at Paul Brown Stadium was Marvin Lewis (Guy Morriss) being doused with Gatorade, Bengals fans (UK students) mistakenly attempting to wrestle down the goal posts, and a guy dressed in a cow suit (no other comparison applies) standing at midfield in disbelief.
Other than that, the pass from Denver quarterback Kyle Orton, that was tipped by Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall, and that landed in the arms of Broncos' receiver Brandon Stokley, who happened to be behind the Cincinnati secondary and who proceeded down the left sideline to finish an 87-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining and an improbable 12-7 victory, mirrored the infamous Bluegrass Miracle.
Even if the Bengals do not, you remember the Bluegrass Miracle, correct?
That was Nov. 9, 2002, when LSU quarterback Marcus Randall, his team down 30-27, heaved a Hail Mary pass — with Kentucky fans poised to storm the field in celebration — that was tipped by Kentucky defenders and landed in the arms of Tigers receiver Devery Henderson, who avoided a shoestring tackle and covered the final 15 yards for an unbelievable 74-yard touchdown as the clock ran out for a 33-30 LSU win.
Oh yes, that was the other thing that 2002 shared with 2009: Disbelief.
"It was just one of those crazy plays," said Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe. "Who could have expected that to happen?"
"It takes your breath away," said Bengals tackle Domata Peko.
Thing was, just before the Bronco Miracle, this Bengals-Broncos grinder had resembled another game altogether, one just up the road, the night before in Columbus.
Saturday, behind freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, a stagnant Southern Cal offense awoke to drive 86 yards in 14 plays to score with 1:05 left, giving the Trojans an 18-15 victory.
Sunday, behind former Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer, a stagnant Bengals offense awoke to drive 91 yards in 11 plays and score with 38 seconds left for a 7-6 lead.
"It was just like the SC game," said Maualuga, another Southern Cal grad.
Instead, the conclusion turned out to be more like the Kentucky game.
Only here's something else often forgotten about 2002: UK rebounded the next week to beat Vanderbilt 41-21 for its seventh win.
"It's week one, week one," argued Chad Ochocinco. "We got a few more games to go."
None of those games are likely to end like this first one of 2009.
"Obviously," said Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis, "that's not the finish to a football game you want to have."
But Sunday is further proof that it can be done.
Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.