The date was Oct. 20, 1968. I was a 9-year-old in my Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church in Paris when I was told to meet my father outside. Turns out he had a surprise.
A friend had two extra tickets to see the Cincinnati Bengals, the AFL expansion team in its first year of existence, play that afternoon in the Queen City.
The next thing I knew we had driven up I-75, parked in downtown Cincinnati, rode a city bus out to Nippert Stadium and watched Paul Brown’s Bengals lose to the Miami Dolphins 24-22. It was my first professional football game.
Now it’s 2017, and come Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens visit Paul Brown Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, it will mark the start of the Bengals’ 50th anniversary season.
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With that in mind, 10 milestone moments in Bengals history:
1. Naming Paul Brown as head coach
The iconic Brown, winner of seven championships as coach of the Cleveland Browns, had been out of pro football since being fired by Art Modell on Jan. 7, 1963. When the AFL granted Cincinnati an expansion franchise, Brown became coach and general manager. His presence gave the franchise instant credibility.
2. Bengals 14, Browns 10
In the first season of the NFL merger in 1970, the Bengals lost 30-27 to the host Browns in the first Battle of Ohio. A month later, on Nov. 15, 1970, Brown got his revenge, beating Cleveland 14-10 at Riverfront. (I was there for that one, too, two rows from the top.) It was the second of seven straight wins that sent Cincinnati to a division title and the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs.
3. The passing over of Bill Walsh
Walsh had designed the Bengals’ prolific offenses in the 1970s and expected to be named head coach when Brown retired in 1975. Instead, Brown chose Bill “Tiger” Johnson. Three years later, Walsh became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, where he won three Super Bowls. The first was over a familiar foe.
4. The Bengals draft Anthony Munoz
With the No. 3 overall pick in the 1980 NFL Draft, the Bengals made arguably the best choice in franchise history, drafting Anthony Munoz, an offensive tackle out of Southern Cal. Munoz was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection who was first-team All-Pro nine times.
5. The Bengals win the Freezer Bowl
On Jan. 10 , 1982, the Bengals played host to Dan Fouts and the visiting San Diego Chargers in the AFC title game. Covered in snow and ice, Riverfront Stadium recorded a game-time temperature of -9 degrees with a wind chill of -37. Cincinnati won 27-7 for their first Super Bowl berth — where they lost 26-21 to Walsh and the 49ers.
6. Oh so close in Super Bowl XXIII
Head coach Sam Wyche and quarterback Boomer Esiason led the 1988 Bengals to the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance. Waiting again was Walsh. The Bengals took a 13-6 lead into the fourth quarter only to watch Joe Montana find John Taylor for a 10-yard touchdown with just 34 seconds left for a 20-16 San Francisco victory.
7. The death of Paul Brown
After retiring from coaching, Brown remained team president until his death on Aug. 5, 1991, at the age 82. He was succeeded by his son Mike. When the Bengals moved from Riverfront Stadium to a new football-only facility in 2000, it was named Paul Brown Stadium.
8. A decade of Bungles football
Wyche’s firing in 1991 began a string of bad coaching hires and teams. David Shula, son of Don, went just 19-52. Former offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet ended up 21-39. Former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was 12-33 before being let go in 2002. Then Mike Brown finally got it right.
9. The hiring of Marvin Lewis
Hired in 2003, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator brought stability and regular-season success. Entering his 15th season — only New England’s Bill Belichick has been with his team longer — Lewis has taken the Bengals to the playoffs seven times. Unfortunately, he has yet to win a playoff game.
10. The toughest playoff loss of all
In the 2015 season, the Bengals played host to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild-card game with hopes this would be the year they captured that elusive playoff win. Trailing for most of the game, Cincinnati rallied for a 16-15 lead, only to have Jeremy Hill lose a late fumble. Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to drop Lewis’ playoff record to 0-7.
Cincinnati Bengals 2017 schedule