History of the Cincinnati Bengals
In 1967, an ownership group led by Paul Brown was granted a franchise in the . Brown named the team the Bengals in order "to give it a link with past professional football in Cincinnati". Another Cincinnati Bengals team had existed in the city and played in three previous American Football Leagues from to 1942. The city's world-renowned zoo was also home to a rare white Bengal tiger. However, possibly as an insult to Art Modell, or possibly as a homage to his own start as a head coach to the Massillon Tigers, Brown chose the exact shade of orange used by his former team. He added black as the secondary color. Brown chose a very simple logo: the word "BENGALS" in black lettering. One of the potential helmet designs Brown rejected was a striped motif that was similar to the helmets adopted by the team in 1981 and which is still in use to this day; however, that design featured yellow stripes on a turquoise helmet which were more uniform in width.
In 1966, the American Football League agreed to a merger with its older and more established rival, the . Among the terms of the merger was that the AFL was permitted to add one additional franchise. One of the reasons the NFL agreed to this was that they wanted an even number of clubs in the merged league, so a team needed to be added that brought the combined total number clubs in the merged league to twenty-six teams. The NFL was content for that team to be in the American Football League because it meant that the existing nine AFL clubs were the ones that had to provide players in the ensuing expansion draft and the NFL owners preferred for the ensuing dilution of talent to occur in what they had always considered to be an inferior league. For the AFL, a key motive behind their agreement to accept a new team was that the guarantee of an eventual place in the NFL meant the league could charge a steep expansion fee of $10 million–400 times the $25,000 the original eight owners paid when they founded the league in 1960. The cash from the new team provided the American Football League with the funds needed to pay the indemnities required to be paid by the AFL to the NFL, as stipulated by the merger agreement.
Prior to the merger being announced, Brown had not seriously considered joining the American Football League, and was not a supporter of what he openly regarded to be an inferior competition, once famously stating that "I didn't pay ten million dollars to be in the AFL." However, with the announcement of the merger, Brown realized that the AFL expansion franchise would likely be his only realistic path back into the NFL in the short to medium term. He ultimately acquiesced to joining the AFL when after learning that the team was guaranteed to become an NFL franchise after the merger was completed in 1970.
There was also a complication: Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds were in need of a facility to replace the antiquated, obsolete Crosley Field, which they had used since 1912. Parking nightmares had plagued the city as far back as the 1950s, the little park lacked modern amenities, and New York City, which in 1957 had lost both its National League teams (the Dodgers and the Giants) to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, was actively courting Reds owner Powel Crosley. However, Crosley was adamant that the Reds remain in Cincinnati and tolerated worsening problems with the Crosley Field location, which were exacerbated by the Millcreek Expressway (I-75) project that ran alongside the park.
With assistance from Ohio governor James A. Rhodes, Hamilton County and the Cincinnati city council agreed to build a single multi-purpose facility on the dilapidated riverfront section of the city. The new facility had to be ready by the opening of the 1970 NFL season and was officially named Riverfront Stadium. With the completion of the merger in 1970, the Cleveland Browns were moved to the AFL-based American Football Conference and placed in the AFC Central, the same division as the Bengals. An instant rivalry was born, fueled initially by Paul Brown's rivalry with Art Modell.
For their first two seasons, the Bengals played at Nippert Stadium which is the current home of the University of Cincinnati . The team held training camp at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio, through the 1968 preseason. The team finished its first season with a 3–11 record and running back , who rushed for 1,023 yards, and was named the AFL Rookie of the Year.
Founder Paul Brown coached the team for its first eight seasons. One of Brown's college draft strategies was to draft players with above-average intelligence. Punter/wide receiver Pat McInally attended Harvard University and linebacker Reggie Williams attended Dartmouth College and served on Cincinnati city council while on the Bengals' roster. Because of this policy, many former players were highly articulate and went on to have successful careers in commentary and broadcasting as well as the arts. In addition, Brown had a knack for locating and recognizing pro football talent in unusual places.
In 1970, the Bengals moved to play at Riverfront Stadium, a home they shared with the Cincinnati Reds until the team moved to Paul Brown Stadium in 2000. The team reached the playoffs three times during that decade, but could not win any of those postseason games. In 1975, the team posted an 11–3 record, giving them what is to this day the highest winning percentage (.786) in franchise history. But it only earned them a wild card spot in the playoffs, behind the 12–2 Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. The Bengals lost to the Oakland Raiders 31–28 in the divisional playoffs.
takes a snap before a game against the Baltimore Ravens on January 1, 2012.
The Bengals played against the 49ers in Super Bowl XVI (pictured
) and XXIII, but lost in both games.
The Bengals reached the Super Bowl twice during the 1980s, but lost both times to the San Francisco 49ers. The team appeared in the playoffs in 1990, making it to the second round before losing to the Los Angeles Raiders. Before the following season got underway, Paul Brown died at age 82. He had already transferred control to his son, , but was reported to still influence the daily operations of the team. The Bengals' fortunes changed for the worse as the team posted 14 consecutive non-winning seasons and were saddled with numerous draft busts. They began to emerge from that dismal period into a new era of increased consistency, however, after the hiring of Marvin Lewis as head coach in 2003. Carson Palmer, the future star quarterback, was drafted in 2003, but did not play a snap that whole season, as Jon Kitna had a comeback year (voted NFL Comeback Player of the Year). Despite Kitna's success, Palmer was promoted to starting quarterback the following season. Under Palmer, the team advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1990 in the 2005 season, which also was the first time the team had a winning percentage above .500 since 1990.
The Bengals returned to the playoffs again in 2009 in a season that included the franchise's first ever division sweep. This was especially impressive since two of the teams swept by the Bengals (the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens) had both made it to the AFC Championship Game the previous season. Marvin Lewis was rewarded for the accomplishment with the NFL Coach of the Year Award. In the 2010 season, the Bengals posted a 4–12 record.
Following the disappointing 2010 season, quarterback Carson Palmer demanded to be traded. When the Bengals refused to do so, Palmer announced his retirement from the NFL. He later was moved at the NFL trade deadline to the Oakland Raiders. In the 2011 NFL draft, the Bengals selected wide receiver AJ Green in the first round, and quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round. The Bengals improved to 9–7 in the 2011 season, and clinched a playoff spot. Dalton and Green became the most prolific rookie WR-QB duo in history, connecting 65 times for 1,057 yards. However, they lost to the Houston Texans 31–10 in the Wild Card Round. In the 2012 season, the Bengals clinched a playoff spot once more with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, going to the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1982. However, the Bengals faced the Texans in the first round yet again and took another early exit, losing 19–13.
In the 2013 season, for the third straight year, the Bengals clinched a playoff berth and also won the AFC North, finishing with an 11–5 record. But once again, the Bengals were defeated in the wild card round, this time by the San Diego Chargers, 27–10. Most of the blame was put on Andy Dalton, who threw 2 interceptions and fumbled on a forward dive. This made the Bengals 0–5 in playoff games since Mike Brown took over as owner. The 2014 season started well with the Bengals winning their first three contests against the Baltimore Ravens, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Tennessee Titans. However, they lost their week 5 matchup at the New England Patriots, 43–17. An overtime tie to the Carolina Panthers and shutout loss to the Indianapolis Colts followed the primetime loss to the Patriots. Finishing the season 10–5–1 as the 5th seed, they lost to the Colts, 26–10, in the first round of the playoffs. This was the first time the franchise made the playoffs four straight seasons.
In 2015, the Bengals got out to a franchise-best 8–0 start with a 31–10 win over the Cleveland Browns, But then they the lost multiple games in a row losing their undefeated title but still winning their division and clinching a playoff berth. However, they lost to the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers, 18–16, in the Wild Card round in the final minute, making them the first franchise in NFL history to lose five straight opening round playoff games. This frustration continued in 2016 for the Bengals. The Bengals finished the 2016 campaign with a 6–9–1 record, losing several key players to injury including AJ Green, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, marking the first time Andy Dalton missed the playoffs as the Bengals' starting quarterback. One notable game was a 27–27 tie against the Washington Redskins which was played in London in 2016.
Following a rough 2016 season, the Bengals looked forward into 2017. However, after starting 0–3, the Bengals never found their footing. At one point in the season, the Bengals were 5–9. There were rumors that Marvin Lewis would not return for the next season as the Bengals' head coach. However, after two come-from-behind victories over the Lions and Ravens, that eliminated both teams from the playoffs, the Bengals finished 7–9. The final two games were convincing enough for owner Mike Brown to give Lewis a new two-year contract.