The Bengals have never won a Super Bowl
Before last month, the Bengals had not won a play-off game since 1991. Last season, they finished bottom of the AFC North with only four wins.
Now, a team anchored by young Ohio-native quarterback Joe Burrow and guided by Zac Taylor, in only his third season as a head coach, has the opportunity to erase decades of hurt and bring home what would be a first Super Bowl title in their history.
Burrow, the top overall pick out of college in the 2020 draft, has quickly become the face of the franchise – a face often adorned with buffs sunglasses which reflect his swagger on and off the field.
The 25-year-old has plenty of reasons to be confident.
The son of former player and coach Jim Burrow, Joe was Ohio’s Mr Football when breaking records at Athens High School, then – after transferring from Ohio State – he led Louisiana State to college football’s national title, picking up another pile of personal accolades including player of the year.
Immediately installed as Cincinnati’s starter after being drafted, a knee injury ended Burrow’s rookie campaign in week 11, but after returning this season he has looked like an old pro, breaking franchise records with 4,611 passing yards and 34 touchdowns in 16 regular season games.
The Bengals have since overcome the Las Vegas Raiders number one seeds Tennessee Titans and heavily-favoured Kansas City Chiefs in the play-offs to reach their third Super Bowl and first since 1989.
The years in between then and now were lean to say the least – just that one play-off victory and a handful of division titles – and the pain for fans was something Burrow got to see first-hand growing up in The Plains.
“There weren’t a whole lot of Bengals fans in high school and middle school,” he said. “It was all Steelers and Browns. The Bengals fans here and there got made fun of a little bit.
“We’re excited as a team to put a product on the field for them to be proud of and to give them bragging rights.”
Talk of Cincinnati’s play-off history – or lack of – has dominated much of the conversation in the NFL for the last month. It quickly became a famous fact that before January nobody had ever sent a text message about a Bengals play-off win because they were yet to be invented the last time it happened.
But it has not been mentioned inside the locker room. These players are too young to remember and, near enough, so too is their 38-year-old coach.
“I’ll say this, we’re very proud of our history here at the Cincinnati Bengals,” Taylor said when asked about the drought. “Over several decades there have been some tremendous teams, coaches and players and memories.
“It’s important to embrace all of that and understand it but this is the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals and they weren’t part of any of it.
“They have a very narrow focus that is week to week, playing their best and putting us in this position. Later on there’ll be a time to reflect on how this team hadn’t won a playoff game in 30 years. I’m glad to be a part of it but we can talk about that later.”