I was born on June 14, 1989. The Bengals played in their last Super Bowl on January 22 of that year.
As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh, I’m reminded of the line in the Jimmy Pol Steelers Super Bowl song: “winning’s a habit, not only a dream”.
For most of my life, the Steelers have been a winning team, going to four Super Bowls, winning two of them, and have appeared in nine AFC Championship games. So winning is a habit, but it is also expected, with some fans left feeling anything less than a Super Bowl title is considered a waste of a season.
When I moved to Cincinnati in November 2018, I saw a team where the bar of expectation was so low, it had submerged into the Ohio River.
The Bengals, next to the Browns, have been a punchline for Steelers fans most of my life. Myron Cope would call them “The Bungles” during radio broadcasts, which is homer radio coming from a man whose voice that non-Pittsburghers would say resembles Gilbert Gottfried at a lower pitch. Cope himself once said his voice “cuts through concrete“.
But after decades of playoff agony, with the Steelers contributing to that (2005 and 2015 Wild Card games), this year’s Bengals team has exceeded the expectations of its fans with each passing week during the month of January.
It began with a win over the Chiefs to win the AFC North, then their first playoff win in over three decades, beating the Raiders in front of the home crowd, followed by a victory over the Titans, the AFC’s 1-seed and then went to Kansas City, overcame an 18-point deficit, beating the Chiefs a second time this season to advance to their first Super Bowl in 33 years.
During that AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs, I wanted to see first-hand what a conference title would mean to Bengals fans.
And the way the game played out, I got my wish…
As mentioned before, I have seen the Steelers play in AFC title games and have experienced the joy of them making the Super Bowl and the disappointment of them falling short. I was at a freezing cold Heinz Field during the 2004 AFC Championship when the Patriots knocked off Pittsburgh in Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year. I think it was Hines Ward crying about Bettis that hit me the hardest that night.
But I tried to put myself in the shoes of a Bengals fan. There were people my age and those far younger who have only known mediocrity with glimmers of hope that were squashed up until this season. Then there are the older fans who remember that last run to the Super Bowl in 1988 when Sam Wyche, Boomer Esiason and Icky Woods were the Zac Taylor, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase of that era.
In the end, it did not matter if you were a Baby Boomer, Gen-X, a Millennial or Gen-Z. Everyone lost their minds together as Evan McPherson made that field goal in overtime. The outburst of cheers and screams followed by tears of joy. It was like watching myself when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, which remains my favorite sports moment.
In Pittsburgh, on those Mondays after the Steelers have punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, there was that same excitement, but as I mentioned earlier, fans in that town expect it. In Cincinnati, some fans still couldn’t believe what had happened. For them, January 2022 might be the greatest month of football in Bengals history.
Cincinnati went nuts after taking the AFC crown away from the Chiefs.
I can’t wait to see what happens in this city if the Bengals finally win a Super Bowl.