History of the Cincinnati Bengals

This article details the history of the Cincinnati Bengals American football club.


In 1967 a Cincinnati-based ownership group led by Paul Brown was granted a franchise in the American Football League.

As the founder and head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1962, Brown led his team to a .759 winning percentage and seven championships, which includes four championships earned while a member of the All-America Football Conference. The Browns were champions of that league in each of the four years it existed. When the AAFC folded after the 1949 season, the Browns, as well as the San Francisco 49ers and the first incarnation of the Baltimore Colts, were absorbed into the National Football League.

Brown became a recognized innovator for his approach to training, game planning, and the passing game. However, he was only a minority owner of the Browns and lacked the resources to buy out the rest of the ownership group. In 1961, businessman Art Modell assumed control of the team and on January 9, 1963, Modell controversially fired Brown. Many believe that Modell had tired of complaints of Brown's autocratic style; others claim it was Brown's decision to trade for Syracuse University's Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ernie Davis, who was drafted by the Washington Redskins, without Modell's knowledge. However, tragically, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia shortly afterward. Brown didn't want to play Davis; Modell insisted he could play. The relationship between Paul Brown and Art Modell, which was never warm to begin with, deteriorated further. Davis died on May 18, 1963.

By 1966, Paul Brown wanted to become involved in professional football again. James A. Rhodes, then the governor of Ohio, convinced Brown that Ohio needed a second team. Cincinnati was deemed the logical choice, in essence, splitting the state. Brown initially sought a franchise in the National Football League but had been rebuffed, in no small part because Cincinnati's largest football venue then in place, Nippert Stadium, was well under the minimum 50,000 capacity the league required for prospective expansion teams.

Brown named the team the Bengals in order "to give it a link with past professional football in Cincinnati." Another Bengals team existed in the city and played in a previous American Football League from 1937 to 1942. Possibly as an insult to Art Modell, Paul 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. Ironically, one of the potential helmet designs Brown rejected was a striped motif that was similar to the one featuring the "varicose pumpkin" helmets adopted by the team in 1981 and which is still in use to this day; however, that design featured orange stripes on a black helmet which were more uniform in width.

A turning point came in 1966 when the American Football League agreed to a merger with its older and more established rival. Merger negotiations had been complicated by several factors, one being that members of the United States Congress were seeking guarantees that any merger would include all existing AFL teams. Under pressure from Congress, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had promised that professional football would be maintained in each of the twenty-three markets where it then existed. There were a total of 24 franchises in the two leagues at the time (fifteen in the NFL and nine in the AFL), but the powerful congressional delegation of Louisiana led by Senator Russell Long and Congressman Hale Boggs had further insisted on an NFL franchise in New Orleans in return for their support. As a result, the New Orleans Saints became the NFL's sixteenth franchise in 1967, meaning another team would be required if the merged league was to have an even number of teams.

Having just stocked the Saints' roster, the NFL's owners did not want to risk having the talent pool of their own league becoming further diluted by way of another expansion draft so they quickly agreed that the second expansion team should join the AFL. From the AFL's perspective, adding another team was highly desirable because 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 transaction 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, Paul 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." [1] 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. An additional consideration was that the AFL was willing to allow Cincinnati to play at Nippert Stadium for the team's two pre-merger seasons. Brown 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, provided a larger stadium was completed by then.

Ultimately, the stadium issue was settled in no small part because the Cincinnati Reds of Major League Baseball were also 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 after 1957 had lost both their National League teams, the Dodgers and the Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, was actively courting Powel Crosley. However, Crosley was adamant that the Reds remain in Cincinnati and tolerated worsening problems with the Crosley Field location, which were increased with 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, which was its working title.

With the completion of the merger in 1970, the Cleveland Browns were moved to the AFL-based American Football Conference. Unexpected victories for AFL teams in Super Bowls III and IV had persuaded NFL owners, starting with Art Modell, to re-consider the question of divisional alignments and ultimately led to the Browns and Bengals both being placed in the AFC Central. An instant rivalry was born, fueled initially by Paul Brown's rivalry with Modell.

The first three seasons

Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, home of the Bengals.

For their first two seasons, they played at Nippert Stadium which is the current home of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. The team finished its first season with a 3-11 record, although one bright spot was running back Paul Robinson. Robinson rushed for 1,023 yards and was named the AFL Rookie of the Year.

First three seasons coach

Founder Paul Brown coached the team for its first three seasons, accumulating 15 wins and 27 losses and one tie. One of Brown's college draft strategies was to draft players with above average intelligence. Punter/wide receiver Pat McInally attended Harvard, 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.

First three seasons game notes

The 1970s

In 1970, the Bengals moved to play at Riverfront Stadium ( later on known as Cinergy Field from 1996–2002), a home they shared with the Cincinnati Reds until the team moved to Paul Brown Stadium in 2000.

1970s coaches

Four men coached the team to a 7276 record during this period:

Memorable players from the 1970s

1970s games of note

The 1980s

A ticket for the 1989 AFC Championship Game between the Bengals and the Bills.

The Bengals were an entertaining and successful team reaching the Super Bowl twice, but overall, the 1980s was a decade of missed opportunities for the team.

1980s coaches

Memorable players from the 1980s

1980s games of note

The 1990s

Paul Brown, legendary NFL personality and innovator, died in 1991. He had already transferred control to his son, Mike Brown, but was reported to still influence the daily operations of the team. Shortly after his death, the Bengals' fortunes changed for the worse for a long time.

1990s coaches

Memorable players from the 1990s

  • Pickens made the Pro Bowl twice with the Bengals and held the team record for most receptions in the regular season until 2007. He left the team due to personality conflicts (which led to some fines as well as a new player contract clause for later players nicknamed the "Pickens Clause" which penalizes players for disparaging remarks about the club or management).
  • Scott recorded over 800 receiving yards in all of his 7 seasons with the Bengals, with the sole exception of 1997, when he recorded 797 yards.
  • Blake was the only other quarterback, other than Esiason in 1997, to lead the team to a non-losing record (8-8) during the string of bad seasons. He was famous for his short stature and his "moon ball" (nicknamed such for its high arc) which was a very successful play to Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott. He was drafted by the Jets under their head coach of the time, Coslet, and came over as a backup to David Klingler when Coslet arrived. He got the start due to injuries and was never challenged for the quarterback position by Klingler again. He was benched after the drafting of Akili Smith. Blake remained in the league as a starter and backup beyond 2005 whereas neither of his favorite receivers remained in the league for another 2 years after they left the Bengals.

1990s games of note


Intensification of rivalry with Pittsburgh Steelers

The Bengals have played the Steelers more than any other team in the NFL (the Browns missed keeping pace by being out of the league for three years, the Oilers/Titans team was moved from the division, and the Baltimore Ravens are considered a "new" franchise as Cleveland retained its rights to the name and history). While the Bengals were in the midst of a terrible decade the intensity of the rivalries tapered off.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, an Ohio native who attended college at nearby Miami University, was brought onto the Steelers' team in 2004 and his impressive early achievements, along with those of Carson Palmer, have been heralded as the beginning of a dynamic rivalry for some time to come.
  • Dick LeBeau was fired from the head coach position from Cincinnati and returned to Pittsburgh as defensive coordinator. He either coached for Pittsburgh or Cincinnati for most of his NFL coaching career often going from one directly to the other.
  • Kimo Von Oelhoffen was drafted by the Bengals and when LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh (the first time after being defensive coordinator for the Bengals) he took Kimo with him. Kimo, the former Bengal, was responsible for the hit that took Carson Palmer out of the '05-'06 AFC Wild Card game with a knee injury. Von Oelhoffen left the Steelers (and the rivalry) that offseason when he signed with the New York Jets.
  • Troy Polamalu, the high profile safety for the Steelers, and Palmer were USC roommates. In one particular play Polamalu intercepted Palmer and, on the runback, Palmer was the last remaining Bengal in position to tackle him but missed as Polamalu surged passed him and scored.
  • Head coaches, Lewis and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, grew up in the same area of Pittsburgh and actually played against each other in little-league football. Later, Cowher would hire Lewis as an assistant coach for defense, giving him his first NFL job.
  • The Steelers began taunting the Bengals by using Cincinnati cheers and chants in a mocking fashion. On December 4, 2005 Hines Ward celebrated a touchdown against the Bengals at Heinz Field by doing the "Ickey Shuffle." However, Cincinnati went on to win the game 38-31. After the Steelers beat the Bengals in the 1st round of playoffs the Steelers were noted chanting "Who-Dey!" followed by a "We dey!" Steelers head coach Bill Cowher was again quoted chanting "We dey!" weeks later, at a Pittsburgh parade celebrating the Steelers' Super Bowl victory.
  • Longtime Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, who also served as an assistant coach with the team over the years, was hired by the Steelers as their quarterbacks coach under new head coach Mike Tomlin for the 2007 season.
  • Another incident occurred on December 4, 2005, after a 38-31 Bengals victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. As Bengals wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh walked off Heinz Field, he asked a member of the Bengals support staff to hand him a Terrible Towel. When one was provided, he sat down in the visitors tunnel and shined his football cleats with the yellow cloth. Then, he twirled the towel over his head as he walked down the runway toward the Bengals locker room.
  • On March 19, 2007 former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and several of his friends initiated a fight with Bengals offensive tackle Levi Jones at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. Porter was cited for misdemeanor battery by the Las Vegas police, fined $1,000 and 3 game checks.

2000present coaches

Dick LeBeau lost his job as head coach after winning just two games throughout the 2002 season. LeBeau went 12-33 as head coach. His last season was a franchise worst 2-14 and had the worst winning percentage of all non-interim Bengal coaches of 26.67%. He returned to Pittsburgh as the defensive coordinator.

Current head coach Marvin Lewis won 8 and lost 8 in both the 2003 and 2004 seasons. He secured the 1st winning season (115) for the Bengal's franchise since 199192 playoff. He has introduced season "themes", from "Do Your Job" in 200405 to "Keep on Digging" 200304.

Defensive coordinators under Lewis were Leslie Frazier, followed by Chuck Bresnahan. Frazier, who was hired by Lewis in his first year, left the club citing personality differences and left to become a successful defensive coordinator for Chicago Bears. Bresnahan was brought in and the Bengals' turnover differential in his 1st year was a huge turnaround, amounting to a +24 differential after the 12th game.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was held over from Dick LeBeau's coaching staff. In the years following Cincinnati has regained its franchise-characteristic high-potency offense.

Memorable players 2000present

  • Chad Johnson broke the team record for reception yards in consecutive years ('04 & '05 season, 1400+ yards), also first Bengal ever to lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2006. In 2007 he became the team's all time leader in receptions and receiving yards.
  • Rudi Johnson broke the team record for rushing yards in consecutive years ('04 & '05 season)
  • Jeremi Johnson, while used primarily as a blocking fullback, is a very capable receiver and elusive in the open field.

2000present games of note

AFC Wild-Card Round

This year neither team's home field advantage proved advantageous. In the series the home team lost every game. The Steelers defeated the Bengals in the wild-card playoff game, 3117.


The Bengals began to emerge from more than a decade of being the worst-performing team of that era (edging out the Cardinals) into a new era of increased consistency under Marvin Lewis. 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, Carson was promoted to starting quarterback the following season and Kitna, apparently happily, took the position of backup quarterback and embraced the role of mentor for the young quarterback.

Paul Brown Stadium was built for the 2000 season using private and public money. In tribute to his father, Mike Brown refused corporate offers to have the stadium renamed for their company which became a trend in the NFL and other sports team around that time.

During the 2005 season, the Bengals became known for their players' off-field and non-football related violations of league substance policies and legal troubles.

2006 season

Like the previous years, Marvin Lewis and his staff developed a theme to rally around, this time it was The Pyramid (a listing of qualities developed by the successful former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden). During the offseason the Bengals made very few free-agent acquisitions and a large number of drafted players (or new ones to the team) were not positioned as starters which is considered a sign of an established team instead of one in the midst of rebuilding (as there was considerable player turnover in the first few years under Lewis). There were concerns about many players' personal legal troubles which kept them in the news but one of the biggest concerns was Carson Palmer's ability to rebound from the serious knee injury he suffered in the playoffs to Pittsburgh.

As the preparations were being made for the season, the Bengals went undefeated at 4-0 for the first time in preseason games and went on to win their first three games, including winning the first two intradivision games versus the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. The team lost quite a few players of value during these first weeks, due to injury or suspension causing many of the rookies, originally not intended to start, into starting roles. In the fourth week, Cincinnati lost a one-sided game to the New England Patriots at home.

Coming out of their early bye, the team went to Tampa, Florida to face the winless Buccaneers and went home with a 1314 loss. In week seven, the Bengals would face the Carolina Panthers at home, managing the win. Cincinnati went on to lose their next three games against the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, and San Diego Chargers. During the San Diego game, however, the team had a memorable offensive experience. Carson Palmer threw for a career-high 440 passing yards. Chad Johnson also set a franchise record of 260 receiving yards in a single game.

The team went to New Orleans in week 11 to face the Saints and ended their losing streak. Chad Johnson had 190 receiving yards in that game, along with 3 touchdowns. The Bengals continued to improve their playoff chances when they went to Cleveland to face the Browns. They were on the winning side of the second shutout in the history of the Battle of Ohio with the final score 30-0. Carson Palmer threw three touchdown passes and 275 passing yards. The previously struggling Bengals' defense recorded four interceptions, four sacks, and two forced fumbles. With this win they got themselves back to a winning record of 6-5.

The Bengals would win two more games against Baltimore and Oakland before the win streak ended with a loss to Indianapolis. The Bengals then lost to Denver 24-23 the following week on a snowy Sunday when Brad St. Louis' long snap on an extra point in the final minute sailed through the hands of holder Kyle Larson, preventing Shayne Graham from even attempting the conversion.

In week 17, The Bengals lost in overtime to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2317, thus ending any possibility of post-season play. Chris Henry gained 124 receiving yards and he scored a touchdown. Shayne Graham missed a 38-yard field goal on the last Bengals' play in regulation with 0:08 left on the clock. The Bengals were eliminated by losing to the Steelers by a Santonio Holmes touchdown reception on the third play of the extra session. Cincinnati ended the season at 88.


The 2008 season would see Cincinnati crash to the ground. The team lost its first eight games before finally beating the Jaguars in Week 9. After that, they hosted the Eagles in a rare tie, the final score being 13-13. There followed three more losses followed by three wins to end the year at 4-11-1 and third in the division.


After such a poor performance, little was expected of the Bengals in 2009, but the results surprised everyone. The season opener against Denver was a 12-7 defeat, but afterwards the Bengals won four in a row against the Packers, Steelers, Browns, and Ravens. The team lost at home to the Texans, then beat the Bears, Ravens, and Steelers. In Week 11 however, Cincinnati fell into a trap game when it lost to the 3-7 Raiders. After another defeat of Cleveland, the Bengals had won all six of their divisional matches for the year. Following the next game (an easy win at home over Detroit), Chad Ochocinco was fined $20,000 by the NFL for donning a poncho and sombrero after scoring a touchdown (he had been fined three weeks earlier for joking about bribing the referees). Week 14 saw the Bengals travel to Minnesota, where the Vikings routed them 30-10. During the week after that game, tragedy struck when Chris Henry fell out of a pickup truck during a domestic dispute and died from his injuries. The team's previously lighthearted mood turned to one of mourning, and they lost the next match against San Diego. After a victory over the Chiefs, the Bengals secured the AFC North title for only their second playoff berth since 1990. On the season ended, they traveled to the Meadowlands for a match with the New York Jets, but still shaken from Chris Henry's death, they were shut out 37-0. The Bengals and Jets had to face each other again in the wild card round of the playoffs, but now in Cincinnati. Their season, which looked so promising a few weeks earlier, ended with a whimper as the Jets won a second time, the score being 24-14.


The biggest 2010 acquisition for the Bengals was veteran WR Terrell Owens, signed in July. This move was controversial, as Owens was quite old at 36 and had caused considerable problems while playing in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Dallas. Perhaps more controversial was the signing of CB Adam "Pacman" Jones, who had been involved in a shooting at a Las Vegas nightclub in 2007.

Cincinnati started off 2010 by losing on the road to the Patriots, and then returned home to beat Baltimore in a poorly executed game that saw them win on five field goals. In Week 3, they easily defeated the Panthers in Carolina before losing to Cleveland and Tampa Bay to enter their bye week at 2-3. After losses to Atlanta, Miami, and Pittsburgh, the Bengals entered Week 10 at 2-6 and largely out of playoff contention. Following further losses, the Bengals beat Cleveland and San Diego before losing their final game to Baltimore and ending the 2010 campaign at 4-12. The team also suffered four blackouts, the first since 2003.


With the 4th pick in the 2011 draft, the Bengals took WR A.J. Green from Georgia. Most of the off-season was marred by a league lockout and Carson Palmer's sudden demand to be traded to another team. Mike Brown flatly refused to either release or trade him, and Palmer instead announced his plans to retire from the NFL. Another familiar face departed when Chad Ochocinco was traded to New England in August. With this, the Bengals decided to name unproven rookie QB Andy Dalton as their starter. On October 17, Palmer, who had been holding out since Brown announced he refused to trade him, was traded to the Oakland Raiders for 2 first round picks in 2012 and 2013. The Bengals finished with a record of 9-7 and qualified for the playoffs as the 6th seed in the AFC. They lost 31-10 to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round.


The Bengals came into the 2013 season as division favorites and the dark horse for the Super Bowl. Their season came to an end in the wild-card round when the San Diego Chargers shocked the football world by beating the heavy favorites.

See also


  1. "Paul Brown". Conigliofamily.com. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
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