Cincinnati Bengals: Remembering the Super Bowl Years


Jan 25, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of banners at the NFL Experience at Phoenix Convention Center in advance of Super Bowl XLIX between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. They haven’t played in the Super Bowl since 1988, when Boomer Esiason was running the offense and Sam Wyche was the head coach, and although it seems like a long time ago, especially since I was just one when it happened, Super Bowl XVI and XXIII are still the highlight of a rather disappointing franchise in recent memory.

In 1981, Ken Anderson led the team through the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers to reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history. They faced off against “The Comeback Kid” Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI, which was held in Detroit. The Bengals had finished with the best record in the AFC and the 49ers had the best record in the NFL. The Bengals were down 13-0 early and trailed at halftime 20-0.  Ken Anderson tried to take the game on his shoulders rushing for a touchdown in the third quarter and then passing for one in their first drive of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 6. After two field goals by the 49ers, the Bengals scored with 20 seconds remaining, but failed to recover the onside kick and lost 26-21.

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Super Bowl XXIII (1988) was almost a different story. The Bengals, led by Boomer Esiason, had control of the game going into the fourth quarter. Leading 13-6, the Bengals’ defense, which had been near perfect all game, allowed a 14-yard pass to Jerry Rice for a touchdown, which tied the game. The biggest problem though was just one play before when 49ers quarterback, Joe Montana, threw a pass that went perfectly into the arms of Lewis Billups, but he couldn’t hold on. The Bengals took the lead with just over three minutes left only to see their hopes dashed when Joe Montana marched them down the field for the game winning touchdown pass to John Taylor to make it 20-16.

The Bengals have only won a single playoff game since that loss in Super Bowl XXIII and though they’ve had most of the necessary pieces to get the job done in recent years, injuries and poor performances by the team’s leaders have kept Marvin Lewis from that elusive playoff win. Bengals fans will have to wait 11 months to find out if they’ll get another shot at their first playoff win in 24 seasons.