Snakebitten Again?

If there is a more snakebitten franchise in the NFL than the Cincinnati Bengals, I’d like to know what it is. To quote the old Hee-Haw song, “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” The Bengals’ string of unbelievable bad luck  goes all the way back to the founding of the franchise. Consider:

Greg Cook

In 1969, the Bengals drafted Greg Cook, who could have been the greatest quarterback in the history of the franchise. But in his rookie season, he is thrown against a wall by the Raiders and messes up his shoulder. He plays the rest of the season, wins the AFL passing title, and then is never able to play again. The shoulder is too damaged, especially since he played the rest of the year with it hurt.

In 1976, Paul Brown retires as head coach of the franchise. He has to choose a successor from among his talented assistants: offensive coordinator Bill Walsh and defensive coordinator Bill “Tiger” Johnson. Brown chooses Johnson. Walsh leaves a few years later, taking the offense he invented with PB along with him to San Francisco. There, he goes on to become of the greatest head coaches in the history of the game and beats the Bengals in BOTH of their Super Bowl appearances.

In 1981, the greatest Bengals team ever assembled goes 12-4 and cruises through the AFC playoffs. But two weeks after winning “The Freezer Bowl”
over San Diego, poor weather makes it hard for the Bengals to get to Detroit’s Silverdome for the Super Bowl. They arrive frustrated and tired, play horribly in the first half, and end up losing a game they were favored to win.

In 1988, Cincinnati again goes 12-4 and wins the AFC Championship after pioneering the no-huddle offense and using it against the Bills despite Buffalo complaining and the NFL asking them not to do it. On the eve of the Super Bowl, though, RB Stanley Wilson, who has revived his career in Cincinnati, is found in a cocaine-induced haze and suspended for the game. Then, in the first quarter, Cincinnati’s Pro Bowl NT Tim Krumrie breaks his leg. And it still takes a magical Joe Montana drive for the 49ers to win what many consider the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

In 1991, founder Paul Brown dies. Cincinnati sinks into a 15-year playoffs drought.

In 2005, the Bengals at last make the playoffs again and look like a real Super Bowl threat. On the second play of their opening playoffs game against the Steelers, QB Carson Palmer connects with WR Chris Henry on a 66-yard strike down the right sideline. But on the play, Steelers defender Kimo von Oelhoffen collides with Palmer’s knee, shredding the ACL and MCL. Henry is injured on the tackle and does not return either. Despite taking a 17-7 lead into the locker room, the Bengals melt down at halftime and lose the game. The Steelers go on to win the Super Bowl and act as though Cincinnati had played the whole game with Palmer and Henry and not just two plays.

Leon Hall

And now, with Cincinnati appearing to have recovered from Palmer refusing to play for them and building themselves into a playoffs contender, Leon Hall — the defense’s best player, a man who has not missed a game since high school — tears his Achilles tendon and is lost for the season. And their rookie-of-the-year candidate wide receiver AJ Green has a knee injury that could sideline him.

Just as the Bengals are hitting the toughest part of their schedule. Just in time for a promising 6-3 start to turn into a dismal 6-10 finish if things go the way they usually do.

There was no guarantee the Bengals could do better than 6-10 anyway. They really haven’t beaten anyone to date. But their chances of getting past the Ravens twice and the Steelers once are hurt considerably by the losses of Hall and Green. The defense is designed around Hall’s ability to shut down a team’s best WR. And QB Andy Dalton is playing well, but it helps when you have a player like Green who can just go pluck a ball out of the air, no matter where it is or how covered he is.

And who knows? Maybe Cincinnati will rise above it, make some plays, and find themselves in playoffs contention come January.

But history suggests otherwise. History suggests the snake is biting again.

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