The Cincinnati Bengals are a professional Football team based in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are currently members of the North Division of the American Football Conference (AFC) in the National Football League (NFL). Their first two seasons, 1968 and 1969, were as an American Football League franchise. They joined the NFL as part of the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger, which had actually been agreed upon in 1966.
The Bengals are the current AFC North Division Champions.The Bengals currently conduct summer training camp at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky and play home games at Paul Brown Stadium in Downtown Cincinnati.
In 1967 an ownership group led by Paul Brown was granted a franchise in the American Football League. Brown named the team the Bengals in order “to give it a link with past professional football in Cincinnati.” Another Bengals team had existed in the city and played in three previous American Football Leagues from 1937 to 1942. The city’s world-renowned zoo was also home to a rare white Bengal Tiger. However, 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. One of the potential helmet designs Brown rejected was a striped motif that was similar to the 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.
Brown was not a supporter of the rival American Football League, stating that “I didn’t pay ten million dollars to be in the AFL.” He only acquiesced to joining the AFL when he was guaranteed that the team would become an NFL franchise after the impending merger of the two leagues.
There was also a complication: Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds were 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 in 1957 had lost both its National League teams (the Dodgers and the Giants) to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, was actively courting Reds owner Powel Crosley. However, Crosley was adamant that the Reds remain in Cincinnati and tolerated worsening problems with the Crosley Field location, which were exacerbated by 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 and placed in the AFC Central, the same division as the Bengals. An instant rivalry was born, fueled initially by Paul Brown’s rivalry with Art Modell.
For their inaugural season, the Bengals 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.
Founder Paul Brown coached the team for its first eight seasons. One of Brown college draft strategies was to draft players with above-average intelligence. Punter/wide receiver Pat McInally attended Harvard University 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.
The Bengals would reach the Super Bowl twice during the 1980s, but lost both times to the San Francisco 49ers. Then, after the team appeared in the playoffs in 1990, Paul Brown died. He had already transferred control to his son, Mike Brown, but was reported to still influence the daily operations of the team. The Bengals’ fortunes changed for the worse as the team would post 14 consecutive non-winning seasons. They began to emerge from that dismal period into a new era of increased consistency, however, after hiring Marvin Lewis as head coach in 2003.
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, Palmer was promoted to starting quarterback the following season. Under Palmer, the team advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1990 in the 2005 season, which marked the first time the team had a winning percentage above .500 since 1990.
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