The Cincinnati Bengals were founded in 1966 as a member of the American Football League (AFL) by former Cleveland Browns head coach Paul Brown. Brown was the Bengals’ head coach from their inception to 1975.
The Bengals have been to the playoffs 11 times, winning AFC championships in 1981 and 1988. They lost Super Bowls XVI and XXIII to the San Francisco 49ers. After Paul Brown’s death in 1991, controlling interest in the team was inherited by his son Mike Brown, many point to this as the beginning of the Bengals’ troubles. From early the 1990s through the mid 2000s the team posted 14 consecutive non-winning seasons. Owner Mike Brown hired and fired several head coaches and many of their top draft picks did not pan out. Mike Brown was rated as among the worst team owners in American professional sports and the Bengals were often called the “The Bungals” due to perceived mismanagement by ownership and poor play by the football team.
The Bengals began to turn their fortunes around in 2003 with the hiring of new head coach Marvin Lewis and drafting quarterback Carson Palmer. Carson Palmer, the future star quarterback, 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. It was the first time the team had a winning percentage above .500 since 1990. Unfortunately, the 2005 season ended abruptly after a serious leg injury to Carson Palmer in the first quarter of the game in which the Bengals hosted their arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers won the game convincingly and eventually won the Super Bowl.
The Bengals did not return to playoffs until 2009 in a season that included the franchise’s first ever division sweep. This was especially impressive since two of the teams swept by the Bengals (the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens) had both made it to the AFC Championship Game the previous season. Marvin Lewis was rewarded for the accomplishment with the NFL Coach of the Year Award.
Glory Days Ahead?
2012 saw the Bengals’ franchise earned back to back playoff berths for the first time since 1982. Many Bengal fans and football analyst believe the tiger’s time has come. With a boat-load of great young talent and the aging rosters of perennial powers Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens the AFC’s north division seems ripe for the hungry tiger.