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Bengals’ 5 best rivalries

Posted by hobsonschoice1 on June 2, 2010 – 8:25 pm

The Celtics play the Lakers for the NBA title like they did two years ago, two decades ago and two generations ago and now everybody is listing their favorite sports rivalries.

(It seems like Phil Jackson has always been the annoying villain for a middle-aged Celtics fan. If you grew up within the length of Jackson’s beard from the Boston Garden in the early ‘70s, he was the Knicks’ counter-culture seventh man who would beat you with an evil brew of cunning and hacking. So what is different now as he whines about Kevin Garnett playing the kind of physical defense that he got away with hacking John Havlicek?)

The elements for a great rivalry must be this:  Story, back story, compelling characters, intensity, and passion with lasting memorable results translating in championships, memories, or both.

The Bengals’ five best rivalries:

1. BROWNS: Which ones?  The ones from 1968-95?

Or 1999 to now?

It has to be both. No other teams in sports play a game like this. They were both founded by the same man. One team bears his name (Cleveland) and the other plays in his stadium (Cincinnati) and they are in the same state. That trumps anything the Steelers throw at the rivalry.

But there’s more. When Baltimore went looking to lure a team to its city, the Bengals took the first visit but the Browns took the deal first. The Steelers can’t top that story.

Never mind that a Bengals-Browns game last meant something for both in December in the Reagan Administration.

But as late as 2007 the 5-9 Bengals knocked the 9-5 Browns out of the playoffs in the next to last game of the season. As late as 2003, the 4-11 Browns knocked the 8-7 Bengals out of the playoffs in the season’s last game. The Browns’ 51-45 win over the Bengals in the second game of 2007 set the tone for each’s season.

When the Bengals won in OT last year, it prevented the Browns from tying the series at 36. Then when they beat the Browns again later in the season it finished off their first division sweep ever.

There is still plenty of sizzle and now that Mike Holmgren is running the show, they will be playing important games soon enough.

2.STEELERS: Great players, great teams, any era. Ken Anderson vs. Terry Bradshaw, Carson Palmer vs. Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Isaac Curtis vs. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes at wide receiver.  Bengals NFL MVP quarterback Boomer Esiason vs. Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson. Bengals Pro Bowl nose tackle Tim Krumrie vs. Steelers Pro Bowl center Dermontti Dawson.

 The 12-2 Steelers edging the 11-3 Bengals before winning the Super Bowl in 1975. The Steelers smashmouthing to a 7-3 win at Riverfront in 1976 to gain the AFC Central title when both finished 10-4. The Bengals winning the AFC North in 2005 with a 38-31 win at Pittsburgh before the Steelers, on their way to the Super Bowl title, came back 34 days later in Cincinnati to win a playoff game that claimed Palmer on the second snap. The Steelers OT win in the 2006 finale at PBS that knocked the Bengals from the playoffs and the Bengals’ punch-in-the-mouth-18-12 victory that literally knocked the stuffing out of the Steelers’ run in 2009 in a game native Pittsburger Marvin Lewis called the most intense he had ever coached.

The Steelers may fuel more passion now in Bengals fans like a bolt of electricity shooting across this past decade.  But the Browns rivalry always simmers and stays hot to the touch.

3. RAVENS:  Every great rivalry needs a riveting cast of characters. In Bengals-Browns it is Paul Brown and his family vs. the great grassroots fandom he spawned in Cleveland. In Bengals-Steelers it is the great Pro Bowlers on either side. In Bengals-Ravens the central character is Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, architect of the NFL record-setting Ravens defense that won the Super Bowl following the 2000 season.

It also helps to be in the same division. And, the Ravens are really Paul Brown’s first Browns.

While Lewis coordinated that Ravens defense from 1996-2001, the Bengals were 4-8 against them and 0-4 in the Ravens’ new stadium. Since Lewis arrived, the Bengals are 9-5 and 4-3 in Baltimore, including Palmer engineering a 24-point fourth quarter in 2004 for a last-second win and an 80-yard come-from-behind touchdown drive last year that was consummated with 22 seconds left.

In between there have been classic taut battles pitting the high-powered Bengals offense against the top five Ravens defense. Palmer leads Rex Ryan, Ray Lewis and friends, 8-3, in his 11 starts against them.

The Bengals turned the tables when they won their nationally televised opener at PBS in 2007 with a goal-line stand. And last year in Baltimore running back Cedric Benson made sure the Ravens defense wouldn’t repeat its feat under Lewis of going 50 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Benson’s 120 yards stopped this streak at 39, making it a doubly satisfying day for Lewis.

Now that’s a rivalry.

4. 49ers: There is always going to be something there since the Bengals lost to them in both of their Super Bowls, both times at the hands of the man that so desperately wanted to succeed Paul Brown in Cincinnati, Bill Walsh.

They play so rarely now that it doesn’t have the heat it had 20 years ago, when the Niners came to town for one last time under Joe Montana to deliver a crushing overtime win during the Bengals’ ’90 playoff run.  They’ve played only five times since.

But Montana’s heroics and the franchises’ intermingling DNA are the stuff of great rivalries. The ’90 OT win came on top of Montana’s last-play 25-yard floater to Jerry Rice out-deking rookie cornerback Eric Thomas in the end zone in the 1987 stunner and his 10-yard dart to John Taylor that won the Super Bowl with 34 seconds left in the 1988 season.

Throw in the fact that Walsh tutored Bengals quarterback Kenny Anderson before he threw for 300 yards against him in Super Bowl XVI and that Bengals head coach Sam Wyche mentored Montana before he broke his heart in that last 92-yard drive seven years later and the thing reads more like a Shakespearean tragedy than an NFL Films script.

Hey, the Capulets and the Montagues were a big rivalry in the Verona North Division.

 5. PATRIOTS: OK, OK, I’ll get heat for this one. But hear me out.

Any great rivalry has to have some history and these teams have been playing long enough that the Bengals played at Fenway Park and the Boston Patriots played at Nippert Stadium.

They’ve got to be involved in some memorable moments and the Bengals’ 45-7 win over the Patriots in the last game of 1970 ended with Brown getting carried off the Riverfront turf after they became the youngest expansion team ever (three years old) to make the playoffs.

Then 18 years later in Foxboro the Bengals’ stunning 6-0 start came to a grinding halt late in the game when Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie pulled off a quarterback draw on third-and-18.

And every rivalry has to have a few back stories.

In 2001, the last normal Sunday before 9/11, the Jon Kitna era opened in Cincinnati with the new Bengals quarterback besting the Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe on Opening Day, 23-17. Because of a pregame glitch, Paul Brown Stadium public address announcer Tom Kinder didn’t announce the New England starting lineup, so the Patriots ran out as a team.

That began a tradition of being introduced as a unit instead of individuals that the Pats carried to their improbable Super Bowl win in New Orleans over the favored Rams 19 weeks later, where their quarterback was a pretty important individual named Tom Brady.

In 1990, in the wake of the Bengals’ 41-7 dismantling of the Pats that ran their record to 3-0, New England owner Victor Kiam was overheard in the Riverfront visitors locker room insulting Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson. The remark further deepened the club’s sexual harassment scandal and may have helped spawn Wyche’s move the next week in Seattle when he began his crusade against women media in the locker room.

How about a spicy trade for a rivalry?

 The Bengals shipped their all-time leading rusher and disgruntler, Corey Dillon, to the Pats before the 2004 season for a second-round pick. When they met on Dec. 12 in Foxboro, Palmer and Brady hooked up in a duel while Dillon was outrushed by the Bengals’ Rudi Johnson, 89-88.

But after Palmer’s touchdown pass to Chad Johnson cut the lead to 21-14, he left with a sprained knee and 202 yards passing in the middle of the third quarter and the Pats went on to a 35-28 victory and another Super Bowl title even though the 478 yards they allowed the Bengals were the most they gave up all season.

It has set a tone. Palmer is 0-3 against Brady, his fellow California flinger, since leaving the shootout.

But he gets another shot. Soon.

Yes Virginia, they open another season this year.

Sept. 12.

In Foxboro.

Does the visiting team win the Super Bowl again?

Does Palmer finally beat Brady in the building where he almost got him six years ago?

Questions that belong to a pretty good rivalry.

But let’s see what you got.


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Posted in Hobson's Choice | 20 Comments »


20 Responses to “Bengals’ 5 best rivalries”

  1. By larolsen on Jun 2, 2010 | Reply

    Great great review of our history and why we sometimes hate our opponents. Thank you. I do have one simple question, is there a list of what all of the abbreviations mean that I see used (i.e. SAM, WILL, etc) Thanks again.

  2. By carson9 on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    Pretty interesting, but here is what I believe should be the top 5.
    1. Pitts Steelers- No other team is hated nearly as much as this team is hated around Cincy. The Steelers organization has more winning history then any other team in the division, and possibly the AFC, so a rivalry is natural. Even when the team is down, the Bengals – Steelers game always sales out.

    2. Browns- This is a token nomination, mainly since its an in-state and in-division rival. But the Browns under Lerner are disorganized and horrible. Even with Holmgren, it will be years before this game excites me at all.

    3. Ravens- Its always a slug-fest between these two teams, and has produced very compelling football games over the years.

    4. Colts- The only time we beat Peyton is during pre-season, then when it comes to the actual game that counts, we lay an egg. Have we ever defeated Peyton Hobson? I don’t even know, but for the NFL’s two closest teams, the Colts have our number every time we play them. This is the ONLY game that I dread every couple years that it rolls around. I don’t see why this isn’t up there as a top rival.

    5. 49ers- Joe Montanna was an 80’s version of Manning, we just cant beat the guy. It would be great to see this rivalry start up again, especially since they have several of our former Bengals (Brooks, Spikes) starting for them.

    Future Key Rivalry- The Jets. Enough said. Two bombs against them last season, and there on our schedule again this year. With Ryan in place for awhile this should get pretty exciting.

    Unexplainable lopsided Rivalry- Bills. The last decade the Bills have stunk, yet have beat us most of the time. I remember a few Christmas’ back freezing my tail off watching my hometown team get beat by a 7 point underdog on Christmas. Why do they keep defeating us of lately when they absolutely suck?!

  3. By theredbengal on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    I agree with all the rivalries, except for the last one. I’d still chalk that one up to the Tennessee Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers. Too many division games had been played between the two over the long span, like Corey Dillon’s rookie rushing record game on thursday night in ’97, or the last bengals playoff win in ’91 was against the Oilers. I missed the Earl Campbell days, but I’m sure those were some brutally tough games.

    But, I’d say the Patriots are not too far behind for those reasons you brought up, Geoff.

  4. By overthroensamoan on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    I agree with the Oilers-Titans. Who could forget the genuine dislike of Wyche and Glanville. The only other team would be the Bills. Marv Levy trying to outlaw the no huddle then stealing it and going to 4 Super Bowls.

  5. By bengalanthony13 on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    Nice article. Oilers should have been on there instead of the Pats. Others that come to mind are the Chargers and the Jaguars. The Chargers because of games like “The Freezer Bowl” or “The 15 Bowl” last year. Jags because they used to be division rivals also, although Jacksonville pretty much dominated that series with the likes of Brunell, Taylor, Smith and McCardell.

  6. By aswad60 on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    I think you have to include the Bengals-Oilers rivalry into this conversation. Being a native of Cincinnati but growing up most of my life in Houston, I had a ringside seat to the Bengal-Oilers games during the Bum Phillips/Earl Campbell era. The Oilers-Steelers games got most of the attention… and rightly so since the Steelers were winning championships, but the Bengals-Oilers games were something to behold. For a long while it always seemed the underdog would win those games. And both teams did a great job of knocking the other out of contention… or at least hurting their chances of making the playoffs. It was almost as if this was the unspoken litmus test game for the Oilers every year. And when me and my dad would leave the dome after the Bengals put a whipping on the Oilers there was a pain felt by Oilers fans unmatched by any other Oilers defeats. And finally, even though the national media never picked up on it, the local media seemed to notice that the Oilers players always acknowledged a hatred/respect for the Bengals. The Oilers players themselves always ranked their games with the Bengals as their toughest and most intense.

  7. By hobsonschoice1 on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    Yeah, I have to take a Jim Joyce here and say I screwed up leaving off the Titans/Oilers. I thought about it, but not long enough.

    Since they’ve left the division there hasn’t really been anything compelling. (Remember how brutal the Wind Game was here in September of ’08?) But that shouldn’t have been enough to wipe away the great stuff in the’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

    The Bengals closed the Astrodome for good in 1996 and, as you guys pointed out, throw in all the great Sam-Jerry stuff, topped off by Wyche waving him off the field in the 61-7 game in 1989.

    Talk about stories and back stories. Jeff Fisher has been the Titans head coach ever since that day in 1994 at Riverfront when Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake came off the stretcher in the fourth quarter to rally them to a last-snap win on a field goal by Doug Pelfrey.

    After wide receiver Carl Pickens ripped them that day for 188 yards on 11 catches and three touchdowns, Houston cornerback Cris Dishman apologized to his teammates, coaches, family, and “the entire city of Houston.”

    So, yeah, that’s a rivalry.

    If I had to do it again, I’d make them five in place of the Pats.

  8. By coachwine on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    I think all the options are worthy except perhaps the Colts, who have owned us. I still feel the pain from those 70’s losses to the Steelers when we were arguably the second best team in football. I still have whiplash from watching Anderson, Moon, Campbell Esiason go back and forth in those Oilers games and of course, the dagger is still there from those 49ers losses in the Super Bowl. This opening day belongs to the Bengals and we’ll take our chances from there!

  9. By skinnyboy419 on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    Should have put the Jets in there too. As a die hard Bengals fan I use to hate the Steelers because I feel like thats excatlly what they are “steelers” they stole our Superbowl when they took out Carsons knee (on purpose). Now that hate has shifted to the Jets after last year because I know we were a better team then we ended up with last year and I cant wait for the rematch of the team that knocked us out the playoffs. This to me is the most relevent rivalry (ewww I cant wait) GO BENGALS “WHO DEY” …Ohh yeah and the Saints get a knod to for steeling or chant

  10. By 2ndboot on Jun 3, 2010 | Reply

    One other nobody seemed to mention is Oakland although the rivalry isn’t as intense, but they beat us last year.. I still remember Bo Jackson dropping like a sack of potatoes on the 3 and never played again.
    I’m sure there are plenty of Raider fans who love nothing more than beating up on the Bengals even if they go 1-15 if for no other reason than the Bo Jackson deal..
    I don’t have the great numerical memory some of you do, but there have been some Bengal’s Raider games that have broken a few hearts.. and yeah…there is still SD and NY looming..
    All in all though you nailed most of it with the exception of the Houston deal.. I still remember those legs of Campbell.. Man, that guy was a regular earth mover with tree trunks for legs..

  11. By mwindle1973 on Jun 4, 2010 | Reply

    Geoff your missing one thing here, The Ravens and the old Browns will always be the same team. To me at least. Art Modell is the enemy even if he isn’t controlling owner. Paul Brown hated him and if he was alive he would want to beat Art more than anyone on the schedule. I think he might have valued a victory over Art more than life itself.

    Good write up

  12. By mwindle1973 on Jun 4, 2010 | Reply

    Raiders would have been a good one too. We haven’t played them a lot, but there is a lot of history there in the 70s, 90s, and 00s

  13. By mwindle1973 on Jun 4, 2010 | Reply

    Had to look a few things up but here is why the Raiders deserve some mention. Of course we all know about the the playoff game in ’91 when Bo Jackson and the Raiders future went down to a career ending injury. Even though they did win that game. We added insult to injury with a regular season OT win in the 2nd game of the following season.

    But few fans around here are old enough, including myself, to remember the 1975 playoff game that the Raiders took from us.

    The Bengals had finished the regular season with the highest winning percentage in team history (11-3, .783).

    Unfortunately for Cincinnati for three quarters, the Bengals played one of their worst games of the season. Early in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati found themselves trailing 31-14. Game over? Not so fast!

    Ken Anderson threw fourth quarter touchdown passes to Issac Curtis and Charlie Joiner to cut the Raider lead to 31-28. in the game, Bengals defensive lineman Ron Carpenter recovered a Banaszak fumble on the Raiders 37-yard line. But on the next play, linebacker Ted Hendricks sacked Anderson for an 8-yard loss, pushing the Bengals out of field goals range. Two plays later, the Raiders stopped the Cincinnati offense on fourth down and ran out the last two minutes of the game.

    That was Paul Brown’s last game as coach.

  14. By 2ndboot on Jun 6, 2010 | Reply

    The ghost of Bo Jackson… LOL

  15. By chad85esteban on Jun 7, 2010 | Reply

    I feel obliged to make a comment about the “rivalry” between Cincinnati and Buffalo. As a die hard Bengals fan growing up and living in Buffalo, I too cannot explain Buffalo’s dominance over us the past 20 years. I will say this though: we have been the better team the last couple of meetings, but I believe we took them too lightly going in. Buffalo, as bad as they are, have and always will be a team of heart and grit. They play hard, even when they are not the most talented team (this usually equates to two or three wins against teams they should have no business beating). As much trash talk I have heard every time Buffalo beats us (living here in Buffalo after all), all I can really say is that we won the last meaningful Buffalo-Cincinnati matchup (1988 AFC Championship Game). I would stop short of calling it a top five rivalry, but I do believe this year we will get back on track against them and do it in convincing fashion. As a Who Dey fan living in this cursed city…I can only hope! :)

  16. By hobsonschoice1 on Jun 7, 2010 | Reply

    85: Buffalo is one of the all-time underrated sports cities. The Bills are always intriguing if not good, although The Music City Miracle was 10 years ago, wasn’t it? A shame if they can’t keep that franchise. Bengals’ fans are in a league of their own when it comes to loyalty, but the Bills’ faithful has a pretty good brand, too.

    You get some old time NHL hockey. The college basketball scene has plenty of characters and coaches. Triple A baseball always has somebody coming through.

    Maybe it is my Upstate New York bias and the fact my best friend in the business is the long-time sports columnist for The Buffalo News, Jerry Sullivan, one of the greats at any paper in any town in America. The people up there are extremely passionate about their games.

    I’ve begun an annual summer trek to play in The Borrelli, a memorial golf tournament for the late Tom “Ox” Borrelli, a Buffalo News sports writer who died tragically and young in November of 2008.

    The Ox is a good example of how good of a sports town Buffalo is. He covered high school, college, and pro lacrosse like he owned it and now the award for Western New York’s best high school player is named after him and is honored at the tourney.

    So I’ll always defend Buffalo. But I’m with you, Esteban. They’ve beaten the Bills in both Super Bowl runs and in the classic Kenny Anderson-O.J. Monday night game. But they don’t seem to play enough and when they do, it’s not real riveting.

  17. By chad85esteban on Jun 7, 2010 | Reply

    Thanks for the kind words about Western New York. It’s tough being a Bengal fan in this city, especially when I think I’m the only one within a 200 mile radius. By the way, they made sure to thank me for all three years Takeo Spikes was here. You’re right, the fans here are passionate and they still pack the Ralph every game. I’m 28 years old, so I don’t remember the O.J./Ken Anderson days. But for all my teen and adult years, it’s been the Bills with the upperhand on the head to head matchups. It was a rough Christmas a couple years ago. I have a good feeling about the tide finally turning though this year.

    It’s funny you bring up Jerry Sullivan. He’s been with the News forever and is our lead NFL/Bills beat writer. But many News readers give him a lot of heat because of his New England roots and his overall liking for the Sox and Patriots (A real sin around here). But he’s a brutally honest columnist and calls ‘em like he see’s ‘em. And let’s face it, there hasn’t been a lot of positive to write about with the Bills the last 11 years. Sometimes the truth hurts.

  18. By hobsonschoice1 on Jun 7, 2010 | Reply

    Definitely Yankees Country up there.

    Keep the faith. Nov. 21 will be here before you know it. And we’ll have no problem knowing what happened because Sully will tell us in no uncertain terms. As you know, his columns have been known to peel paint off The Ralph.

  19. By mwindle1973 on Jun 10, 2010 | Reply

    How about the Chargers. Definitely some history there through the 70s and 80s.

    Wanted to revisit the Houston issue though. Are the Oilers/Titans the same franchise? Or are the Texans/Oilers the same franchise? Not sure how it works. I know in Cleveland’s case the franchise records etc. stayed in Cleveland and even though the Ravens were the Cleveland franchise they somehow became a new team.

    Apply the same logic and the Texans/Oilers are the franchise. Then when you look at how they have really given us a lot of trouble through the 00’s then you still have an active rivalry. But believe the reality is the NFL didn’t think of the fans in the Houston move and let the franchise history go to Nashville with the team.

    I think teams should belong to owners but team history should belong to cities

    I also think this shows that your main rivalries are by and large your division foes. Other rivalries can be determined by players matchups. OJ/Ken Anderson, Moon/Boomer, Fouts/Anderson.

    Anyways long story short is the Texans are a rising rivalry for us. THrough the Lewis era they have played some of their best games against us. And we have come up on the short end a lot.

  20. By 2ndboot on Jun 12, 2010 | Reply

    It’s tough being a fan in a city with a big time team that are not the Bengals. I’m in the DFW area and fans here think the sun rises and sets in Jerry Jone’s unmentionable areas. (Use your imagination there LOL) I’m from Dayton so my roots as a Bengals fan run deep.
    Just hearing or seeing anything remotely related to the Bengals here requires them to play a game so I’m really pumped for the HOF game and I’m hoping the Bengals bring out their big guns and play like it’s the SB.
    That said, I just don’t feel the Buffalo thing as much as others even though my dad was raised in the Buffalo area, but he’s still a Brownstain fan for some reason. I still think there is some strong history with the Oakland games more so than Buffalo..They were the team who used as many dirty tactics as they could think of in years past including the infamous forearm to the neck move.. If that doesn’t raise the hair on your neck then nothing will. ;)

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