Former members of the Cincinnati Bengals 1988 Super Bowl team were recognized at the first home game this season. Quarterback Boomer Esiason and Coach Sam Wyche were unable to attend. Photo by Michael Mitchell
By Conrad Clowers
Okay. Trivia question. Of the 32 NFL franchises, which are the only four never to make it to the Super Bowl?
Answer: Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. While Cincinnati was able to cross themselves off that list in 1982, they have never been able to put themselves on the list of NFL franchises that have won the Super Bowl either. But they were oh so close.
It was 30 years ago this season the Cincinnati Bengals last had a run that ended 34 seconds away from a title in Super Bowl XXIII. That 1988 team lost to N.F.C’s San Francisco 49ers at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Fla.
Cincinnati had one of the most innovative offensive minds in NFL history. Coach Sam Wyche gave NFL teams headaches with his no huddle ‘sugar’ offense.
Implementing that offensive scheme was legendary Bengal quarterback Boomer Esiason, who went on to win the MVP in 1988. How could he not? He had bruising rookie sensation fullback Ickey Woods and, arguably, the best Bengals running back ever, James Brooks, to hand off to. Up front Esiason was protected by Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengal defensive backfield was known as the ‘SWAT’ team. It consisted of Eric Thomas and Lewis Billups at cornerbacks. David Fulcher and Solomon Wilcots manned the safety positions.
That ’88 Bengals team was honored at Cincinnati’s first home game this season. Some of those players who were solid in ‘88 had packed on pounds in 2018. Some who sported black hair in 88 were grey in 2018.
Nevertheless, the entire team that showed up still possessed the magnetic energy they did decades ago. As every member of the team was announced, some fans cried as highlights were shown of the 1988 season. There wasn’t an ’88 Bengal on that field or a fan in the stands who didn’t wish they could go back in time and knock the ball away from John Taylor, after he caught the winning touchdown pass from San Fran’s Joe Montana.
Times have changed in the NFL and in the world, for that matter, since 1988. Cincinnati would win only one playoff game in the next 30 years. They would never come close to another Super Bowl. Those are the things that make the ’88 Bengals that much more special.
Many of the ’88 Bengals are still in Cincinnati such as David Fulcher, Ickey Woods and Eric Thomas. Some have gone on and reached national status in broadcasting such as Boomer Esiason, Chris Collinsworth and Solomon Wilcots. Lewis Billups is the only Bengal from the ’88 team who has passed. The ’88 Bengals represented Cincinnati when expectations were high and respect was much higher for the men in stripes.