What are the best moments for each NFL franchise? Yahoo Sports provides our opinion, which you are free to disagree with (and we’re sure you will).
5. The Bengals return to ‘Monday Night Football’
The move to ESPN has watered down the franchise, but there was a time when being on “Monday Night Football” was the ultimate sign of respect. It meant that you were a team worth watching, one that could be entrusted to bring out viewers and put on a good game. For more than a decade, the Bengals were decidedly not that and so ABC left them out of Monday night matchups for 12 years, the longest such drought at the time. The prolonged absence hurt the pride of Cincinnati fans, and so it was a capital-letter Big Deal when the circus came back to town for a game against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 25, 2004. Despite being 1-4 coming into the game, the Bengals answered the bell in primetime. After a great lead-in from Leslie Nielsen (seriously, watch this), a record crowd at Paul Brown Stadium watched as Chad Johnson dominated Champ Bailey all night. Though Bailey was one of the decade’s best defensive players, Johnson caught seven passes for 149 yards against Bailey, including two catches of more than 50 yards. The end result: A 23-10 victory, a happy home crowd and an official exit from the franchise’s Dark Ages.
4. Corey Dillon breaks single-game rushing record
If we’re talking about the most out-of-the-blue record-breaking moments, Corey Dillon rushing for 278 yards to break Walter Payton’s single-game rushing record of 276 has to be up there. To wit: The 2000 Bengals were 0-6 and en route to a 4-12 season that would leave them in last place in the old AFC Central. From Akili Smith leading a feckless offense to head coach Dick LeBeau, nothing about the team was remarkable. The Broncos, meanwhile, came into their late October game boasting the second-best run defense in the league and were the two-time defending Super Bowl champions. They should’ve walked out with a laugher. Corey Dillon had different plans, however, building a strong game by continually exploiting a Broncos defense that kept overextending itself. But even his assault on Payton’s 23-year-old record came as a surprise within the game. With just under five minutes remaining in the fourth, Dillon scored a 65-yard touchdown that put Payton within his assaults. A few minutes later, he’d rip off a 41-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach at 31-21 and break Payton’s record. Dillon’s record would stand for just three seasons before Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis broke it (and Lewis’ for four years before Adrian Peterson rushed for 296 yards to become the current record holder). Dillon’s day, however, is still remembered as a bright spot among the many dreary games of that era.
3. Anthony Munoz enters the Hall of Fame
Despite 50 years as a franchise, the Bengals can only boast of one Hall of Famer who primarily played in Cincinnati. But if you’re only going to have one Hall of Famer, you can do a lot worse than Anthony Munoz, who played all 185 career games wearing tiger stripes. Drafted out of USC with the third overall pick in the 1980 draft, Munoz was the bedrock of the team’s most successful decade and was recognized as the 12th best overall player of all-time by NFL Network. He is in the discussion for the best left tackle of all-time and was drafted by Forrest Gregg, another man in that discussion. (No, that’s probably not a coincidence.) With the absence of a Super Bowl title, Munoz’s induction into Canton in 1998 arguably remains one of the franchise’s proudest moments.
2. Ickey Woods does the Ickey Shuffle twice in 1989 AFC title game
The Ickey Shuffle was not a technically-difficult dance, nor was it performed by an NFL rusher who experienced any kind of sustained success. It was, however, as big as anything else in America in the winter of 1989 as Woods, a fullback out of UNLV who played only four injury-shortened seasons, rushed for over 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns for a 12-4 AFC championship team. The Ickey Shuffle wasn’t much, just a couple of alternating side steps punctuated by switching the ball from hand to hand and maybe a celebration afterward. (Our theory on why it was so popular? The Ickey Shuffle is a catchy name, much more so than if Woods had used Elbert, his given name.) The dance’s biggest day came on Jan. 9, 1989, as Woods scored two touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards in an easy AFC title game win over the Bills. “I do the shuffle to celebrate how happy I am,” Woods said at the time. ”And the fans got excited about it and, it’s crazy, but it just took off like wildfire.” Three decades later, it remains a cultural touchpoint and was even featured in a recent commercial.
1. Offensive line goes sleeveless
While Green Bay has its “Ice Bowl,” the Bengals will always have their “Freezer Bowl.” And while the Ice Bowl is recognized as the coldest game in NFL history in terms of temperature, the Freezer Bowl holds the record for lowest wind chill (59 below zero!). Still, when the Bengals and Chargers took the Riverfront Stadium field on Jan. 10, 1982, one thing really stood out: the Bengals offensive line was not wearing sleeves. While that approach surely must have intimidated the opponents from sunny San Diego, the Bengals big uglies swore their approach was rooted in a more practical place. They didn’t want Chargers linemen to have any material to grab onto and gain leverage. (They instead slathered their arms in Vaseline.) So while San Diego QB Dan Fouts had icicles form in his beard and Cincinnati QB Ken Anderson suffered frostbite on his ear, the Bengals linemen paved the way for the Bengals’ absolute domination of the Chargers that day. The final score was 27-7, as the Bengals, born 14 years earlier, headed to their first Super Bowl.