The Cincinnati Bengals are a professional American 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 season, 1968, was as an American Football League franchise, but they joined the NFL as part of the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger, which had actually been agreed to in 1966.
Brown named the team the Bengals in order "to give it a link with past professional football in Cincinnati." Another Bengals team existed in the city and played in a three previous American Football Leagues from 1937 to 1942. The city's 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. Ironically, 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.
However, 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: the Major League Baseball 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 their National League teams, the Dodgers and the Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, were actively courting Powel Crosley. However, Crosley was adamant that the Reds remain in Cincinnati and tolerated worsening problems with the Crosley Field location, which were increased with 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 they 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’s college draft strategies was to draft players with above average intelligence. Punter/wide receiver Pat McInally attended Harvard 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.
In the '70s the Bengals moved to play at Riverfront Stadium, a home they shared with the Cincinnati Reds until the team moved to Paul Brown Stadium in 2000. The team would reach the playoffs three times during that decade, but could not win any of those postseason games. In 1975, the team posted an 11-3 record, giving them what is to this day the highest winning percentage (.786) in franchise history. But it only earned them a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, behind the 12–2 Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl, and Bengals lost to the Oakland Raiders 31–28 in the divisional playoffs.
The Bengals would reach the Super Bowl twice during the 1980s, but lost both times to the San Francisco 49ers. Then after appearing 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. Shortly after his passing, the Bengals' fortunes changed for the worse as the team would post 14 consecutive non-winning seasons. The team was so horrible for a long time that in the early 2000's, a running gag with detractors was that college football's Miami Hurricanes could beat the Bengals in a head-to-head matchup.
The Bengals began to emerge from that dismal period into a new era of increased consistency 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, Carson was promoted to starting quarterback the following season. Under Carson, 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 1988.
Meanwhile, Paul Brown Stadium was built for the 2000 season using private and public money. In tribute to his father, Mike Brown refused corporate offers to have the stadium renamed for their company which became a trend in the NFL and other sports teams around that time.
When the team debuted in 1968, the Bengals' uniforms were modeled after the Cleveland Browns. When Paul Brown was fired by Art Modell, it was Paul Brown who still had ownership of the equipment used by Cleveland. So after the firing, Paul Brown packed up all his equipment, which he then used for his new team in Cincinnati. The Cleveland Browns' team colors were orange, brown and white, and their helmets were solid orange with a white dorsal stripe over the crest.
The Bengals' team colors were orange, black and white, and their helmets were a similar shade of orange, with the only variations being the word "Bengals" in block letters on either side of the helmet and no stripe on the helmet. The Cincinnati Bengals were unique in the NFL as they did not have uniform numbers on the players sleeves until the 1980 season.
The team did not discard their Cleveland-like uniforms until 1981. During that year, a then-unique uniform design was introduced. Although the team kept black jerseys, white jerseys, and white pants, they were now trimmed with orange and black tiger stripes. The team also introduced orange helmets with black tiger stripes.
In 1997, the Bengals designed an alternate logo consisting of a leaping tiger, and it was added to the uniform sleeves. They also designed an alternate logo consisting of a Bengal's head facing to the left. However, the orange helmet with black tiger stripes continued to be the team's primary trademark.
In 2004, a new tiger stripe pattern and more accents were added to the uniforms. The black jerseys now featured orange sleeves, while the white jerseys began to use black sleeves and orange shoulders. A new logo consisting of an orange "B" covered with black tiger stripes was introduced. The team also started rotating black pants and debuted an alternate orange jersey.
The Bengals have primarily worn their black uniforms at home throughout their history, except during the 1970 and 1971 seasons, when the Bengals wore white at home for the entire season. In 2001 and 2002 the Bengals wore white at home for preseason games as well as September home games due to the heat. Since 2005, the Bengals only wear white during early September home games.
The tactic was used by the franchise from the late 80s while Sam Wyche was the coach. The main rivals for AFC supremacy were the Buffalo Bills, coached by Marv Levy. Most of the high-profile games (the various games for AFC Conference titles and regular season games) between the two led to these changes in NFL rules.
Wyche recalled that before the '88 AFC title game the Buffalo Bills had seemingly convinced league officials to penalize the Bengals for running a no-huddle offense. In a statement made to the Bengals' press in 2005, he relayed "The NFL was nice enough to come to us an hour and 55 minutes before the game and tell us we would be given a 15-yard penalty every time we used it. Of course we had practiced it all week. We told them if they wanted to answer to the public for changing the competitive balance of the AFC championship game, that was up to them, but we were using it. They never dropped a flag."