On a recent Bill Simmons podcast he discussed watching old full length NFL games on YouTube. When I heard this I knew I had to re-watch Super Bowl 23 between the San Francisco 49ers and my hometown Cincinnati Bengals. The game was originally played back in 1989. I was just a first grader at Guardian Angeles grade school in the rough suburbs of Anderson Township, located about 15 minutes outside of downtown Cincinnati. It was the first year that I started to get into football. I didn’t know too much about the team back then. I knew the star players like Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods, Anthony Munoz, and Tim Krumrie. But I had no clue the team had gone 12-4, tied for the best record in the league, and earned a #1 seed in the AFC.
What I vividly remember was how passionate my dad was about the team. He would watch the games with my brothers in the TV room and yell “woooo hoooooo!” every-time they did something good. It was my first real glimpse into seeing how passionate sports could make someone and how a sport could really change a person’s emotions.
For the Super Bowl my family went to a party hosted by my older brother’s friends parents. During the party the parents stayed upstairs to watch the game while all the kids were relegated to the basement. I don’t remember too much from the actual game, except for Tim Krumrie’s awful injury and how it stopped play for about 15 minutes. I simply did not understand the sport so I watched here and there while playing Nintendo on a small TV in the back corner. Little did I know my team was in an epic battle with the infamous Joe Montana. But I’ll never forget how deflated everyone was after Montana’s final drive. My entire family was dead quiet during the car ride back to my parents house. Just a mini-van full of 5 silent kids and 2 parents who’d just watched Joe Montana tear the game away from their team. In just one 92 yard drive the “Comeback Kid” had once again crushed the hearts and souls of Bengals fans everywhere.
But this week I needed to go back. I needed to re-watch the game from start to finish and see first hand what my dad, older brothers and so many Bengals fans witnessed. I wanted to understand just why my family was so deflated during that car ride and why Montana’s final drive was so epic. So on Thursday night I went to the NFL YouTube page and cast the game to my TV.
A few minutes in I thought to myself, “I’ll just watch the first half and go to sleep and finish the game tomorrow.” But I could not stop watching the game. I could not look away from the vicious hits delivered by Ronnie Lott and David Fulcher. Or the amazing catches by a young Jerry Rice and an old broken down old Cris Collinsworth. And while the game was low scoring, it was riveting and wildly entertaining. The 7 point favorite 49ers were in a backyard brawl with the gritty and tough Bengals. The score was 3-3 at halftime and the underdog Bengals were giving the 49ers everything they had. And in an odd way I felt like the Bengals could win. As if I could somehow change the course of history from my tiny studio apartment in Venice Beach. My body was full of energy as I watched with anticipation of a game where I already knew the outcome.
They say 2-3 plays changes the outcome of a game. But if I could narrow down 1 play from Super Bowl 23 it was the Lewis Billups' dropped interception in the end zone during the 4th quarter. The Bengals were riding high after Stanford Jennings 93 yard kickoff return but Joe Montana marched the Niners right back down the field. If Billups held on to that ball in the end zone I think the Bengals probably win that game. But he didn’t and we all know how everything played out.
It was remarkable to re-watch because I learned so much about my old team that I didn’t know or had simply forgotten. Like how Boomer Esiason won the MVP that year, but completely laid an egg during the Super Bowl. Or how defensive guru Dick Lebeau was the Bengals defensive coordinator and led a tenacious and upstart defense. I was also reminded that Bengals head coach Sam Wyche had been an assistant under Bill Walsh. And how Wyche was the innovator of the no-huddle offense and the Bengals were the first team to implement it on a regular basis. The game had so many interesting story lines that I can still appreciate 29 years later.
Since Super Bowl 23 so much has changed. After years of supporting the Bengals I gave up on the team and futile owner Mike Brown. I resigned as a Bengals fan in 2014 after attending an embarrassing home playoff loss to the Chargers. And I’ve vowed to never support the team until Mike Brown sells the team (BTW the Bengals have NEVER won a playoff since Brown took over after his father’s death in 1991.) So after moving to Los Angeles in 2007 I patiently waited for a team to arrive. When the Rams relocated in 2016 I quickly hopped on the bandwagon. But the Bengals will always have a place in my heart. From my early memories of the late 80s, to the abysmal 90s, and even the resurgence of the 2000s. The Bengals brought me in to the world of football. A world I haven’t left since and won’t leave until I’m 6 feet under. I just wish Joe Montana could have given me one memory of watching my team win a Super Bowl. But maybe there’s still hope. Hope that Mike Brown sells the team and the Bengals hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Until then I have some old games to watch…maybe Super Bowl 16, so I can watch the first time Montana beat my Bengals.